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'Simpsons World': A road test

"The Simpsons," TV's best comedy of all time. Credit: AP

FX's "Simpsons World" arrived Tuesday, billed as the biggest, richest, bestest and most capacious, audacious, outrageous app ever devoted to a single TV series in the history of the World Wide Web.

Which means, of course, that we just had to go on a test drive.

I have, and the overall impression is generally a good one, with some reservations (see below). Keep in mind that "Simpsons World" is probably best experienced as a mobile application -- one of those time fillers to keep you occupied on the long train ride to and from Penn Station.

Works perfectly fine from a desktop (my road test vehicle this morning), too.

Another thing to keep in mind: I suspect that while this isn't a beta version, there will be enhancements and improvements as the years roll by.

 Let's start with the good.

1.) The gang really is all here. All 522-plus episodes that is, which can be accessed via an easy-to-read scroll bar entitled "Popularity of Every Episode Ever." Put the cursor on the bar, and the seasons float by, with little bar charts designating the popularity of individual episodes.

2.) The doughnut. It's your homescreen link, the iconic icon that instantly brings you back to where you started from. It's very handy and very pink. You can't miss it.

3.) The episode clip option. That's a terrific little addition -- for each episode you get five clips that are representative of the episode, or just fun clips, that stand perfectly well on their own.

4.) Video quality is very good indeed. There's nothing that suggests aging or diminution. If looks count, and they do, then Simpsons World represents a more than adequate alternative to the TV viewing experience -- in fact, I'd say a superior one.

Now, the gripes:

1.) "Simpsons World" is heavily commercialized. Each episode is consumed by roughly five minutes of commercials, which may be (roughly) half the TV commercial load, but is still a heavy load by Internet TV standards. There are no means for fans to escape this background noise, which is both disruptive and annoying, So the nice people at FX may wish to consider these ideas: First, have fans pay extra (or simply pay) for a commercial-free "World;" second, another possibility would be to adopt the Hulu model, which at least gives viewers a choice of commercials.

2.) "You May Also Like..." This is just one of the site's idiosyncrasies that doesn't seem to offer much more than a device to keep you plugged in. Example: I checked on "Cape Feare," a famous early season episode. The "You May Also Like" suggestions listed below then directed me (in one instance) to "Lady Bouvier's Lover." Why? Not sure, but wouldn't it have made more sense to direct me to other Sideshow Bob episodes?

3.) "Read More:" Click on this and you expect to get an in-depth look at the episode -- its history, lore, background, quotes, and so on. Instead, you get a list of "themes" -- themes, by the way, which apply to most "Simpsons" episodes. This could be (and probably will be), in time, a wonderful resource, but right now it's useless.

4.) The Start screen: Go to the start screen and you are instantly dumped into a random episode. (Or it seems random -- there may be a logic to this that escapes me.) It's also on autoplay. There's something a little -- what's the word? -- manipulative about this. Most fans, I suspect, come to browse, not to be forced into something (and hard-core webheads have an inherent bias against autoplay; that's just the way they roll).

Best probably to have begun the start screen with a tutorial -- like "The Universe is Expanding" icon from the choices below. (Problem there is that there's no content at all yet!)

5.) Most popular-ever designation. At this early stage, this appears to be a meaningless bell-and-whistle. It's essentially a counter that displays how many fans have clicked on a particular episode, which would then (logically) serve as a guide to random browsers who are looking for a landing strip. But as mentioned, it's still very early. Only a few thousand hard-core fans have hit this feature since launch. Over time this could evolve into something of real value.

6.) "Popularity of Every Episode Ever:" Finally, yes, this. POEEE is quite clearly the heart of Simpsons World -- the raison d'être, the killer app within the killer app. But why does it occupy such a subsidiary position on the home page? Shouldn't this be the most prominent feature? Plus, you are almost given the sense that this is a research tool as opposed to a navigation tool -- it's both, in point of fact.

Bottom line: A magnificent new site with (nonetheless) some counterintuitive bells and whistles that can at times diminish the browsing experience as opposed to enhance it. Plus, too ... many ... commercials.


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