It's not hard to understand why The Simpsons’ character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has been the subject of discussion about racist TV stereotypes for quite some time. Apu's characterization—Hank Azaria's silly accent, cheap gags about many-armed gods, and lazy punchlines about out-of-date convenience store food—has remained consistently crass despite evolving expectations for South Asian characters on screen.
But Sunday night's episode finally saw The Simpsons’ writers make an effort to address the controversy. It arrived, feebly and tangentially, when Marge and Lisa talked about why a book promoting racist stereotypes Marge had once enjoyed as a girl was now considered offensive. Lisa stares directly at viewers and says: "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" She then looks at a bedside photo of Apu signed, "Don’t have a cow. Apu."
The segment feels like a dismissive and cowardly shrug, as if to say, "your problem, not ours." It shouldn’t have been beyond the current writing staff to subvert this part of the show’s legacy with a little imagination and wit. Instead, the whole problem is wished away on political correctness.
It certainly didn’t impress comedian Hari Kondabolu, who made a thoughtful documentary addressing the longstanding issue in 2017. On Monday, Kondabolu described the strange and insipid acknowledgement of the Apu issue as "sad." He tweeted, "The Simpsons' response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress."
As others have pointed out, The Simpsons contains quite a few other stale cultural clichés: Willie the angry Scotsman, Fat Tony the Italian mob boss, and Cookie Kwan the fiercely competitive Asian realtor. Based on the latest episode, the writers do not seem inclined to do anything other than rinse and repeat, blaming the audience for changing on them.
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