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''The Simpsons,'' Odds and Ends

By RD Heldenfels Published: September 10, 2006

Around an extended period of football-watching (Buckeyes last night, Browns today), I squeezed in tonight's season premiere of ''The Simpsons'' and was glad to do so. Glad, first of all, to have a new ''Simpsons'' well before Halloween. (I remember times Fox delayed its start so long that the annual ''Treehouse of Horror'' Halloween special ended up airing after Halloween.) Glad, second of all, because it is still a reliably funny show. And because of its pedigree, it is able to get top people to lend their voices.

Tonight's telecast, for example, involves a gangster parody that doesn't merely make jokes about mob movies. It has Joe Mantegna (''The Godfather Part III,'' ''Things Change'') and Joe Pantoliano and Michael Imperioli of ''The Sopranos'' as guest voices. So when it does a riff on ''The Sopranos,'' the riff has greater authenticity.

I know, it also means that the show has become so established and easy to watch that it rarely offends.  It prefers the nudge in the ribs to ''South Park's'' poke in the eye. But as much as I admire ''South Park's'' boldness in principle, I am still more likely to laugh at ''The Simpsons.'' Then again, tonight's biggest laugh (which was burned off in the promos) isn't even in the gangster bits.

Also, in case you missed it, here's a Beacon Journal column I wrote for today's paper about the new seasons of ''Survivor'' and ''The Amazing Race'' -- and the question of diversity in the shows. And in Saturday's editions, George Thomas and I pondered 9/11's effect on movies and TV, in this story.

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