Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 19, 2008)
Fans used to gripe that it took a long time for new Simpsons DVD sets to appear. However, the pace accelerated for a while, and the situation started to look good. Then came 2007’s Simpsons Movie, an effort that apparently caused the production of the series’ DVDs to grind to a halt.
This means it took a long 14 months between releases for Season Ten and Season Eleven. Now that the latter is here, I hope we get Season Twelve sooner rather than later. As always, I’ll look at the shows in their original broadcast order, which is how they show up in the set. I’ll examine them each on their own to document the specifics. The plot capsules come straight from the DVD’s booklet.
Beyond Blunderdome (aired 9/26/1999): “Homer befriends Mel Gibson just as Mel is completing his remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Homer convinces Mel to make the film more violent, with disastrous results.”
Oh, the irony to Gibson’s comment about how the cops never give him trouble! Oh well – I can’t blame the episode for Gibson’s subsequent public relations troubles. Gibson actually does a good job here, and it’s amusing to see Homer’s terrible movie ideas. This isn’t classic Simpsons, but it starts the season on a pretty good note.
Brother’s Little Helper (aired 10/3/1999): “When Bart commits an extremely destructive prank, he is given Focusyn, a pill to help him concentrate in school. At first the results are impressive, and then Bart starts believing in a conspiracy involving spy satellites and Major League Baseball.”
One part of my school psychologist side has this problem with “Helper”: Bart doesn’t have ADHD. He’s clearly got ODD and a conduct disorder, but he’s not particularly overactive or distractible. This episode tries to make him seem more hyper than normal, but I don’t buy it. Bart’s a behavior problem but not ADHD.
On the other hand, another part of my school psych side appreciates the message of “Helper”: the folks went nuts with overmedication of kids with school issues. Meds do a lot for kids who really need them, but too many kids get Ritalin through misdiagnosis. The show offers a clever spotlight on that issue and provides some good laughs, mainly through the sight of a well-behaved Bart. It’s a pretty good episode despite some character problems.
Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner (aired 10/24/1999): “With Lisa’s help, Homer uses his vast knowledge of food to become the town’s leading restaurant critic. But when he gets petty and vindictive in his criticisms, all the other chefs in town try to kill him.”
After the solid “Helper”, Season 11 dips with the more mediocre “Dinner”. Oh, the show has its moments, especially when Homer’s criticism becomes more mean-spirited. Still, the program rarely becomes anything more than okay; it’s certainly enjoyable but that’s about it.
Treehouse of Horror X (aired 10/31/1999): “In ‘I Know What You Diddily-Iddly-Did’, the Simpsons fear they have killed Ned Flanders. ‘Desperately Xeeking Xena’ satirizes superheroes of yore with ‘Stretch Dude’ Bart and ‘Clobber Girl’ Lisa. And ‘Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die’ depicts the upcoming horror of Y2K (remember that?).”
Even in the series’ crummier seasons, the staff always seems to come up with a good Halloween episode, and “Treehouse X” continues that trend. Of the three segments, “Glitch” is the weakest, and not just because it’s the most dated; other than a good ending, it simply doesn’t have a lot going for it. “Diddily” offers a fun horror spoof, and “Xena” is a terrific superhero bit with plenty of cleverness.
E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt) (aired 11/7/1999): “Fleeing from a duel, Homer takes his family to live on a farm. There he discovers that by mixing tomatoes, tobacco and radioactivity from the nuclear plant, he can create a dangerously delicious new substance.”
“Grunt” provides the kind of episode typical of the series’ “post-classic” years. While it doesn’t become a dud, it lacks the spark and zing typical of the best Simpsons. We get a mix of decent moments but nothing that elevates the episode above the level of mediocrity.
Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder (aired 11/14/1999): “Homer bowls a perfect 300 game, then concludes that the greatest accomplishment of his life is behind him. He reconnects with the world by bonding with baby Maggie.”
This episode refers to Maggie as “the forgotten Simpson”, and they ain’t kidding. She rarely gets much attention, and for good reason: she doesn’t bring much to the series. “Fadder” has some laughs – particularly during a fun bit that spoofs The Natural - but its story feels like it’s all over the place. Maggie episodes are rare – and rarely very good. That holds true for this one as well.
