Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 20, 2007)
Adventures in curious DVD release timing: since The Simpsons Movie hit screens on July 27, 2007, wouldn’t it have made sense for Fox to put out some TV episodes before the flick’s appearance? But that didn’t happen. Instead, The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season made it to shelves a full 11 days after the movie’s premiere.
Maybe some marketing suits figured this would be best so the movie doesn’t compete with the DVDs. Anyway, they don’t pay me to figure out that stuff – they pay me to review DVDs! (Actually, “they” don’t pay me anything, but that’s a different matter.) 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.
Lard of the Dance (aired 8/23/1998): “Lisa befriends a girl who tries to get the kids at Springfield Elementary to act older. Meanwhile, Homer attempts to start a business selling excess grease.”
By coincidence, just yesterday I chatted with a friend about how we rarely let kids be kids anymore. This connected more to pressures like excessive homework and academic topics, but the point fits into “Lard”. That makes the show continue to connect, even though some parts of the episode haven’t aged well; it’s not so remarkable to see a kid with a cell phone now, for instance.
“Lard” has its moments, but it does feel like it too often rehashes prior shows. Lisa tries to fit in with the other kids? Homer has a wacky scheme? Granted, after 10 years, we can’t expect every program to demonstrate originality, but this one is a bit of a letdown to start the year. It’s good but not particularly memorable.
The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace (aired 9/20/1998): “Homer is inspired to become an inventor by the example of Thomas Edison. Although he is not successful, a trip to the Edison Museum makes him feel that he is not a failure after all.”
How depressing is it for me to realize I’m now older than Homer? Blech ! Though “Wizard” borders on “Homer’s wacky scheme” territory, his attempts to come up with something significant offer amusement. At no point does “Wizard” threaten to become a particularly strong episode, but it entertains to a reasonable degree. I do like the “Everything’s Okay Alarm” and the makeup gun, though.
Bart the Mother (aired 9/27/1998): “When Bart accidentally kills a mother bird, he feels so guilty that he raises her eggs as his own. But when the eggs hatch, a shock awaits him.”
“Mother” reminds me a little too much of the Christmas episode in which Bart shoplifts, as Marge’s attitude toward Bart prompts a lot of the show’s action. We also get a hint of Horton Hatches a Who as well. Despite that sense of déjà vu, the show generates decent heart as it shows Bart’s attempts to make up for his misbehavior. The show becomes reasonably enjoyable if not especially memorable.
Treehouse of Horror IX (aired 10/25/1998): “In ‘Hell Toupee’, the hairpiece of a condemned man wreaks havoc in Springfield. Bart and Lisa enter an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon in ‘The Terror of Tiny Toon’. And the Simpsons learn the shocking truth about who fathered Maggie in ‘Starship Poopers’.”
The series usually rises to the occasion of its Halloween episodes, and “IX” doesn’t disappoint. Each of the three stories satisfies, as they offer a lot of clever, amusing moments. “Toupee” is probably the best, though, as it’s the most creative of the bunch. While funny, the other two can be a bit predictable.
When You Dish Upon a Star (aired 11/8/1998): “A parasailing mishap leads Homer to become the personal assistant to a celebrity couple. But when they don’t live up to his dreams, he turns on them.”
“Star” qualifies as Season 10’s first borderline excellent episode. The first three disappointed, and while I liked “Treehouse”, I couldn’t call it great. “Star” reminds us just how darned funny The Simpsons can be, as it skewers celebrities as well as those who worship them. Add to that fine guest work from Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin and especially Ron Howard and this develops into a really fun show. It is a little weird to see “happy couple” Kim and Alec given all of their subsequent drama, though.
D’oh-in’ In the Wind (aired 11/15/1998): “Homer learns his middle name and then befriends a pair of counter-culture entrepreneurs. Homer’s interference in their juice business leads them to ruin.”
The Sixties have been lampooned many, many times over the years, but “Wind” presents one of the better spoofs. Homer buys into his hippie side with such moronic abandon that the show becomes a delight. I like the subtle way that it mocks the ways aging hippies didn’t live up to their youthful ideas, and it brings out tons of good laughs along the way. After a slow start, Season 10 is starting to kick into gear.
