The Simpsons: Gone Wild Review

Some TV shows become national symbols; relics of their time and a means of defining an era that would otherwise be relegated to the history books. The Simpsons is one of the prime examples of a modern American show that has broken all records and satirised every aspect of their country's existence, since their debut on The Tracy Ullman Show and the first season that was commissioned in 1989.

15 years later and the show's name is still as strong as it ever was, watched by millions worldwide – both adults and children alike. Featuring subtle humour that touches on more serious issues such as family responsibility and the pains of growing up, The Simpsons has won countless awards and still has a bright future with a film adaptation in the works, as well as more seasons continuing to be made.

DVD has so far been graced with the first three seasons, with the fourth on its way in the summer, yet unfortunately Twentieth Century Fox are releasing them at a painfully slow rate: just one season a year. If this is maintained, it will mean that it is unlikely collectors will be able to own every season before DVD's inevitable successor comes along. Sources have stated that it is the show's creator, Matt Groening, who has so far delayed the releases; he is so keen on recording an audio commentary on each episode that his hectic schedule (he continues to produce new episodes) has meant he has a very small window of opportunity to do so. This has meant that Fox have tried to compensate for their lack of income from collectors' real quarries by releasing compilation discs, each featuring four separate episodes from different seasons.

This practice harks back to the days of VHS, where various themed tapes were released – focusing on episodes that had similar storylines and could be easily grouped together. So far DVD has seen a couple of these releases…and here is another. Dubbed The Simpsons: Gone Wild, yet again four episodes have been bundled together in 88 minutes of yellow-tinged animated action. The episodes are as follows:

Homer's Night Out
After a long six month wait, Bart has received his much desired mail order CIA spy camera. When Homer is out partying one night at a workmate's stag do, the rest of the Simpsons happen to dine at the very same restaurant – and Bart stumbles in on Homer just in time to capture him dancing with Princess Kashmir and stuffing bills into her cleavage. Once the picture had been developed and spread around town by Bart and his sidekick Millhouse, Homer sets upon a mission to win back Marge and show the children of Springfield that all women are not sexual objects!

I remember this episode from one of the very early Simpsons seasons; not just because of its jagged pencil lines and other hallmarks of episodes made before The Simpsons became as popular as it is today. It's an example of one of the morality tales that were originally broadcast, before the show became more eccentric and revolving around quirkier plots. On the whole this is an enjoyable episode, with a fair amount of humour (Homer's reaction to strippers and subsequent dialogue with the Princess, as well as Bart's views).

Sunday, Cruddy Sunday
Homer excitedly organises a trip to the Super Bowl, but he and his friends soon discover their tickets are forfeit and get thrown into the jail cell at the stadium. Spotting Dolly Parton, they convince her to set them free and on their quest to find seats, they stumble into an executive box with a scrumptious buffet. As the boxes real owner arrives, he commands his guards to seize them and they are on the run again…

This is the weakest episode on the disc, constructed as merely an assortment of set-pieces rather than a wholesome chunk. The cameos from stars (the aforementioned Parton and also Rupert Murdoch!) are amusing at first, but then it is clear that they appear only to smooth over the hollowness of the episode. Granted, there are a few laughs, but nothing to make this anything more than decidedly average.

The Mansion Family
At an awards show commemorating Springfield's oldest resident, he dies from the shock and excitement of being kissed by Britney Spears. The second oldest resident is Mr Burns, who succeeds him as next in line. He now realises he has to take better care of himself, and whilst Smithers whisks him away for a check-up, Homer is chosen to house-sit his mansion with the rest of the family.

Famous when broadcast because of Miss Spears' appearance (albeit a very small cameo role at the start), this episode is amusing and has a good enough balance between quirkiness and good old fashioned story and character development. The Simpsons are depicted as a family so use to their middle-class surroundings that this adventure into the upper-class is met by excitement and hysteria…whilst the episode's climax is a textbook Simpsons example of how things can backfire spectacularly!

Homer the Moe
While Moe’s away, Homer runs Springfield's premiere watering hole; but when Moe returns he decides to make his tavern into something more hip and modern, so a disgruntled Homer opens his own bar in the Simpson family garage.

Although I love parts of this episode, unfortunately I do dislike other parts. Because I'm such a huge fan of R.E.M., their appearance at the end of the episode (playing in Homer's garage bar!) is a real highlight: especially Michael Stipe going ballistic at Homer, smashing a bottle, and thrusting the shards towards Homer's face…only to be told by Peter Buck "No Michael, that's not the R.E.M. way", before going off to recycle it! It's also amusing when Moe travels to a bartender's college to rediscover the 'joys' of pulling pints, complete with reminiscing with his old mentor. The weak part of the episode is what follows upon Moe's return to Springfield, becoming a clichéd look at hip youngsters, such as the type who frequent Moe's new bar.

Overall this disc's episodes are quite good, let down by one (Sunday, Cruddy Sunday) – although I know that there are many superior Simpsons showcases out there, and perhaps the selection on Gone Wild is a little lacklustre.

The Disc
Seeing as only 88 minutes of viewing time is included on the disc, Fox have been good enough to price it at only £15.99 – a small consolation for those who can't wait for the season boxsets.

The menus are static, offering a simple choice of episode and scene selection. They are easy to navigate.

Presented in 4:3 fullscreen, the same ratio as it they were broadcast in, the episodes look good on the whole – vibrant and clear, although lacking the sharpness that could be improved on with a full digital remastering. It is worth noting that the episodes in the season boxsets do receive such treatment, so the picture quality will undoubtedly improve between now and then.

A Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is on offer, again as per original broadcast. It suits the episodes fine, with the front channels being used to present the dialogue in a clear and crisp manner, and fortunately there are no flaws to criticise.

Two supplements are included on the disc: a 2-minute featurette on Krusty the Clown, featuring short clips of his antics from over the years, and also a 'generic' Simpsons trailer that rams the current DVD releases down your throat.

Four fairly enjoyable episodes are presented on a cheap disc that has been released with the sole intention of tiding fans over before more season boxsets come out. Technically the DVD is average – satisfactory picture quality, good audio, almost non-existent extras – so I suppose this comes recommended if it can be found in a local bargain bin.

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