It’s been over a year since we last saw The Simpsons release a season set on DVD. Just when you thought Fox gave up, here they come with a brand new four-disc box set encompassing the series eleventh season. Despite being ramped up to two sets a year there for a couple seasons, the series one year vacation may have been beneficial, as it gave time for The Simpsons Movie to breathe a bit easier on store shelves without fear of being trampled by a big ol’ box set. Now fans can clear another ¾ of an inch of shelf space to accommodate the series eleventh season.

The first new DVD content since last year’s box office hit The Simpsons Movie, this collection features all 22 episodes from the eleventh hit season and includes a gathering of outstanding guest stars including Mel Gibson, Lucy Lawless, Kid Rock, Dick Clark, Tim Robbins, John Goodman, Parker Posey, Don Cheadle, Ron Howard, Willie Nelson, Britney Spears and many more. The Simpsons The Complete Eleventh Season is loaded with special features that include an introduction from Matt Groening; audio commentaries on every episode with Groening and “The Simpsons” executive producers, writers, actors and directors; deleted scenes; animation showcases; original sketches; special language feature; featurettes, including footage of “The Simpsons” receiving their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and more! “The Simpsons” The Complete Eleventh Season also features a great new look – a special Krusty The Clown themed box that contains a surprise insert for the diehard fan and their posse.

I take special objection to the above description (provided by Fox Home Entertainment) stating that the packaging features a “great new look”, but I’ll save that for the DVD section. For now, let’s pretend they didn’t utter such a blatant lie and focus on the season itself. This season brings us the eleventh season, which aired in 1999 – 2000 and is much more modern in nature than past seasons. By this I mean that, as someone who remembers the summer of 2000 better than the summer of 1995 (not that I was blitzed out of my mind, of course…I was simply older and more in-tune with pop culture elements in 2000), the media references and even the guest appearances are much more recent to me than the previous seasons. Does this mean I enjoy this season more than, say, season ten? Possibly; as old as some of the jokes may be now, at least I know where they’re coming from. I’m actually rather surprised that Britney Spears is showing up in the show already, as I can remember Fox advertising her appearance like it was yesterday. Of course Ron Howard returning is always a treat and the whole rest of the guest star lot is impressive as well (Mel Gibson? Awesome. Tim Robbins? Classic. Kid Rock? Uhh…ok.), but as any fan will tell you the guest appearances don’t make the show—it’s the characters that we’ve grown to know and love that keep us coming back.

The elephant in the room for the series is always the fans disdain and constant bickering of the latest season that is purely “trash” or “unfunny.” I’ll argue (and have—this is only the second season of the set I’ve reviewed on DVD, but it certainly won’t be my last and I’ll probably mention this in every single one of them) that no, you’re just being anal and the show is still entertaining. Perhaps Fox is too scared to cancel it (not that they’d want to, of course) or the cast and crew behind the show just don’t want to give up the ghost after twenty seasons, but the series has endured this long for a reason. As its fans become jaded and laugh less and less at the jokes, I can merely sit by and laugh as they complain about things in the show that, to me, are still humorous. With each subsequent release the claims of “this is where it goes downhill” or “this is the last great season before [insert writer here] screwed it up.” Maybe it helps that I’ve been watching this series on DVD rather than on TV (when I was younger I’d catch reruns of the seventh or eighth season, but that was about all of it I watched on TV), but the number of unfunny jokes or unfunny shows altogether are greatly outweighed by the moments I’m laughing at the show. Sure, I can accept that the show has lost some of its charm over the years, but never for an instant do I doubt that the show isn’t still one of the smartest shows on the air.

It’s amazing I’ve typed all of this without talking about the season itself (well, aside from the guest stars), but that’s the beauty of reviewing The Simpsons. As much as it spoofs modern culture, the core elements of the show stay the same. Our characters rarely change and there is rarely, if ever, any duplication of storylines that carry from one episode to episode or season to season. Sure there are throwbacks, but for as many times as Homer skips out on work to go somewhere, there are never any repercussions. This remains true for this season except for one thing: Maude dies. Yes, I was wondering when I’d stumble upon the season where Maude was killed, as I am an incredibly lazy Simpsons fan and never bothered to double check. I was delightfully surprised to finally see it (“Alone Again, Natura-Diddly”) and it certainly does stand out from the pack.

Not to paint the season entirely golden, as there were a few stinkers among the lot and both seemed to be a bit more Bart-centric than the rest of the selection. “Saddlesore Galactica” and “Bart to the Future” both are a bit unsatisfactory in nature, as…well, they just really aren’t all that funny. While the future world of The Simpsons is eventually revisited again (and with Bender! Hooray.), it thankfully isn’t quite as humdrum as this one. “Saddlesore” was just…really strange, more than anything. A meatball eating mop was just a little bit too weird for this show, which I can agree with some fans on about. When this show goes off-kilter, it really just goes full speed ahead.

