Fans may soon be saying farewell to Apu on The Simpsons, according to Adi Shankar. The animated comedy has been a staple of the FOX slate since it debuted in 1989. The show recently entered into its landmark 30th season, cementing it as not only the longest-running American sitcom but also has produced the most episodes of any prime-time scripted TV show. While high-profile guest-stars - such as Gal Gadot - continue to line-up in order to appear, the show is no longer the cultural milestone and critical juggernaut that it used to be.
The show has experienced a particular backlash in recent years for their portrayal of Asian characters, such as Apu. The subject was brought into the spotlight by Hari Kondabolu. In 2017, Kondabolu released a documentary titled, The Problem with Apu' The show responded to the backlash in the episode, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” only to receive even more ire from fans and critics. Since then, many have weighed in on the issue. Even South Park got in on the act, savagely satirizing the controversy. Mastermind of The Bootleg Universe and co-creator of Netflix's Castlevania series, Shankar, offered a more constructive solution, however. Back in April, Shankar opened a contest, calling for aspiring writers to improve, evolve, or subvert the character in an interesting way. The ultimate aim was to take the winning entry and pitch it to The Simpsons' writer's room.
Speaking to IndieWire, Shankar, unfortunately, revealed that Matt Groening is intending to simply "side-step" the controversy by cutting Apu from the show altogether. Shankar cites his sources as two people that work for The Simpsons and a third person that works directly with Groening. It remains unclear whether Apu will receive a swan song or simply disappear. Whatever the case, Shankar believes this decision is a mistake and that it exposes a level of cowardice on the part of the writers:
“If you are a show about cultural commentary and you are too afraid to comment on the culture, especially when it’s a component of the culture you had a hand in creating, then you are a show about cowardice. It’s not a step forward, or step backwards, it’s just a massive step sideways. After having read all these wonderful scripts, I feel like sidestepping this issue doesn’t solve it when the whole purpose of art, I would argue, is to bring us together.”
The winning script - which was written by Vishaal Buch - will not go to waste. With the assumption being that The Simpsons will not use the script, Shankar intends to push forward and bring it to life via his own YouTube channel. Groening previously stated that there are no plans to retire Apu. If he has indeed gone back on that decision, it would almost certainly be a disappointment, whatever side of the debate fans happen to fall into.
The concept of political correctness in comedy is a tricky one to navigate. For many people, they believe that there should be no limits to comedy and what can be deemed funny. Comedy is, after all, an extremely subjective medium, with a wide spectrum of tastes to cater to. On the other hand, there are others who believe that comedy should be more sophisticated and move with the times. What was considered acceptable and humorous in the 80s, when the show first aired, does not always translate well into the modern era. As slowly as it often feels, things have progressed substantially in the decades since, especially in regards to how society views race, gender, and sexuality.
Then again, there are certain arguments from the other side of the fence that do make sense. The Simpsons is a show laden with stereotypes. Characters from Fat Tony to Comic Book Guy, and even Homer himself, are caricatures of one kind or another. While they are not derived from the same kind of weighty, cultural heritage as Apu, they are no more or less a stereotype. The unfortunate downside of cartoons is that sometimes they will be cartoonish. If The Simpsons genuinely feel unable to be the kind of show to evolve and add extra dimensions to their characters, and fans continue to feel largely unable to get on-board with their brand of comedy, perhaps it is time to follow South Park's suggestion. Perhaps it is time to accept that The Simpsons had its place in history but that the time has come for the show to take its final bow altogether.
The Simpsons continues Sunday, November 4, on FOX.