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The Simpsons: 20 years, 450 episodes and counting

Simpsons guru Matt Groening and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock.

No, you won't need those Avatar glasses.

The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice! is not in 3-D and isn't on ice, save for the closing few seconds after Bart complains, "Stupid lying Fox."

So yes, the title is meant to be wryly amusing, as is the content of an easily digested one-hour retrospective (Sunday, Jan. 10th, 7:30 p.m. central) made, narrated and hosted by Morgan Spurlock.

The filmmaker ranges fairly far and wide, going to England for a close encounter with a Simpsons collectibles fanatic while also collecting celebrity quotes from the likes of Conan O'Brien (a former writer on the show), Sting, Dan Rather, Brian Williams, Hugh Hefner, Jimmy Kimmel and John Waters. Yeah, The Simpsons pretty much remains a guy thing.

Premiering as snippets on one of the Fox network's charter series -- The Tracey Ullman Show -- Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie and an accompanying menagerie of fellow Springfield inhabitants first came to half-hour life in a Dec. 17, 1989 Christmas special. Austin auteur Mike Judge, whose Beavis and Butt-head came four years later, marvels at what The Simpsons has wrought, including his subsequent and recently canceled King of the Hill series.

"To see something like this just rise out of the manure pile that was animation was just pretty amazing," he says.

Now the longest-running prime-time series in TV history, The Simpsons will air its 450th episode preceding the Spurlock special. And as Bart's commemorative opening blackboard scrawl notes, "The world may end in 2012 but this show won't."

"At this point the show's like running water or electricity or the absence of the Berlin Wall," Spurlock says with only slight exagerration.

So what's the secret? Matt Selman, a Simpsons writer and executive producer since 1997, has a cogent theory. "Their eyes look like boobs," he says during the special. This is exactly the kind of cheeky approach that's worn so well, even if the show's maestros more or less acknowledge that The Simpsons perhaps isn't as funny now as it was a decade or so ago.

Not that we're overly complaining. Back in the early 1990s, Homer's doofus parenting and Bart's non-stop 'tude were seen as subversive by some, most notably President George H.W. Bush.

"Make American families a lot more like The Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons!" he once railed ridiculously.

The Simpsons since has become cuddly in comparison to the three Seth MacFarlane cartoons following it -- Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. It can still be sharp around the edges, but has a veritable Mickey Mouse feel in times of MacFarlane's Peter and Stewie Griffin.

Sunday's 450th, subtitled "Once Upon a Time in Springfield" (7 p.m. central), nonetheless is a solidly amusing half-hour anchored by the always welcome presence of Krusty the Clown (voiced by Hank Azaria).

Krusty's head-bashing kids show finally has run afoul of timid programming execs. They demand that he accept a new squeaky clean Princess Penelope co-star (guest-voiced by Anne Hathaway) or be replaced as host via a reality show competition. So Krusty crumples while Bart can't believe what's befallen his favorite head-banger, who's now all smoochy-poo.

"Why are great things always ruined by women?" he laments. "The Army. The Fantastic Four. Think how awesome American Idol would be with just Simon and Randy."

Meanwhile, Homer endures the horror of no more free donuts at the Springfield nuke plant, making him susceptible to recruitment by a rival head-hunter. That sub-plot's not so hot.

Jackie Mason and the late Eartha Kitt also lend their guest voices before the episode ends on a grateful note.

"Thanks for 20 wonderful years," it says in the closing credits. "Now stay tuned for three Seth MacFarlane shows."

Actually, just one MacFarlane creation, The Cleveland Show, is scheduled to follow The Simpsons this Sunday. So perhaps they'll amend that before air time. Still, the point is well taken while the truth remains obvious. If not for The Simpsons, there'd be no "Animation Domination" -- on Fox or anywhere else.