Bart's back, and Bill has to deal with him. At 8 tonight, for the first time, NBC's "Cosby Show" squares off against an original episode of Fox's "Simpsons."
With reruns of "The Simpsons" trailing well behind first-run episodes of "The Cosby Show," some experts have argued that Bart's bark is worse than his overbite. America's favorite "underachiever" seems to be, well, underachieving.
But Fox executives aren't having a cow, man, because it may be just a matter of time before they put the Bart before the Cos. Look at it this way: Two weeks ago, a fourth-run episode of "The Simpsons" still attracted 8.2 percent of the nation's TV households (about as much as "The Civil War" on PBS).
That may be strength, not weakness, we're seeing. How well would a "Cosby" episode do airing four times in less than nine months?
Fox should be pleased with the ratings. And they should be pleased with the new episodes being delivered by "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and his producing partners, James L. Brooks and Sam Simon.
Tonight's second-season opener addresses the summer's infamous "underachiever and proud of it" controversy. As you might recall, some educators suggested that Bart was a poor role model because he was an underachiever.
In writer David M. Stern's "Bart Gets An F," however, Bart (voice by Nancy Cartwright) is facing the awful prospect of repeating the fourth grade. Can he make the grade -- at least a passing grade?
Things don't start very well with his book report on "Treasure Island." Bart tells the class what he can from a quick glance at the cover.
"Have you read the book?" asks Mrs. Krabapple (voice by Marcia Wallace).
"Is this a book report or a witch hunt?" fires back an indignant Bart.
His fourth-grade fate, though, is riding on a history exam about Colonial America. "With God as my witness," Bart proclaims, Scarlett O'Hara-style, "I can pass the fourth grade."
But his resolve is sidetracked by too many video games and TV breaks. With all hope gone, he gets down on his knees and pleads for help.
"Prayer," Lisa observes. "The last refuge of a scoundrel."
No, this isn't a cop-out episode. Watch it. You'll see that Mr. Stern addresses a serious issue without sacrificing the series' wit and impudent attitude.
Equally good is the season's third episode, in which nuclear-power plant employee Homer (voice by Dan Castellaneta) suggests that his boss should run for governor. As Homer's direct TV ancestor, Ralph Kramden, might say, it's a riot, Alice, a regular riot.
Meanwhile, at NBC, the Huxtable household welcomes cousin Pam (Erika Alexander), whose streetwise ways cut some of "The Cosby Show's" sticky sweetness. Pam's mom has gone to California to care for her sick mother, and Pam moves in with second cousin Clair's clan.
"She is from a lower economic area," says executive producer Bernie Kukoff. "She hasn't had the advantages. That is the point we are making. She is a good kid. If given the opportunity, she can raise herself up."