Underrated the case for the critic

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The Independent Culture
Insolence, a horrible quality in everyday life, can be a splendid thing in comedy, which is one reason why The Simpsons is such a gleefully daring production. Its makers are obviously secure in the knowledge that it's the cleverest comedy of sub-moronism ever to grace the small screen, and that confidence brings it perilously close to rudeness - to sneering openly at the very Joe and Jane Sixpacks who have made it a hit.

It's hardly unexpected, then, that a new offering from the Simpsons stable, The Critic, should skirt hazardously close to offending its audience in much the same way; on one occasion, in exactly the same way. A recent episode saw its hero - a plump, balding film reviewer, name of Jay Sherman, with a penchant for Fair Isle sweaters and high-cholesterol foodstuffs - being accused by a journalist of talking over the heads of the people who watch his cable TV show. Sherman's cheery reply was : "As Rabelais wrote at the end of Gargantua and Pantagruel, "Honi soit qui mal y pense." Cut to indignant family who don't expect to hear language like that on their set, and instantly zap channels - to a shot of Homer Simpson, stepping on the business end of a rake and stunning himself. "Doh!" grunts Homer. "Ay caramba!" yelps Bart. Big yocks all round from the reassured viewing family...

What is slightly surprising is that The Critic (every Thursday at 9pm on Bravo) should have attracted so much less public attention than its blue-collar precursor. True, Sherman's brand of humour is quieter than Bart's - The Critic is, so to speak, Woody Allen (spoofed in one episode to within what must have been a whisker of a libel action) to The Simpsons's John Belushi. True, its cartoon style is flatter, less madly inventive than The Simpsons, although a parody of the big Beauty and the Beast dance number came close: it starred Sherman, a Sharon Stone lookalike, and a crooning lavatory pan.

Yet the show is still the one of the most entertaining animations this side of Ren and Stimpy, not least because its hero is a grumpy middle- to-highbrow who despises all the cinematic product dearest to Middle America's heart and makes his 11-year-old son sit through repeated screenings of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz. He hates Schwarzenegger, John Hughes, Driving Miss Daisy and anything with a fluffy heroine ("...and that is why Goldie Hawn should be shot!"). Fassbinder aside, he likes almost nothing save Merchant-Ivory productions such as The Tea Cosy, which he awards his highest critical accolade: "Seven out of 10!"

What is most thoroughly agreeable about The Critic is its refusal to yield to decent family values. Sherman's own family includes a senile patrician of a stepfather, a tyrannical stepmother and a stepsister who reads Mopey Teen magazine. Gags such as these make make it suitable viewing for anyone who likes their sitcom cut with tartness, and not just for part-time film critics. I give it my highest critical accolade: five out of 10.

KEVIN JACKSON

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