Posts Tagged ‘The Simpsons’

DVD review: ‘The Simpsons — The Thirteenth Season’ is a lucky number

August 23, 2010

Just think: With Tuesday’s release by Fox of The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season, we’re just six seasons shy of catching up. Season 20 was issued last January, and Season 21 is still airing. But at least we have our lucky 13th, complete with the bells and whistles fans have come to expect.

Among them are fun newly animated menus spinning from the four-disc set’s motif of a video game arcade. There’s also an eight-minute Simpsons video game montage of what appear to be crude mockups of games (but since I don’t play them, what do I know?).

Cover boy Ralph Wiggums also gets his own six-minute montage, The Sweet Life of Ralph, paying tribute to the most naive and childlike of all Simpsons characters. And there are 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which you can see within their episodes or watch strung together with commentary by producer Al Jean.

He points out in it that Season 13 was the last featuring ink and paint coloring of animation cells. Now The Simpsons is a creature of CG.

Season 13’s 22 shows include the inevitable Halloween episode, which in this case harbors the superb HAL-like house computer voiced by Pierce Brosnan. Other extras include a series of commercials for Burger King and (in Spanish) chips; a box set intro from creator Matt Groening with a quick run-down of the season’s guest voice actors; and a brief “Ralphisms” bit with Ralph’s best lines. (“Me fail English?” That’s no worse than millions of American who don’t know how to use “me” and “I.”)

If you love The Simpsons, as I do, you’re there already. And there’s no need for me to warn you off or qualify my review, except for the unwanted packaging ploy of shoving discs in tight inner cardboard sleeves. (Doh!) Beyond that, just enjoy. For the 13th season or the 21st, that’s what The Simpsons is about.

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DVD review: Check into ‘Room 222’ from James L. Brooks

March 24, 2009

Each week, his name appears as executive producer on the longest running and most successful prime-time animated series in TV history, The Simpsons. He directed, wrote, produced and won three Oscars for 1983’s Houston-made tearjerker Terms of Endearment. He is clearly an entertainment industry icon.

And he got his show-biz TV start (after working in TV news) by co-creating  and serving as story editor of a fine little program called Room 222, now new on DVD with a four-disc set of its 1969-70 first season.

The man is James L. Brooks, who used the light approach of an ostensible sitcom (the half-hour program had low-key laugh tracks in its first season, but was really more of a gentle drama) to sell educational messages without seeming heavy-handed. The key was to have likable lead characters, which this show had in Pete Dixon, the cool yet caring teacher, played by Lloyd Haynes; Liz McIntyre, the cool yet caring counselor and Pete’s girlfriend, played by Denise Nicholas; gruff yet warm principal Seymour Kaufman, played by reliable character actor Michael Constantine; and plucky, spunky teacher-in-training Alice Johnson, played by Karen Valentine, to whom the role of America’s sprightly ingenue fell after Sally Field finished with her Gidget phase.

As you can see from that list, the principal (no pun) focus was on teachers and administrators and how they interacted with students, rather than making the students the stars. Today it would probably be reversed. But back then, it worked.

Their Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles looks almost more like a college from the exterior. It has a surprising orderliness and calm sunniness about it, given the turbulent times, but Room 222 was an unusually racially mixed show — sort of like Star Trek on steroids, when it comes to boldly going in that direction. (Haynes and Nicholas played rare African-American leads, not second bananas.) But it wasn’t about race so much as about human beings and universal situations (not fitting in, jealousy, untapped talents, daddy issues, etc.). Still, budding hot-button topics such as drug use, racial conflicts and school violence were tackled, too.

Yes, the show feels awfully dated by today’s standards. But it wasn’t made today. It premiered in the year of Woodstock and the first lunar landing. Give it a break.

Yet while Room 222 is greatly welcome on DVD for its excellent content, I must report that the source material is not good. In the first disc which I’ve previewed, picture quality is very soft in show after show, especially compared to the pristine nature of so many vintage TV series, many of them older than this one. Still, it’s good to have Room 222 in any form.

The show, which ran five seasons, was an immediate critical darling and award-winner. It took home three Emmys for this debut season, including acting awards for Constantine and Valentine and one for outstanding new series.

BTW, other folks got their starts with Room 222 besides a young producer names James L. Brooks, including such actors as Mark Hamill, Bruno Kirby, John Rubinstein and Ed Begley Jr.

As for Brooks, besides The Simpsons, he’s also steered production of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Tracey Ullman Show and Taxi, winning 19 Emmys in the process.

You think Room 222 has a strong pedigree? You’re right. Go to the head of the class — and enjoy.