- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

Say it ain't D'oh, Homer. But it's true. It's time to wish "The Simpsons" a tearful but over due goodbye.
After more than a decade of groundbreaking comedy, the animated quintet only sporadically amuse in their 13th season on Fox. "The Simpsons" is a far cry from its first half-dozen years, when any given episode packed more belly-busters than a Ted Turner speech.
The show's still-sparkling ratings would tell you "The Simpsons" is as hale as ever. Fox, the network so enamored with ratings that it's willing to break up relationships ("Temptation Island") and start unhealthy ones ("Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire"), won't give up a ratings winner.
But it should.
So far this season, we've seen Bart and Homer shackled together by an ornery judge, town residents form a giant human pyramid and other inanities that get away from the show's strengths. At its best, "The Simpsons" traffics in the too-real world of a fractured nuclear family.
A recent episode almost made me rethink my argument, so eager am I to be mistaken. Marge's old beau, Artie, offered to "rent" the blue-haired matriarch's company for a weekend in an attempt to woo her. The intriguing setup spilled over into a wicked parody of HBO's "Sex and the City" before its silly oil rig, yes, oil rig, set-piece finale. Too often, "Simpsons" episodes wrap with either violent or nonsensical moments, demonstrating that the writers can't sustain the hilarity for more than 15 minutes.
Other subtle changes have left the show weakened beyond repair.
Homer, once the doofus Everyman, has been dumbed down so much it's a wonder he knows how to take air in and out of his lungs without instruction.
Bart's shenanigans have grown darker and more felonious with each passing year. You almost root for hapless Principal Skinner to win his grudge match with the bug-eyed lad.
It's painful to watch some newer episodes, kind of like catching former Phillies phenom Steve Carlton struggle against .250 hitters in his career's twilight.
Bart and company in their prime could tackle nearly any topic, from alcoholism to religion with the supple grace of a Kirov Ballet dancer.
Now, nothing is assured, save that each new show will further trample on its considerable legacy.
On www.jumptheshark.com, which tracks when shows "lose it," the vast majority of site visitors contend "The Simpsons" has yet to "jump." So much for the wisdom of the 'Net. But Web surfers aren't alone in their delusion. Even television critics, who review each "Simpsons" season opener with Bart-colored glasses, insist nothing is wrong in the fictional 'burbs of Springfield.
Think so? Just catch a repeat of one of the classic, early episodes. The animation may be more crude, but the wit infused in every animated cell speaks volumes of how far the show has fallen.
Remember when a three-eyed fish spawn from the town's nuclear power plant derailed Montgomery Burns' run for governor? Or when Homer was told he had only 24 hours to live and, upon waking for his final day on Earth, hits the snooze button on his alarm clock for a few extra winks?
"The Simpsons" is more than a show to many, including myself. I've met a few people who tell me they just don't find it funny. I view them warily, as if they just said Britney Spears is the ideal role model for today's young women.
Sure, people will forever choose sides on the comedy stylings of the Three Stooges and Monty Python. "The Simpsons," to my stubborn mind, defines comedy done right.
Like Dick Clark, the show has aged gracefully. Until now.
Young Maggie has barely changed since year one. Homer's pate has the same scant number of hairs as it's always had. Animation spares child actors from entering puberty and actresses from enduring liposuction to remain first-season perky.
Writing, alas, has no such life-preserving elixir.
It's been a grand run, gang. But better to sign off than produce any "very special" "Simpsons" episodes and dent the show's richly deserved status as one of television's fiercest, funniest comedies. Ever.


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