Harry ShearerBy Chris Leggett
© UK Teletext, August 4, 2004.
One of the lead actors on The Simpsons believes the hit TV cartoon is in a slump.
While the highly acclaimed fourth series is out on DVD here this week, Harry Shearer, who voices the likes of evil Mr Burns, thinks it has tailed off since the glory days of the early '90s.
In an exclusive interview with Teletext Total Entertainment he says: "I rate the last three seasons as among the worst, so Season 4 looks very good to me now." He admits he rarely watches old episodes as they outshine the undeveloped recent offerings. He explains: "It makes me sad. They used to have whole scenes."
To compound the problems, all is not well behind the scenes after a pay dispute earlier this year.
Shearer, who voices several characters including Ned Flanders, says his continued involvement has been soured by the public fight between bosses and the performers.
Speaking exclusively from the US about the mood on the show, he says: "I'd rather not be there right now. Fortunately, I'm doing a lot of other things."
He says reports that the actors went on strike over pay were untrue: "We were never on strike. The day that story appeared in Variety newspaper, I was at Fox doing vocal services for that week's show.
And he claims: "That was planted by Fox or a double agent doing Fox's bidding. From there, things got nastier. What I can say is that it's possible to make a very nice living and still get totally screwed."
Despite his close involvement with the series, Shearer can shed little light on two subjects of keen debate among fans at the moment. The makers have been talking about turning the show into a movie for years but he says: "It is supposed to happen. I hear writers have been assigned to it. I know no more."
He also has no clue which character due to take part in a widely debated forthcoming gay marriage on the cartoon.
Given his discontent with its current state, where does Shearer think The Simpsons can go next? "Up," he jokes.
Fans cite Season 4 as among the best. Firm favourites include episodes such as New Orleans satire A Streetcar Named Marge.
Shearer says: "I remember those episodes as among the best of a very good season, although Streetcar was the first of our 'let's get a city/country really mad at us for getting everything wrong' series.
"Still, I enjoyed being Ned in that show."
Away from his work on The Simpsons, Shearer hosts weekly US radio broadcast Le Show. He says America's run-up to the election is ripe for satire.
"To me, the US is so wacky - both culturally and politically - that it's always a good time to be a satirist here. This, of course, is one of the best, since the disconnect between reality and political reality is, shall we say, rather extreme at the moment," he says.
Satire, generally, is considered a British art form and, unlike many of his fellow countrymen, Shearer's very keen on British comedy: "I'm a huge Office fan. I was thrilled last November to meet Ricky Gervais while I was in London doing promotion for A Mighty Wind.
"I'm also a major Alan Partridge fan, and my wife has gotten me into Father Ted. I've been watching French and Saunders since they were doing fringe theatre in London and I'm still a big fan of theirs."
Of course Shearer is well known to fans of film This Is Spinal Tap. Having done send-ups of heavy metal and folk bands, will he and his co-stars Christopher Guest and Michael McKean next send up rap?
"No, I don't think so," he says, adding the Spinal-esque rider: "We're too white."
His last directorial outing Teddy Bears' Picnic was slammed by critics but he's undeterred. "I've licked my wounds sufficiently ('Mmmmm, wounds', as Homer would say), and I'm trying to get two new projects financed."
Last updated on August 9, 2004 by firstname.lastname@example.org