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The Simpsons: The Complete Thirteenth Season

(2001) *** 1/2 Unrated
491 min. FOX. Cast: Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer.

/content/films/3836/1.jpg"You know what's even better is Jesus. He's like six leprechauns."

"I love our court days."
"It's about the only thing we do as a family anymore."

"Going cold turkey isn't as delicious as it sounds."

"Hey, hey! If I want a cock-and-bull story, I'll read Hemingway."

"It's like my dad always said: 'Eventually everybody gets shot.'"

"I've got some wonderful stereopticon images of the Crimean War."

"Play along, Chubsie. There's a pie in it for you."

"No offense, but you're a decrepit monkey skeleton."

"Now Bob Dole will read from the Necronomicon."

Any comedy show that can bust out lines like these isn't doing too badly. In its thirteenth year on the air, The Simpsons may have been past its prime, but it retained a keen sense of the bizarre while also recommiting to telling some family-themed stories with a more heartfelt core. The season that aired just after 9/11 came none too soon, just as people were beginning to wonder if satire would have to be buried for good (yeah, right). And while Season Thirteen steers clear of domestic politics (except medicinal marijuana) and foreign relations (with one almost accidental exception), it does feature the fast-paced storytelling and wild absurdism that has defined the show in the 21st century. As usual, the show attracted big-name guest stars, including Ben Stiller, Jane Kaczmarek, Delroy Lindo, R.E.M., George Takei, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Reese Witherspoon, Wolfgang Puck, Olympia Dukakis, Phish, James Lipton, ex-poet laureate Robert Pinsky, Carmen Electra, Frances Sternhagen and Joe Mantegna as "Fat Tony."

Naturally, the season kicks off with one of the series' patented Halloween episodes, "Treehouse of Horror XII." The writers "still got it" with this trilogy of terror, which cuts loose with gypsy curses and leprechauns, a HAL 9000-style smart house voiced by Pierce Brosnan (with sexual designs a la Demon Seed) and Harry Potter, just before the Potter movies made the franchise an inescapable phenomenon. The season has somewhat hit-and-miss results, with a few mostly stillborn episodes like "Homer the Moe" (in which Moe renovates his bar, a plot used more than once in the series), middling episodes like the Mr. Burns romancer "A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love," and new classics like "Jaws Wired Shut" (in which Homer learns the virtue of listening more than he talks) and "The Parent Rap," a comically inventive riff on alternative sentencing. The more emotional episodes include "The Sweetest Apu," a suprisingly honest look at infidelity; and "Half-Decent Proposal," a James L. Brooks-suggested outing in which Artie Ziff (Jon Lovitz) returns to proposition Marge.

There's also a Stand By Me parody in "The Blunder Years" (with a one-line Paul Newman cameo), Lisa's conversion to Buddhism in "She of Little Faith" (with Richard Gere), the wacky nod to Old Hollywood Western stars "The Lastest Gun in the West" (with Dennis Weaver), Grandpa's driving excursion to show-town Branson, Missouri in "The Old Man and the Key," Homer's sort-of transformation into the Incredible Hulk in "I Am Furious Yellow" (with Stan Lee), Lisa's college stint in "Little Girl in the Big Ten" and medical-marijuana-themed episode "Weekend at Burnsie's." The season includes another cool trilogy episode in "Tales from the Public Domain," which retells The Odyssey, Hamlet, and the story of Joan of Arc, Simpsons-style. And then there's the infamous "The Simpsons are going to Brazil!" episode, which so mightily pissed off Brazil that the Rio de Janeiro Tourist Board threatened to sue. Come to think of it, any comedy show that can inspire a potential lawsuit isn't doing too badly, either.

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Aspect ratios: 1.33:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/24/2010

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Fox brings The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season to Blu-ray in a fully-loaded special edition featuring top-notch hi-def transfers and audio commentaries on all episodes. You won't ever see these episodes looking more crisp and brilliantly colorful than they do on this three-disc Blu-ray set. There's simply no complaining about the image quality on this last season to feature cel animation (as opposed to all-digital animation), and the audio is likewise definitive in dynamic, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes for each episode.

The audio commentary on each episode features a roundup of between six and nine participants. These usually include the show-runner and credited writer, as well as some combination of directors, members of the writing staff, creator Matt Groening, and even the occasional cast member (Dan Castellaneta) or guest star (Stan Lee, Joe Mantegna, Delroy Lindo, and James Lipton). Though the commentaries have become a bit less focused over the years (like the episodes), I still consider these tracks must-listens: they're a great ongoing oral history of the series with enough yuks to be entertainment in and of themselves.

Disc One kicks off with the welcoming "A Token from Matt Groening" (1:52, SD) and also includes the montage "Ralphisms" (2:40, SWD) and one of the discs' two multi-angle Animation Showcases, in this case for "The Parent Rap." Deleted scenes are also accessible while watching each episode, or in one fell swoop on Disc Three.

Disc Two includes "The People Ball" (1:14, SD), a behind-the-scenes snippet that adds visual aids to a bit of the commentary for "Sweets and Sour Marge" (that episode also gets an Animation Showcase); "The 13th Crewman" (1:40, SD), a look at the Simpsons-themed Team NewsCorp sailing vessel; and "Blame It On the Monkeys" (1:39, SD), a bit of the commentary for "Blame It On Lisa" illustrated with newspaper headlines and clips from the episode.

Disc Three includes an Easter Egg providing the full text of an article from Relix Magazine on the appearance of Phish. Also on hand is a suite of Commercials: "Burger King 'Linesman'" (:21, SD), "Burger King 'Trick or Treat'" (:32, SD), "Burger King 'Springfield Hamburger'" (:32, SD), "Burger King 'Simpsons Watch'" (:32, SD) and "Sabritas" (:22, SD). "The Games" (8:01, SD) is a cool montage of demo clips from Simpsons video games over the years (also the theme of the season-thirteen packaging and menus). "The Sweet Life of Ralph" (6:10, SD) is another montage of Ralph clips, and we also get a Sketch Gallery. Lastly, Disc Three hosts the complete collection of the season's "Deleted Scenes" (14:41, SD) with optional intro and commentary.

Simpsons fans will be in hog heaven with this jam-packed Blu-ray set. All the features they've come to expect married to hi-def transfers and lossless audio: mmmm, hi-def transfers and lossless audio....


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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