Monday, April 12, 2004

LONDON - Thou shalt not have a cow. So says the gospel according to “The Simpsons.”

America’s famous dysfunctional cartoon family will be the subject of a series of evening classes by the Rev. Robin Spittle of the Church of England on the Christian message contained in the popular TV show.

“They are a churchgoing family and they make moral decisions, some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t, but either way they are a great way to open up a discussion,” Mr. Spittle said.

Churchgoers at All Saints Church in Kesgrave, northeast of London, have been invited to attend classes from the end of April on each of the four main family members — parents Homer and Marge, and children Bart and Lisa.

Mr. Spittle, 46, said each episode had Christian themes, even though Homer once described his religion as “you know, the one with all the well-meaning rules that don’t work in real life. Uh, Christianity.”

The minister cited the temptation for Marge and Homer to have extramarital affairs as a recurring story line.

“Both Marge and Homer have found themselves being offered the opportunity to play away from home and they both turn them down,” Mr. Spittle said. “Temptation, choices and doing what’s right — you can’t get much more of a Christian message than that.”

The references to Christianity in the hit show have been discussed widely and were the subject of a 2001 book by Mark Pinsky called “The Gospel According to the Simpsons.”

“They have a clever way of covering a lot of ground in a short space of time.

“Each 20-minute show gets a whole message across,” said Mr. Spittle, who has held services in the local pub and used such Hollywood material as the Harry Potter films to teach the meaning of Easter.

The family values — or the apparent lack of them — in the irony- and sarcasm-heavy series were criticized when it first aired in the early 1990s. In 1992, President Bush said American families should be “a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.”

The show, now in its 16th season, has long since silenced its harshest critics and gone on to win 20 Emmys and become the longest running prime-time cartoon series in TV history.

The actors who give the voice to Homer’s “D’oh” and to Bart’s “Don’t have a cow, man” have been gaining attention again because their demands for higher pay have halted the show’s production. The trade paper Daily Variety reports that each voice actor is seeking about $360,000 per episode.

Stars Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, and Nancy Cartwright, who plays Bart, have refused to attend recent script readings in response to the pay fight. Other actors on the show — Julie Kavner, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer and Yeardley Smith — are negotiating new deals but “to no avail,” their representatives said.

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