Since its debut a couple of years ago, Playmates' line of action figures from TV's THE SIMPSONS has satisfied every craving that its long-running, ultimately deep-sixed STAR TREK line failed to fulfill: Playmates has produced a huge number of figures of beloved characters with little repetition, and in accessory-loaded playsets that allow the characters to "talk" by emitting dialogue reproduced from the TV series. At around 5 inches in height the figures don't take up much space, and so many have been released that the odds are just about anyone can own his or her favorite character from the showthey're even coming out with a figure of Disco Stu.
If you want your SIMPSONS characters to talk, you've got to own the playsets, and they do take up room at around 5x8 inches wide. Ever since the first Springfield Cemetery playset from the show's annual "Treehouse of Horror" anthology episodes hit toy shelves collectors have made these sets some of the most sought-after in the series (last year's edition, featuring aliens Kang and Kodos, disappeared almost instantly from toy shelves). This year's "Treehouse" set rivals the showmanship of last year's: set in Hell's "Ironic Punishment Division," the set features Donut Head Homer, cursed to forever crave the cakey deliciousness of his own noggin; Janitor Willey as Freddy Krueger; Marge as a Witch; and Bart as the Separated Evil Bart. The playset features a bulky conveyor belt along which Hell's victims receive their punishment, a large container of Hot Dog Meat, an evil rake for Willey, additional stalagmites, and a broom for Marge. Speakable phrases include Homer's immortal "Mmm... forbidden donut..." and Marge's inimitable witch laugh.
Yes, it's really, really coolbut there's just one caveat. Playmates came up with the brilliant idea of having characters "plug in" to the playsets via a contact in their foot, which has to be snapped over an extending plug in the floor of the playsets. The plugs have two retractable pegs on either side of the metal contact and you have to get these to slide downward as you press the figure's foot down exactly where it needs to be on the base.
On my Treehouse of Horror III set exactly none of the figures successfully snapped down onto the basethey just pop back up again and fall over if you do manage to somehow position the foot correctly. I've also noticed that on older sets the retractable plugs get stuck or cracked, meaning you can never plug a character onto that set again. Even if they have been successfully plugged in, months later they can simply pop off. Add to that the fact that characters are often released before the playsets they work with are, and you've got a recipe for a collector uprising.
Reportedly Playmates will be releasing the long-delayed, spectacular "Main Street" which is supposed to work with all SIMPSONS figures this winter. Of course it's probably impossible for Playmates to determine every figure it's going to release and store phrases for those figures in every playset, but right now the whole thing plays like a scam to get us to buy more playsets. I can live with that, but couldn't they at least work?