What Else Is On?

'Tis the season The Simpsons jumps the shark, literally; that's how the first episode--second, actually, if you count last Sunday's belated Halloween show, and you should not, ever--begins, with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie donning water skis and tempting the great white teeth below. But, of course, the series long ago made the leap and plummeted into the icy cold; 13 years after its debut, The Simpsons has become a pale-yellow shadow of itself, less an onslaught of gags than a 30-minute finger down the throat.

The nonbelievers know what the apologists have been ignoring for years: Matt Groenig's beloved show, once deserving of its affection and attention, has grown dreadful and tiresome, substituting cheap and easy for clever and witty. Used to be you had to watch episodes a handful of times to catch every gag and quip; today, you can barely sit through it once. If you have to watch an episode twice, it's only because you can't hear the dialogue over the sound of your own wearied, disenchanted groans.

This season's debut offers plenty of proof, rounding up the Rolling Stones for yet one more uninspired guest-star-laden episode that offers considerable proof that when the writers can't come up with dick, which is all the time now, it's time to catch a free ride on someone else's tattered coattails--in this case, Sir Mick and Keef, who, granted, haven't look this good since Marianne Faithfull was a virgin.

Violating every rule to which the series creators once held fast, Homer finds himself at rock-and-roll fantasy camp; among the instructors are Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Lenny Kravitz and Brian Setzer. It's a punch line, yeah, but where are the jokes--pardon, where's the joke? Banished to the DVD collections, presumably lost forever.