America's favourite animated family sallies forth for a 23rd season of edgy Springfield humour and its 500th episode.
Homer Simpson's odyssey continues
If we had a dirham for every doughnut Homer Simpson has hoovered down since America's favourite cartoon family first appeared as "shorts" between sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show in April of 1987, we'd all be living in the Burj Khalifa.
Now the longest-running scripted show in US television history, since its premiere as a full-fledged series on Fox on December 17, 1989, we can only imagine how dour our world would be without loveable goofballs such as Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie to brighten our hearts and minds.
And never underestimate the power of an hour to change one's life. When The Simpsons' creator Matt Groening was first invited to pitch cartoon ideas for Ullman, the show developer Jim Brooks kept him waiting - and the rest is TV legend.
"While I was waiting - I believe they kept me waiting for more than an hour - I very quickly drew the Simpsons family," Groening says in the current issue of Smithsonian magazine. "I basically drew my own family. My father's name is Homer. My mother's name is Margaret. I have a sister Lisa and another sister Maggie. I was going to name the main character Matt, but I didn't think it would go over well, so I changed the name to Bart."
Amazingly, as season 23 gets underway, the series' story well still gushes like a smashed fire hydrant, with Kiefer Sutherland (24) giving a crisp espionage twist to Homer's life in the opening episode, The Falcon and the D'ohman.
When the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant hires a new security guard named Wayne (voiced by Sutherland), Homer is miffed that the new guy is stand-offish and won't fist-bump with him. "As God is my witness - his fist WILL be bumped!" vows Homer, who heads home to be comforted by Marge.
Soon, however, the reclusive Wayne, his dreams plagued by violent "slow-motion" flashbacks from his past as a CIA agent, must rescue Homer from a Ukrainian "Mafia" gangster.
Visual gags aplenty slide by as he walks the streets of Springfield's "Little Ukraine": a Tsarbucks coffee shop; Insane in the Ukraine: Mental Health Services; Cossacks Fifth Avenue fashions; and Hot to Trotsky's Ice Skating Rink - where he finds a frigid Homer entombed at centre ice breathing through a straw. Without giving anything more away, it's a top-notch episode.
Fans who voted online after last season ended to decide whether Springfield's hottest "it" couple - "Nedna" (Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel) - should stay together, will also find closure in this episode. Expect more brilliant guest-star high jinks this season with the likes of: Jane Lynch, Gordon Ramsay, Andy Garcia, Neil Gaiman, Kevin Dillon, Janeane Garofalo, Ted Nugent, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, David Byrne, Brent Spiner, Lady Gaga - and the late US president Theodore Roosevelt (via archival recordings), to name a few.
A true milestone - the series' 500th episode overall - will be broadcast as the 14th episode this season. Titled At Long Last Leave, the Simpsons discover that everyone in town has grown tired of them and are secretly plotting to have them thrown out of Springfield forever. Will they succeed?
Bowing to network pressure to cut costs last October, the cast, writers, animators and crew took a 30-per-cent pay cut last year to guarantee this 27-Emmy winning series will remain on the air at least until the end of its 25th season, keeping Homer and his comic universe in our living rooms for another two years.
Or, to quote Groening himself: "There is no end in sight."
The Simpsons begins its 23rd season today and is broadcast on Sundays and Mondays on OSN Comedy and OSN Comedy +2. Reruns of previous seasons are also broadcast daily on Star World HD