With the conclusion of its twentieth season, The Simpsons became the longest-running serialised television show of all time—overtaking Gunsmoke’s twenty seasons. It’s commonly argued—in books like Vanity Fair writer John Ortved’s recent oral history Simpsons Confidential—that the series hasn’t been funny for at least ten years, since the mid-to-late-’90s halcyon days where people like Al Jean, David X. Cohen and Conan O’Brien were still writing great sight gags and episodes that actually had story arcs—instead of, say, (presumably) hiding out in their mansions, or squabbling with Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon for increasingly later timeslots in the crowded arena of late-night TV.
Sadly, far from continuing to tap into the cultural zeitgeist, the show lost its way sometime early last decade and started to rely on storylines that sought to see what stupid antics Homer could get up to each week. Instead of being a high water mark for social satire and a funny little show about a dysfunctional yellow family, we saw Homer grow into a buffoonish caricature of his former self. Sure, he’s always been dumb—but did he need to become this dumb? The twentieth season shows just how far the series—and, by extension, animated comedy in general—has fallen; it’s depressing to think that there will probably never be another Simpsons character as fully-developed and enjoyable to watch as Hank Scorpio or even Mr. Sparkle—“there’s your answer, fish-bulb!” Monty Burns will never sing “Hello lamppost, whatcha knowin’? / I’ve come to watch your… power flowin’…” to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy” as he erects a giant disc over Springfield to block out the sun. Abe Simpson will never do something as hilarious as riff on Charlie Chaplin’s “Dance of the Bread Rolls” and then immediately be summonsed by that blue-haired Noo Yawk lawyer for same. That big fat guy in the Cayman Islands with a curiously ambiguous accent but a sharp intellect for investing mutual funds will never again say “Oh, it’s too hot today.” Heck, there’ll probably never even be someone as interestingly bland as Frank Grimes. Instead, Mr. Burns has become a go-to character for increasingly pointless storylines, and Waylon Smithers is comic relief fodder now more than ever before—imagine what it would’ve been like if he’d stayed black like he was in the first season!
In choosing to release the twentieth season immediately after airing, instead of continuing to (slowly) issue each season in order—the last was season thirteen—there’s been a sudden jump to twenty, to both promote the anniversary, and to show off the look of the newer episodes: from “Take My Life, Please” onwards, episodes were created and broadcast in widescreen 720p high-definition. Unlike with previous seasons, there are no special features, despite the abundance of anniversary specials broadcast overseas—including a Morgan Spurlock-directed hour-long examination of the series’ history. The four-disc set is nicely packaged though—albeit sometimes at the expense of protecting its cargo: like many of the ‘head’ flip packages for earlier seasons, the discs slip cumbersomely into hinged cardboard sleeves glued at the spine, where the glue can come into contact with the disc surfaces.