The Simpsons: Season Ten

"Very Good"

The Simpsons: Season Ten Review


By the end of the 1990s The Simpsons, the former enfant terrible of Rupert Murdoch's once upstart Fox Network, was well into its mature middle period of cultural acceptance. Earlier seasons (the first full episode aired back in December 1989) had seen a lot of attention paid to Bart's supposedly dangerous antisocial tendencies. But throughout the 1990s, the show had honed its satire and firmed up its roster of stellar voice actors, turning what had been seen first as the animated equivalent of Married With Children into something of a national institution. Seasons 8 and 9 had provided some of the show's greatest episodes, like "Homer's Enemy" (a devastating stab at American lassitude featuring Homer's nemesis Frank Grimes) and "Lisa the Skeptic" (where consumerism and religion get a similarly brutal treatment).

The 23 episodes of Season 10, broadcast between August 1998 and May 1999, reveal a show securely positioned both as money-making endeavor for Fox and well-regarded repository for smarty-pants satire. The show's writers, one of TV's greatest collections of comic minds since the stellar days of Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, know exactly what notes to hit, and they hit them over and over again; meaning, in short: lots of Homer being an unthinking idiot. Homer could save Grandpa's life with a kidney transplant, but he's too scared of the operation and keeps running away, ala the climax of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Homer becomes a bodyguard. And so on. But all this attention also means that the writers are constantly feeding Homer the best lines ("Are you sure this is a sci-fi convention? It's full of nerds."), though Bart gets plenty of one-liners as well ("Dad, you make a great hippie; you're lazy and self-righteous!").

The downside of The Simpsons' popularity at this stage is that unavoidable level of comfort which comes from success, not to mention a desire to please all their constituencies. For instance, "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday" should have been a beaut of an episode simply for the fact that it features a walk-on by the boss, who introduces himself as "Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire tyrant" (it is one of the ironies of the age that the godfather of right-wing media rage also bankrolls mainstream TV's most stridently liberal show). But this is lost amid a flurry of celebrity walk-ons and lazy jokes. It was around this time that not only did the show start losing its status as untouchtable -- read: everyone stopped expecting every episode to be a masterpiece -- it also developed the bad habit of building episodes around celebrity guests, who were practically never as amusing as they were meant to be.

In retrospect, it's fascinating to see how little the show has become dated since the late '90s, with only the occasional (and unfunny) Bill Clinton or guest appearance by a then-married Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin truly revealing the sign of the times. For the most part, little has changed, with the show still getting by not just on Homer's stupid schemes and blowhard idiocies but also on its seemingly bottomless repository of inside cultural references. While these can be grating (a Hunter S. Thompson quip in the "Viva Ned Flanders" episode seems slotted in just to gain cool points), they can pay off ("You liked Rashomon." "That's not how I remember it."), particularly in "Mom and Pop Art," one of the show's most gratifying eps. Amidst Homer's accidental acceptance as a producer of rage-filled outsider art, the episode concocts a knowing satire -- but also warm appreciation -- of modern art and includes one of the show's best cameos of all time: a kleptomaniacal Jasper Johns.

The four-disc DVD set includes just about everything fans would want, from multiple extra features, animation showcases, deleted scenes, and original sketches, to multiple-person audio commentary on every single episode; they even included commercials starring characters from the show (though that last part borders on excessive).



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Dominic Polcino, Mark Kirkland, Bob Anderson

Producer: , , Sam Simon

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