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Shenanigans galore but a little slapdash

"Get ready to step back to a simpler age of tweed caps, cheerful sheep and unending troubles," says Grampa, who yearns to have one last drink in O'Flanagan's pub in Dunkinderry, as the Simpsons touch down on Irish soil.

And begorrah and bejeepers, to be sure, to be sure, the craic was only... well, average to be honest. The Simpsons had never "done" Ireland before, in the same way it did Britain and Australia, although it has regularly, mercilessly and hilariously taken the piss out of the Irish in America down the years.

Remember the Whacking Day episode, where the residents of Springfield go around bashing snakes? Bart discovers it was originally "an excuse to beat up the Irish".

Or the time when Grampa boasted about running the Irish out of Springfield in 1904? Or Homer sneaking into a U2 concert with a sack of spuds on his back? Or Ralph Wiggum's evil imaginary leprechaun, which wickedly prompts him to burn things?

Or the St Patrick's Day Parade episode, when a chap who looks a lot like James Joyce jumps off the Drunken Irish Novelists of Springfield float and starts a brawl in the street?

Brilliant, brilliant stuff, but a lot of it dating from the programme's 1990s peak. The Simpsons, as most people agree, is not what it used to be. Far too many episodes lately have been loose assemblies of hit-and-run gags rather than unified wholes and In the Name of the Grandfather was a tad on the tired side.

Grampa and Homer discover that while Tom O'Flanagan (a wasted Colm Meaney) and his pub are still standing, the Ireland where corned beef and cabbage flows freely from the beer taps and cheerful, drunken peasants sing "We boil our food till it tastes really bland" is long gone.

The country is now a vibrant, affluent place (obviously, the episode was produced before the economic crash) where global giants like "Mickro-Soft" have set up shop.

"Something terrible has happened," wails Homer. "The Irish have become hardworking and sober!" Nonetheless, O'Flanagan cons Homer and Grampa into buying his failing pub and they learn, too late, about the smoking ban.

Enter Mo, delivered in a crate, who hits on the idea of making O'Flanagan's, now called Simpson and Son, into Ireland's only smoking pub. It's a roaring success, until the cops raid the place and a judge who looks like Mr Potato Head packs the family back to Springfield.

"I hope you'll forgive two Americans for trying to take Ireland back to the good old days of Angela's Ashes," pleads Homer.

You'll never get through even the weakest episode of The Simpsons without a handful of really good jokes and this had its share.

While Homer and Grampa are being stitched up, the rest of the family visit the Guinness brewery (Lisa discovers the secret formula: "bog water and chocolate"), Blarney Castle (Bart sticks his bum, sprayed grey, where the stone should be) and the Giant's Causeway, which, in a brilliant sight gag, turns into a platform computer game.

Especially tickling, too, were the advertising hoarding for U2 Moving Crew -- motto: "We Move in Mysterious Ways" -- and the name of the airline the Simpsons flew in on: Derry Air.

Overall, a fairly slapdash, ramshackle half-hour. Still, inferior Simpsons is better than no Simpsons at all, so top o' the mornin' to ya.


The Simpsons * *