If the irreverent show doesn't seem as funny as it once was, that could be the price of over-familiarity.

It's odd to consider that the ever-young, ever-popular Simpsons cartoon television series has been with us for a quarter of a century. In TV terms, it's almost as much a dinosaur as Coronation Street, though Homer Simpson is a less troubling star than Ken Barlow.

On Friday night (7.30, TV3), a little way into its all-new 25th series, The Simpsons - which screens here seasonally out of sync - celebrated Halloween by screening its 14th Treehouse of Horror special.

The makers of this show keep themselves relatively sane by trying to be as clever as they are funny. On Friday, that involved hiring arty Mexican horror movie director Guillermo del Toro to make the show's trademark opening sofa sequence.

Elsewhere, they referenced Dr Seuss's The Cat in the Hat - retitled The Fat in the Hat and starring a homicidal Homer - and paid obscure homage to the 1932 movie classic Freaks, starring Homer, out of character, as the strong man and Barney Gumble, the town drunk, as the living torso.


All of it was gleefully drenched in gore and tied up in a bow of political incorrectness - another loveable trademark of The Simpsons. Though oddly, on Friday, it didn't feel as funny anymore.

Which is the price of over-familiarity I suppose.

Later on Friday, I made myself familiar again with Songs From the Inside (Maori TV, 9.30pm). This show is now a good way through its second series, starring a quartet of famous New Zealand singers working to make music with a dozen of the army of infamous New Zealanders, confined in prison.

Anika Moa and Annie Crummer seem to have landed the harder task, in the women's prison - working, in one instance, to make something of a song with a lyric that ran, "This is a song about me and P/How it's destroyed my family".

Don McGlashan and Laughton Kora, in Paremoremo, did seem to be getting somewhere, forming an impromptu band with their apprentices and throwing themselves into the music in a way their counterparts seemed slow to do.

Though, ironically, they have yet to get much out of the would-be singer called Elvis, whose philosophy on being in prison is that it's "better than suicide".

Seeing the show again, though, left me uneasy - about its mix of insight, inspiration and exploitation. It would be wonderful to believe much good will come of a series like this and, occasionally, when a prisoner's dead eyes warm for the camera, it does seem possible.

But some of those songs are going to need a bit more work.

And, while we're on that subject, a bit of work had obviously gone into Saturday morning's episode of The Nation (9.30), TV3's most serious weekly look at the country's political scene. Now with Lisa Owen installed as host, there is at least some distraction from the predatory stare of Patrick Gower, the channel's most unusual political editor.

It's so much better when Gower's glaring at his interview subject than at us, his innocent audience, and he did that to good effect on Saturday during a meaty, far-reaching encounter with Labour loose cannon Shane Jones.

Gower seems to have calmed down a bit from some of his recent on-screen excesses and he's a better operator for it.

Owen was a little clumsy wrangling the show's inevitable panel, but otherwise she seemed a strong addition to an already strong show.