Lisa Gets an “A” (aired 11/22/1998): “When she is unable to study properly for a test, Lisa buys an exam from Nelson Muntz. The tainted grade she gets qualifies Springfield Elementary for extra funding, so the school bands together to cover up her misdeed.”
As someone who works for a school system, I take great delight in the way this episode skewers the skewed priorities of the educational establishment. Lisa acts like her usual prissy self, but that factor acts to allow the show to succeed. It connects to real emotions pretty well and offers some funny moments.
Homer Simpson In: “Kidney Trouble” (aired 12/6/1998): “After a long car trip to a recreated Western town, Grampa Simpson needs a new kidney. But before he will donate his kidney to his father, Homer flees and winds up on a ship of lost souls.”
After a few straight strong episodes, we hit a snag. “Kidney” offers all the components that should make it good, but it never quite achieves a level higher than average. Despite a few funny moments, this one largely leaves me cold.
Mayored to the Mob (aired December 20, 1998): “The family attends the Springfield Bi-Monthly Science Fiction Convention (Bi-Mon Sci-Fi Con). After Homer saves Mark Hamill from unruly fans, he decides to become a bodyguard for Mayor Quimby - whose life is now being threatened by Fat Tony.”
The convention allows plenty of allusions to the Star Wars movies along with other science-fiction icons. The show mined similar territory with comic book conventions, but that’s only a minor aspect of the episode, as it focuses primarily on Homer’s adventures. The show doesn’t quite become inspired, but it offers some decent entertainment.
Viva Ned Flanders (aired 1/10/1999): “Homer and Ned enjoy a bender in Las Vegas. When they awake, they are shocked to find they have two extra wives.”
Season Ten rebounds a bit with the quality “Viva”. Sure, the concept that Flanders is 60 seems absurd, but the show musters plenty of fine laughs. Homer’s escapades create fun situations, even as over the top as they may be. The Vegas scenes add to the amusement in this good show. It also produces one of my favorite lines via “now it’s Marge’s time to shine!” I don’t know why I love that bit so much, but I do.
Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken (aired 1/17/1999): “When Homer and his friends trash the town after a baseball team wins a championship, Springfield’s children are blamed for the damage. The angry kids start a secret radio broadcast that reveals the adults’ secrets to the world.”
While the episode’s adults vs. kids theme doesn’t seem particularly inventive, the show goes off onto enough tangents to make it succeed. The different elements generate many funny moments, especially when the kids develop their revenge. This ends up as another positive program.
Sunday, Cruddy Sunday (aired January 31, 1999): “Homer and Bart lead a group of Springfielders to the Super Bowl. But when they get there they find their tickets are no good and they must sneak in.”
Like most guest star-ridden episodes, this one gets a bit gimmicky to fit in all the cameos. The self-referential ending fails to become clever and instead just seems silly. Still, it includes a few goods bits, especially the phone call in which Homer convinces Lenny to go to the game. And any episode in which Rupert Murdoch refers to himself as a “billionaire tyrant” is okay in my book.
Homer to the Max (aired 2/7/1999): “A popular TV character named Homer Simpson forces our Homer to change his name. He becomes popular with hip Springfielders, who lead him to run afoul of the law.”
The Simpsons spoofs the entertainment business better than anyone else, and those elements spice up “Max”. I also like the idiocy that Homer gets popular – and then mocked – just because of the name connection. This turns into one of the season’s better shows, especially when Ed Begley pokes fun at himself.
I’m With Cupid (aired 2/14/1999): “The wives of Springfield are jealous of the attention Apu lavishes on his wife Manjula. To win Marge back, Homer attempts to enlist the help of a skywriter, with painful consequences.”
Didn’t we already see that Flanders makes everyone else look like a jerk on Valentine’s Day? Doesn’t that theme mean that “Cupid” is somewhat redundant? Not that the show lacks any spark, as it throws out a reasonable number of laughs. Still, it seems a little stale and not one of the year’s better programs.
Marge Simpson In: “Screaming Yellow Honkers” (aired 2/21/1999): “Marge gets a huge new SUV, the Canyonero. She discovers the meaning of road rage, then must sacrifice the car to save her family.”