Eight Misbehavin’ (aired 11/21/1999): “Due to overuse of fertility medication, Apu and his wife Manjula give birth to octuplets. Desperate for money, Apu loans the babies to an unscrupulous carny promoter, then needs Homer’s help to get them back.”
With such a silly concept, “Eight” probably should flop. However, it actually works pretty well. The best moments come from those that feature the kids at the zoo, but a mix of other amusing scenes emerge. Though the show often threatens to falter, it usually succeeds.
Take My Wife, Sleaze (aired 11/28/1999): “After winning a motorcycle at a dance contest, Homer becomes part of a motorcycle gang. But when he puts Marge’s photo in a biker magazine, a much tougher gang takes her and he must win her back.”
Should we blame “Sleaze” for the movie Wild Hogs? Maybe not, but the episode doesn’t do a lot to rise above the level of that John Travolta mediocrity. I like guest stars Henry Winkler and John Goodman, so the episode’s not a loss, but it’s not a winner either.
Grift of the Magi (aired 12/19/1999): “In this Christmas-themed episode, the students of Springfield Elementary are unwittingly used as a focus group to test new toys. The product of their labors, a cuddly doll named Funzo, is a lot more sinister than he appears.”
The show feels like an amalgamation of elements from prior holiday programs and never really elicits much humor. Christmas is commercialized and corporations use and abuse their customers? Those aren’t exactly rich insights, so “Grift” comes across as a below average episode.
Little Big Mom (aired 1/9/2000): “When Marge leaves the house to recuperate from a skiing injury, everything goes to hell – until Lisa convinces Homer and Bart they have leprosy.”
We’ve seen “the family goes to crap without Marge around” episodes in the past, so don’t expect any reinvented wheels here. Still, the sight of Lisa in charge adds a decent spin, and the leprosy twist – while silly – proves amusing. It’s another unexceptional show but one with its moments.
Faith Off (aired 1/16/2000): “Homer gets a bucket stuck on his head, and when it’s removed the town is convinced that Bart has the powers of a faith healer. Then mobster Fat Tony tries to turn the boy’s spiritual abilities in more sinister directions.”
If nothing else, I like this one for the sight of Homer with the bucket stuck on his head; something about seeing him with those little eyeholes entertains me. Otherwise there’s not much powerful at work here. The healing plot is a decent one, and Don Cheadle gives us a good guest performance. The program is fine but not much more than that.
The Mansion Family (aired 1/23/2000): “Mr. Burns goes to visit the Mayo Clinic, leaving the Simpsons in charge of his mansion. Homer takes Burns’ yacht out to international waters, where he encounters Chinese pirates.”
Although The Simpsons started out as moderately reality based, pretty much any grounding was gone by this point. That doesn’t mean the show fails to depict funny bits, especially during the dark humor of Burns’ hospital visit. Nonetheless, “Family” occasionally goes too far to the side of silliness; those gags are hit or miss.
Saddlesore Galactica (aired 2/6/2000): “Homer and Bart befriend a diving horse at a county fair. They turn it into a racehorse with an attitude whose success runs them afoul of mysterious, tree-dwelling jockeys.”
I remember that “Saddlesore” was much despised when it first aired, though I can’t recall if I joined that chorus as well. Maybe the many iffy episodes since early 2000 have made it look better, but I think that “Saddlesore” offers a decent number of laughs. It goes off onto some dopey tangents and displays an unnerving tendency toward self-awareness, but it provides reasonable entertainment.
Alone Again, Natura-Diddly (aired 2/13/2000): “Ned’s wife Maude is inadvertently killed by a T-shirt accident at an auto race. Homer and his family then try to help Ned cope.”
When Maggie Roswell wanted higher pay to play Maude, what’d the series’ producers do? Kill the character! That seems like a harsh and cynical move, though I could forgive the decision if it produced a more satisfying episode. Perhaps the writers made this one super-sincere to counteract the inherent cynicism behind its origins, but the show just seems sappy and lame.
