"Simpsons" Just Right: Off-Key.

By Mike Duffy

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, Sept 29, 1993;
© Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service 1993.

Still crazy after all these years, "The Simpsons" remains one of the funniest, freshest comedies on television.

Other TV families may grow stale and fall victim to the trite confines of a 30-minute universe, ensnared in laugh track ennui and recycled situations. Not the dizzy Fox cartoon clan headed by Homer and Marge.

They rave on ... brilliantly.

And that's because the clever pranksters behind the scenes - the writers, producers, animators and actors who bring Bart & Co. to slap-happy life every week - haven't lost their edge or their energy. They're just as lively, unpredictable and off-the-wall as they were when they first had Bart crow, "Ay caramba!"

So creator Matt Groening's cracked, brashly irreverent vision of middle-class family life is every bit as witty and incisively realized today as it was when Marge's high-rise blue bouffant initially dented our pop culture consciousness.

Further proof? The fifth-season premiere of "The Simpsons" at 8 p.m. Thursday night. Tamely enough, it's entitled "Homer's Barbershop Quartet."

But prepare to gaze in goofy, enjoyable wonderment upon Homer Simpson, singing superstar, as the family's befuddled, sweetly bonkers patriarch recalls his brief rush to pop star glory in those giddy days of the mid-1980s.

Yes, those were the days. "Rock 'n' roll had become stagnant. 'Achy Breaky Heart' was seven years away," recalls Homer. "Something had to fill the void, and that something was barbershop."

In a sly send-up of the Beatles, we are introduced to another Fab Four who stormed to the top of the record charts. Homer's fellow harmonizers in the Be Sharps (complete with a "Meet the Be Sharps" album cover) include Principal Skinner, Apu the convenience store proprietor, and belching Moe's Bar regular, Barney, who possesses a lovely Irish tenor.

The Be Sharps big hit? "Baby on Board," a deranged lyrical tribute to the ubiquitous yellow auto stickers of the decade past.

Real-life ex-Beatle George Harrison makes an animated appearance. The Be Sharps grab a Grammy in the "spoken word, soul or barbershop" category. And there are glimpses of other '80s pop culture icons, including Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Johnny Carson, Yoko Ono, Joan Rivers and C. Everett Koop.

Alas, Homer is surprised to realize that Bart doesn't have the foggiest recollection of the Be Sharps' brief, shining moment in the showbiz limelight eight years ago. "Dad, thanks to television, I can't remember what happened eight minutes ago," says Bart, offering a wry, giggly zinger for our shared memory blur in a short-attention-span, channel-surfing world.

Fortunately, "The Simpsons" has become one of the most memorable, unforgettable TV series in history, a true original in a dreary sea of copycats and cliches.

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