The Simpsons and South Park keep producing genius-level satire while imitators come and go. The latest to come is Sit Down, Shut Up (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., Fox). Now I can't wait for it to go. Like its lead-in, The Simpsons, this animated series tries to be at once stomach-turning and meaningful, stupid and smart. Instead, it's just stomach-turning and stupid.
The setting is a high school where the faculty read porn, take drugs and pant after the students. There's a flaming-queen drama coach, an America-hating Muslim custodian and a sexy fundamentalist teacher who strips for the school board. Sample punchline from the pilot: "I guess 'breast' is scary Muslim talk for 'ass!'"
Don't even try to figure it out. Just turn off your TV the minute the credits roll on The Simpsons. And maybe unplug it just to be safe.
Friday, 7 pm (Nickelodeon)
In a special prime-time episode of the animated masterpiece, SpongeBob and friends wash up on a mysterious island. The only way to get back home is to surf there, but our lovably pathetic heroes don't know how. Enter a legendary blond surfer/bongo player (guest star Johnny Depp) to serve as their guru. In a low, whispery voice, he offers such mystical advice as "Just keep breathing" while wielding a surfboard about a hundred yards long. SpongeBob et al. are put to the test when The Big One - a gigantic wave with a toothy maw - rears up to either save them or kill them.
Johnny Depp has always had weirdly brilliant taste in choosing his projects. His streak continues.
Saturday, 7 pm (HBO)
In 1973, Albert and David Maysles filmed a documentary about the eccentric mother-daughter duo of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale. The Maysles captured the two aging recluses - once-glamorous relatives of Jacquelyn Kennedy - acting strange at their decaying East Hampton mansion. Unlike most people, writer-director Michael Sucsy wondered what the Beales' lives were like before Grey Gardens. Using the documentary as a framing story, the new Grey Gardens dramatizes their high-society shenanigans beginning in the 1930s, when both mother and daughter are obsessed with being performers.
Unless you're a Grey Gardens cultist, it's very hard to care about the gay parties, the romantic travails and the dreams deferred. Jessica Lange (as Big Edie) and Drew Barrymore (as Little Edie) throw themselves into their roles, gamely wearing ugly fake teeth and wrinkle makeup as the older Beales. Unfortunately, they're thwarted by a script as drab as that East Hampton mansion. For all its fake teeth, Grey Gardens has no bite.
Sunday, 6 pm (NBC)
Former beauty pageant contestant Sarah Palin's run for the vice-presidency has been endlessly dissected for what it says about America. But no one has analyzed what it says about beauty pageants. On the eve of Miss USA, the time has come for such an analysis.
Palin is a pure product of the swimsuit-and-evening-gown culture, with her perky winks, sunny smiles and incomprehensible answers to questions. When her dark side emerged during the presidential campaign, one couldn't help but make the connection with pageants. On the surface: sweet and positive. Underneath: mean-spirited and intolerant.
Thanks, Sarah Palin. I used to be amused by beauty pageants; now I'm scared of them.
Thursday, 9 pm (NBC)
Sickening TV cop shows have long been a cliché, but Southland seems to think it's onto something new. Set on the mean streets of L.A., it rubs our noses in mutilated corpses, child pornography and prostitution. It traffics in foul language, creepy humor and nasty characters. It goes out of its way to be as unpleasant as possible, as if that were a selling point.
I might admire this approach if Southland made a powerful statement about crime and poverty. But it doesn't. It's just gross because it can be. Even if I accept the series' premise that people are animals and life is cheap, that's only more reason to switch to Comedy Central. Why not watch something that takes our minds off the horror?