I won’t pick apart each of the episodes on the season, as it would not only take too long but it’d also be incredibly dull. This season is already over eight years old and fans have already dissected and had their way with it. For me, however, the majority of the episodes here were unseen by my eyes and I was greatly entertained by nearly everything contained on the set. Occasionally you get the stinker, but that rings true for every show. At its core, The Simpsons is still entertaining, still funny, and still manages to actually make a valid point, even if it’s done in a round-a-bout and absurd way. Overall this season comes Recommended.

Can I talk about the packaging now? Oh sweet I can. Holy crap this is the worst packaging I’ve ever seen for a DVD (I nearly quoted Comic Book Guy there, but I resisted). On the outset (i.e, when it’s shrink-wrapped) this set appears to be similar in nature, but once the cellophane is off, the disappointment sets in. Unlike the previous clam-shell seasons, this one’s “special limited edition packaging” is merely a plastic shell snot-glued onto the packaging below it, which is the standard edition. So those who picked up the non-LE packaging this time can safely pick it up without fear of odd bulges on your DVD shelf. The art underneath the face (which, once removed, the snot glue begins to dry out so good luck getting it back to its original packaged form) is a nice shot of Krusty, complete with a matte texture background that’s both reflective and rough to the touch. That part of the package is nicely done, but once we slide out the accordion fold-out that’s hiding inside the cardboard slipcase, you will begin to cry.

At first I wondered “where are the DVDs?” I thought I had actually been ripped and received a disc-less copy of the set, but then realized that there weren’t even any spaces for the DVDs themselves. So where were they? Well, under the full-color fold out (which does look nice) the discs are tucked away into little cardboard hole hells. You basically have to jam your finger in there and heaven forbid if you’re of the Homer variety and have a fatter finger than most or you’ll end up breaking and/or tearing the cardboard slit. While I had a close call at one point, I eventually learned the best way to get the disc out was just to shove your finger in there and press down and slide it out. This of course means fingering the disc all up, so then you have to clean it off before putting it in the player. A+ for appearance, F- for functionality. At the end of the foldout is the usual booklet, complete with intro by Groening and descriptions of each disc as well as the episodes contained on them. Those who picked up the Limited Edition will be treated to a special ticket that allows you to get to the front of the line at The Simpsons ride at Universal. So…bonus plastic face, snot glue and a ticket. The limited edition release actually is worth picking up this time.

The video and audio transfer for the set are as we’ve come to expect from past seasons, but with the expected bump in visual clarity due to the newer animation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is as impressive as past seasons, with crystal clear dialogue being delivered front and center, while the surrounds get a bit of decent play as well. It’s nothing that will blow you away, but it is definitely the best you’ll see The Simpsons look on the DVD format.

First up in the extras department are, of course, the commentaries. While we may complain about the delays the season sets get, we’re always calmed when we see each episode has a commentary track. As with past seasons, the satisfaction we can glean from these varies wildly, as some can be filled with a ton of interesting chatter, while others simply bore. Still, they’re fascinating listens for the most part and fans will eat them up. Also included are deleted scenes for every one of the episodes, sans “E-I-E-I” on disc one and “Behind the Laughter” on disc four.

As the season releases go on the extras get slightly less impressive as there is less classic marketing and promos to stuff on the discs, but there is still some stuff here worth checking out. First is the introduction by Matt Groening to the season which I thankfully remembered to watch after I’d watched the season, otherwise I would’ve had a few of the more hilarious moments spoiled for me. Next we have “Animation Showcase” (7:16), with storyboards and animatic footage of the same sequences, each running a separate 7:16. Then we have the always entertaining Special Language Feature (“Portuguese, Czech, Italian, German”).

Disc two starts off with “The Many Faces of Krusty” (7:16), which is nothing more than a clip show of Krusty throughout the years of the show, while “Original Sketches” (0:47) gives us a video reel of sketches from the season. Disc three houses another “Animation Showcase”, this time on “The Mansion Family.” Finally on disc four we have “A Star on Hollywood Boulevard” (2:36), a brief video clip of The Simpsons getting their star, another round of Original Sketches (1:15) and “And Then There were Menus” (1:59), a recount of how the menus for this season set were laid out and animated.

Overall the packaging may suck and the non-commentary extras may be a bit weak…but with all twenty-two episodes packed with commentary and all but two episodes with deleted scenes, it’s hard to dismiss this set. Plus, we’re so deep into it now, do you really want to stop adding The Simpsons to your DVD shelf? Highly Recommended (but the packaging is still crap!).

The Simpsons: Complete Eleventh Season is now available on DVD.

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