The Simpsons: Backstage Pass
This DVD contains four episodes from The Simpsons 200 plus that all have a musical theme but strangely (and this may be good or bad depending on the viewer) they failed to include the Season 9 Episode 'All Singing, All Dancing' aka 'Clip Show #4' in which Homer rents out ‘Paint Your Wagon’ expecting a typical western but gets quite the opposite!
Starting off we have the premiere episode of Season 12 (after the Halloween Special) that pretty much set the tone for what was to follow which sadly was a season of below average episodes that have set many a Simpson fan calling for their favourite show to be cancelled while it still has some dignity left. I myself do not think it is quite that bad as these episodes still offer an entertainment value that surpasses most of the drivel we are subjected to on television but in comparison to previous seasons and indeed rival shows offerings (Family Guy and Futurama stand out) the episodes of Season 12 just do not stand up too well and considering this set contains two such episodes (one of which is particularly dire) it is already off to a bad start. On to the episode descriptions though...
A Tale of Two Springfields (Season 12 Episode 2) After losing a competition due to a new area code having been introduced Homer goes typically over the top to the point where Springfield is split into two towns, Olde Springfield and New Springfield. A bitter rivalry develops between the towns and due to Homers inability to cope as Mayor he is deserted by his fellow 'New Springfieldians' so in a last ditch attempt to win one over on Olde Springfield he persuades special guest stars, The Who, to perform in his side of town. The storyline is quite the norm for Season 10 onwards, in that it is quite outrageous and not all that engaging, but there are several funny moments to be enjoyed (Homer strangling Bart with the telephone cord!) and the scenes of The Who performing are quite well done. Episode Rating = 6/10
Homerpalooza (Season 7 Episode 24) The first of two Simpsons episodes that hark back to the days when Groening and co could do no wrong is exemplified by a list of (at the time) top rock bands who all contributed their voices to create a Guest Voice list that has rarely been equalled in size. After an unfortunate accident involving the school bus the parents of Springfield are asked to set-up car-pool journeys that sees Homer taking Bart, Lisa and a selection of their friends to school. On their journeys together Homer soon discovers he has lost touch with the world of rock music so in an effort to get back 'with it' he scores tickets to the biggest rock festival of the year, Hullabalooza. Here we meet a variety of bands and performers including Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth and Peter Frampton while Homer inadvertently becomes the star of the resident freak show! Intelligently written, extremely funny and endlessly re-watchable - what more can you ask for from a prime time television show? Episode Rating = 9/10
New Kids on the Blecch (Season 12 Episode 14) Oh dear! Yet another Season 12 episode that is tragically disappointing. Basically this is The Simpsons send up of Boy Bands, but unlike the fantastic South Park rendition (Fingerbang aka Something you can do with your finger) this episode is neither daring, controversial, or, and this is a pretty big concern, funny! I think I managed to laugh twice, firstly when Homer was running a marathon and then secondly when Ralph sang onstage for the first time, but other than those occasions this episode could barely keep a smile on my face. The story goes like so, Bart, Millhouse, Nelson and Ralph Wiggum are teamed up by a Music Producer to become the next big thing. After going through a makeover, taught their dance routines and handed their pre-written and suitably dire material we soon discover they cannot sing (what a surprise!). It is here that we see the only half-interesting plot development in the form of the NASA developed 'Voice Enhancer' which suddenly makes the foursomes voices sound good and in this case they sound just like the boy band that voiced them, N Sync - which obviously raises the question, just who are behind N Sync's voices! There is a little more to the episode but I should not really explain any further as I will just spoil it for you, but then maybe I should to save you wasting your time? Episode Rating = 4/10
The Otto Show (Season 3 Episode 22) Spinal Tap are on tour in Springfield which allows regular Simpsons voice-artist, Harry Shearer to team up with fellow Spinal Tap stars, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean to bring those popular rockers back to life. After seeing the quite outstanding Spinal Tap show Bart decides to become a rock star. When Otto demonstrates his ability on Barts new guitar he forgets to take the children to school so in an attempt to get to school on time Otto ends up crashing the School bus! Fortunately no one is hurt but it is discovered that Otto has no license, hence he has no job, no money and no home so is therefore taken in by The Simpsons while he attempts to secure his license. This is another classic Simpsons episode whose constant laughs and clever dialogue balances out the disc to become a 50/50 split of the good and the bad (well, more average than bad) - whether that is enough to make you part with your hard earned cash is a decision only you can make. Episode Rating = 9/10
The Simpsons: Backstage Pass will be released May 20th 2002 with an RRP of £15.99.
Update - Having now received the Press Release it would seem that our early pre-release copy for this title includes a slightly different line up of episodes. Fox have replaced New Kids on the Blecch (Season 12 Episode 14) with the earlier and fare more accomplished episode Homer's Barber Shop Quartet (Season 5 Episode 1).
Unlike The Simpsons Season 1 boxset that featured both fully remastered audio and video this release is essentially a VHS to DVD transfer and is barely acceptable as a result. The prints used all feature a noticeable level of dirt throughout and while grain is non-existant (as is expected with the animation format) detail levels are merely average. The colour rendition lacks the clarity of the Season 1 release and has a textured rather than solid appearance while black levels are no better and to make matters worse every episode has a distinctly washed out look to it. The most obvious comparison to make would be that the episodes on this release from 2000/2001 (the two Season 12 episodes) look worse than those featured on the Season 1 boxset which are from 1989/1990 (and look fantastic as a result of the restoration process).
Like the video side of things we are merely treated to the Dolby Pro-Logic soundtrack that The Simpsons is broadcast with on television. Unlike the picture quality the sound quality is perfectly acceptable as it is true to the shows original format and suffers from no audible problems.
The only extra feature we are treated to is a small piece that runs for 2minutes and 22seconds and is titled 'Ottos Finest Moments'. Contained within are a selection of clips featuring Otto that are not all that amusing and so make this a quite boring addition to the disc.
Released in-between the full season box sets this, and no doubt many other compilation DVDs would appear to be mere 'cash cows' following the rumoured poor sales of the Season 1 box set. Any sensible collector will steer clear of this and subsequent releases in favour of the full season box sets but anyone here who prefers the current VHS compilation releases can of course now move over to the DVD Format - quite what that move will offer other than a bigger dent in your wallet is any ones guess given the poor technical nature of this release!