The series likes to make Marge act out of character, which in an odd way means that she’s perfectly in character when she goes nuts here. We’ve seen Marge’s usually suppressed anger explode in the past, but unlike Homer’s wacky schemes, the show doesn’t overdo these programs. It becomes amusing to see her serious case of road rage.
Make Room for Lisa (aired 2/28/1999): “When Homer agrees to let a telephone company put a transmitter in Lisa’s room, she becomes Bart’s unwanted roommate. The stress leads Lisa to a sensory deprivation tank, where she learns to appreciate her father more.”
The main plot feels a bit stale, as we’ve gotten a lot of episodes related to Lisa’s negative thoughts toward Homer. This one doesn’t do much to expand that theme. At least the B-story proves more interesting, as Marge’s fascination with intercepted cell phone calls amuses. Still, this adds up to a pretty average show.
Maximum Homerdrive (aired 3/28/1999): “After entering an eating contest, Homer becomes a truck driver and discovers the other truckers’ shocking secret. Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa’s attempts to buy a doorbell introduce them to the heroic Senor Ding-Dong.”
If nothing else, “Homerdrive” takes unanticipated paths. The eating contest leads to a long truck drives leads to that “shocking secret”. All of this means the show manages to become pretty unpredictable. Does that make it funny? Sporadically, but “Homerdrive” doesn’t ever excel in that department – at least not in terms of the trucker story. I like the B-plot more, though, if just for its absurdity, even if it brings back the increasingly overused Gil.
Simpsons Bible Stories (aired 4/4/1999): “In the first of the Simpsons’ non-Halloween-themed trilogies, Homer and Marge are Adam and Eve, the Springfield Elementary students must slave away for Pharaoh Skinner, and Bart and Nelson are David and Goliath.”
The “Treehouse of Horror” episodes pull of the trilogy thing well, but this Easter special proves less successful. I just think the brevity required by the inclusion of three separate tales better suits the world of horror spoofs than it does these Bible pieces, as they try to pack an awful lot into very little time. Some good moments result anyway, but I don’t find a lot of entertainment here.
Mom and Pop Art (aired 4/11/1999): “Homer becomes a found artist, turning a failed barbecue pit into a pricey objet d’art. When his public turns on him, he floods the town to make a statement.”
Another day, another pretty average show. At this point in the series’ run, it started to offer more than a few elements that echo bits from earlier years. Geez, they’re trying to milk Ray Jay Johnson for laughs again. It worked in the past, but now it just falls flat. This isn’t a bad program, but it lacks much inspiration.
The Old Man and the “C” Student (aired 4/25/1999): “As punishment for losing the Olympics for Springfield, Bart must help the city’s senior citizens. Meanwhile, Homer attempts to sell springs, one of which winds up in Lenny’s eye.”
I gotta admit I like Springy, the Olympic mascot, and the spring-related aspects of the show entertain. Bart’s experiences with Grampa and the other oldies also offer more than a few good moments. Though the episode never quite excels, it’s pretty solid.
Monty Can’t Buy Me Love (aired 5/2/1999): “Mr. Burns realizes that he is not as beloved as a Richard Branson-type billionaire. To get the public back on his side, Burns, with Homer’s help, finds and captures the Loch Ness Monster.”
We’ve not heard much from Burns this year, so it’s good to get a program devoted to him. “Love” doesn’t do a lot to expand the character, but it manages a reasonable number of yuks. A fun Howard Stern-esque character done by Michael McKean helps make this a nice show.
They Saved Lisa’s Brain (aired 5/9/1999): “Lisa bands together with Springfield’s other Mensa members to try to turn the town into a utopia. But they discover that genius doesn’t always know what it’s doing.”
If nothing else, I like the fact that “Brain” pokes some fun at Mensa, one of the more smug, self-congratulatory groups to be found. The show manages a few good laughs as it goes after various pretensions. Unfortunately, the show peters out after a while, so it never becomes particularly memorable.
Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo (aired 5/16/1999): “The Simpsons learn to cut corners, enabling them to afford a trip to Japan. In Japan, they lose their savings and must become contestants on a humiliating game show to earn their way back home.”
Season Ten concludes on a mediocre note with “Tokyo”. Though the concept of going to Japan should open up lots of interesting possibilities, the show doesn’t explore them particularly well. It’s not a bad show, but it fails to live up to its potential.