‘The Simpsons’ Finally Tried to Address the Apu Controversy and Just Made People Sad
The Simpsons hit a self-aware note in its most recent episode—and it largely fell flat.
Following the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu by comedian Hari Kondabolu, the show’s writers decided to address the growing criticism of racial stereotyping associated with the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian owner of Springfield’s Kwik-E-Mart.
In Sunday’s episode entitled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” Marge shares her favorite childhood book with Lisa, The Princess in the Garden—a riff on The Secret Garden. But upon rereading it with her daughter, Marge discovers that the book is more racist and offensive than she had remembered.
After attempting (and failing) to edit the book to be politically correct for 2018, Marge says to Lisa, “It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book. But now it’s as inoffensive as a Sunday in Cincinnati… what am I supposed to do?”
Looking at the audience, Lisa replies, “It’s hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” The scene then pans out to show a photo of Apu on Lisa’s bedside table, explicitly indicating to the viewer what the two characters are actually referring to. Mother and daughter then conclude, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date—If at all.”
Kondabolu and others were not exactly impressed with the writers’ response, however. While the show has successfully taken on a number of issues important to the left in recent years, such as help for Puerto Rico following the devastating hurricane last year and warning against the prospect of a President Trump, the tactics used to respond to the Apu controversy largely came across as tone deaf.
Kondabolu proceeded to point out in a subsequent tweet that the framed photo of Apu shown in the episode was signed “Don’t have a cow, Apu,” an awkward attempt at a joke about the fact that Apu is Hindu. Others criticized the show for having Lisa deliver the line, calling it a “toothless response,” while others called it a “missed opportunity.”