Missionary: Impossible (aired 2/20/2000): “ When Homer fails to give money he promised over the phone, he is forced by PBS stars to flee the country. He becomes a missionary on a small tropical island, where he introduces the natives to casino gambling.”
Over the years, the series made Homer dumber and dumber, but “Missionary” may represent his intellectual nadir – and one of the most inane choices by the producers. Just a few episodes, Homer clearly knew the name “Jesus”, but all of a sudden he thinks his lord’s name is “Jeebus”? It’s not a good gag, and the stupidity of the thread makes it lame
However, much of the rest of “Missionary” is actually pretty good. Highlighted by a fun turn from Betty White, the PBS segment amuses, and the pieces with Homer on the island do nicely as well. Despite “Jeebus”, this becomes arguably Season 11’s best episode.
Pygmoelian (aired 2/27/2000): “Plastic surgery gives Moe the bartender a handsome new face and a whole new life as a soap opera star.”
This episode peaks early, as the scenes at “Duff Days” provide the most amusement. Otherwise, it’s a pretty mediocre show. It’s nice to see a focus on Moe for once, but the tale itself fails to really ignite. Though not a poor episode, it’s pretty flat after the opening.
Bart to the Future (aired 3/19/2000): “We see a possible future in which Bart is a grown-up slacker living with Ralph Wiggum, while Lisa is no less than the President of the United States.”
This kind of fantasy episode can be hit or miss, and that trend holds true here. However, more of “Future” succeeds than flops. Though a few gags bomb, most of them prove pretty good. At no point does this become a classic, but it amuses much of the time.
Days of Wine and D’oh’ses (aired 4/9/2000): “After being embarrassed by a drunken video of himself, Barney vows to sober up. Newly clean, he gets work as a helicopter pilot.”
If you thought that “Alone Again, Natura-diddly” would be Season 11’s sole episode that features a big change for a secondary character, you thought wrong. No, Barney’s sobriety isn’t as major an event as Maude’s demise, but it actually has a bigger impact on the series. After all, Maude was a tertiary role; her disappearance affects secondary personality Ned, but she didn’t appear all that much, so she didn’t really go missed.
Making Barney sober affects the series on a much more consistent basis – though probably not in a good way. After all, most of Barney’s appeal came from his drunken idiocy, so he loses his natural kick when he goes on the wagon. “Wine” often feels like a Very Special Episode of The Simpsons; it manages some good bits but not enough to make it a quality program.
Kill the Alligator and Run (aired 4/30/2000): “After a terrible bout with insomnia, Homer takes the family to Florida during spring break. There they kill a beloved alligator and are sentenced to a chain gang.”
Wow – this may be the most jumbled Simpsons to date! The episode seems to suffer from ADD as it can’t focus on any topic for very long. It flits from one gag to another with abandon and rarely makes much sense – or produces many laughs. Yeah, it has a few amusing moments, but it’s too scattershot to succeed.
Last Tap Dance in Springfield (aired 5/7/2000): “Lisa enters a tap dancing academy, where the teacher is a child star who never quite grew up. Meanwhile, Homer gets laser eye surgery.”
That synopsis makes it sound like the Homer thread is a major factor, but it’s not; it goes bye-bye very early in the episode. Instead, we get a tale in which Bart and Milhouse camp at the mall. That’s the superior of the two plots here, though neither excels. We get some decent laughs from both of them and that’s about it.
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Marge (aired 5/14/2000): “When Otto dumps his bride at the altar, she goes to live with the Simpsons – and the family comes to believe that Marge has lost her mind.”
Unusually, “Mad” provides a pretty concise focus on only one story. The lead bit with Otto directly leads to the Marge plot, and it doesn’t go off on the usual tangents, unlike “Alligator”, which was nothing but tangents. And it works pretty well. “Mad” isn’t the most inspired tale, but it does fine for itself.
Behind the Laughter (aired 5/21/2000): “In this satire of VH1’s Behind the Music, we learn the secrets of the Simpsons’ rise, fall and ultimate success.”
Season 11 ends with a decidedly unusual show. “Laughter” treats the Simpsons like real people who perform on their own series. It’s an intriguing concept that can be a little too clever for its own good, but it’s usually a fun show.