Editor’s Note: This article was originally intended for Dead Homer Society, a blog that features the wonderfully written Zombie Simpsons, which details how the critically acclaimed “The Simpsons” became the much different “Zombie Simpsons”.
Zombie Simpsons is an awful, awful show. But you knew that already.
The HD-animated, corporate, dreck that airs every Sunday on Fox bears only the same characters and setting as its older incarnation, but yet manages to still plug away, with guest cough gags, unfunny topical issues, and publicity stunts. In fact, you could say every time Zombie Simpsons has been in the news for the past decade, it’s been one of these episodes, as if to remind us that yes, they still exist.
Weeks ago, however, we saw a different version of this. In “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” (because every episode title has to have a pun, right?), Zombie Lisa and Zombie Marge decided to address the long ongoing issue with Apu. Of course, this was Zombie Simpsons, so it went exactly as you’d think it would:
Marge: Well, what am I supposed to do?
Lisa: It’s hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?
Marge: Some things will be dealt with at a later date.
Lisa: If at all.
And then they stare at the camera. Classic Simpsons!
First, I’d like to say fuck you, Zombie Lisa. Fuck you, Zombie Marge. You are both horrible excuses for characters, and if the real Lisa and Marge ever met you, they would feel great shame for what they’ve become.
With that off my back, I will say that Apu is a stereotype. That fact can’t be ignored, and whether he’s one done in pure malice, or one meant without harm, he is a stereotypical view of Indian people. The creation of Apu is disputed; the writers claim he was never meant to be Indian, while voice actor Hank Azaria came up with the voice at the table read, while Azaria claims he was approached to do an Indian accent by the writers. Whatever the case, it was indeed a different time, and back then, there was nothing racially or culturally wrong with Apu. In fact — and according to Azaria — he “based Apu’s voice on Indian convenience store workers in Los Angeles.” There were many people like Apu at that time, and The Simpsons was merely drawing attention to it.
As for Apu, on The Simpsons, although he occasionally had lines that come off as stereotypical today, he was always personified as smart and capable. In “Much Apu About Nothing”, he is shown as an illegal immigrant who yet knows more about America than Homer, while struggling between his Indian roots and his newfound Americanism. However, as with every Simpsons character then, he had a dark and cynical side, where he frequently sold tainted food, changed the expiration dates, and managed to swindle customers every chance he got. But Apu wasn’t doing this to fulfill any Indian stereotype — he was someone who happened to be from India, but someone who found a way to make a living in America, and take advantage of all the idiots in the town he chose.
Of course, The Simpsons slowly became Zombie Simpsons, and in that period of transition, Apu eventually got married to Manjula (herself voiced by the late Jan Hooks, a white person) in the Simpsons’ backyard, for some reason, in as sterotypical of a Hindu wedding as you can get. Later on, in one of the Scully era’s arguably worst, Manjula gives birth to octuplets, characters who have since never been fleshed out, and occasionally get trotted out for a walking punchline. Meanwhile, the show lost its bite and wit, and lost everything that made it The Simpsons, and in doing so lost everything that made Apu who he was. Gone was the satire about Indian immigrants, gone was the intelligent man who took advantage of all the idiots who came to his store but remained loyal to his frequent customers. Taking his place was a new Apu, who just appeared as an Indian stereotype, but aggressively more so. Instead of a stereotype that knew he was one and struggled between the life he left behind and the one he made for himself, Zombie Simpsons had a walking racist punchline.
And while we’re on that topic, Apu wasn’t the only one to suffer from Zombie Simpsons’ love for wacky stereotypes. Waylon Smithers went from goody-goody but closeted homosexual who had a crush on his boss, the most horrible person in town, to a walk-on gay stereotype, who they trotted out every time they had a LGBTQ reference on the show. Marge’s sister Patty suffered the same fate, going from the more cold-hearted of Marge’s sisters, to another wacky gay stereotype they brought out. Even the way they promoted the episode where Patty comes out is horribly insensitive; promos boasted that a “Simpsons character would be announce they’re gay.” Hell, when they had that awful Lady Gaga episode, they managed to shove a #gagakissesmarge hashtag in our faces. Because gay=funny, right?
Aside from Zombie Simpsons’, who comes off more and more as the unfunny kid in your high school class, love of bashing gays whenever they can, they’ve managed to “lampoon” mental illness, transexuality, and rape culture, playing all of them off for laughs. None of them had any heart like The Simpsons did, all of them were merely cheap publicity stunts, so their merchandisable characters could deliver horribly-written jokes written by hack writers.
Which brings us back to Zombie Lisa and Zombie Marge. One of the worst parts about watching new Zombie Simpsons clips is hearing the aging voice cast, in this case Yeardley Smith and Julie Kavner (Lisa and Marge, respectively). Both of them do an okay job considering their ages, but there’s no heart in it anymore, both are merely reading lines off a script instead of becoming their characters like they did on The Simpsons. Smith in particular sounds unhappy reading the dialogue, as if she were sarcastically reading it to appease whoever thought it was funny. The lines are horribly written, not at all spoken like Lisa or Marge would speak, instead once again forcing Lisa to be the SJW mouthpiece the Zombie Simpsons writing staff love having her be. Even that Lisa has a (signed?) picture of Apu on her desk, something that would obviously be addressed on The Simpsons, is ignored, because Zombie Simpsons loves having props appear out of nowhere. And adding “and was applauded” brings back memories of Al Jean’s reasoning on The Simpson Movie’s commentary that audiences wouldn’t mind if the movie was good or bad and would “applaud if they saw a character they knew.” Everything about that scene describes where the Zombie Simpsons writers stand on its remaining fans, that they’re too dedicated to handle change, and will always keep watching no matter what.
And that’s how Zombie Simpsons feels about this issue, sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s what they’ve done with the death of voice actress Marcia Wallace and subsequent retiring of Ms. Krabappel, whom they have not replaced since and have had Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers just sort of be there whenever a school scene is needed. And of course, the one time they do address it — in the Season 27 episode “Much Apu About Something”, a hackneyed reference to the superior Simpsons episode — it’s promptly forgotten, as they bring in Utkarsh Ambudkar (of The Mindy Project fame) as Apu’s nephew, who confronts Apu for his being a stereotype and then leaves, never to be brought back.
Will this issue be dealt with at a later date? No, probably not. Unless Zombie Simpsons kills off Apu, which knowing their track record doesn’t seem that unlikely, Apu will remain the racist, stereotypical shell of the character he used to be, the character that was supposed to ridicule and humanize the very stereotype itself.