Nearly five months after comedian Hari Kondabolu released his documentary The Problem with Apu, The Simpsons responded to his criticisms of the stereotypical Kwik-E-Mart owner voiced by Hank Azaria on Sunday night’s episode. It lasted 15 seconds and seems to have satisfied no one.
During a scene in which Marge is reading a problematic and dated children’s book to her daughter, Lisa turns to the camera and says, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” A photo of the controversial character in question with the words, “Don’t have a cow, Apu,” can be seen on the table beside her.
“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked?” Kondabolu responded on Twitter shortly after the episode aired. “Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.”
Kondabolu also pointed to the “don’t have a cow” line as a likely dig at Apu’s Hinduism, concluding, “In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”
During a long thread that declared The Simpsons dead as of 2018, Kondabolu’s friend and podcast co-host W. Kamau Bell added, “I think the fact that they put this 'argument' in the mouth of Lisa's character, the character who usually champions the underdogs and is supposed to be the most thoughtful and liberal, is what makes this the most ridiculous (as in worthy of ridicule) and toothless response.”
Meanwhile, The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean responded to criticism on Twitter by defending Lisa’s statement that the character has been “applauded” as “factual” because Azaria won an Emmy for the role in 1998.
When we spoke to Kondabolu last fall, he discussed how difficult it was for him to get anyone from the show to reckon with the Apu problem for the documentary. Much of the film surrounds Kondabolu’s quest to get Azaria to confront the issue on the record, but the actor ultimately declined his request.
Former Simpsons writer Dana Gould does appear in the film, giving a similar defense to the one Lisa delivered on screen Sunday night. “There are accents that by their nature, to white Americans, sound funny, period,” he told Kondabolu, who responds in the trailer, “It’s funny because it’s racist.”
“I’ve seen The Simpsons recently. It’s a lot of similar ideas from before, not as well done,” Kondabolu said in November when we asked how he would solve the “problem” with Apu. “The writing isn’t nearly as strong as it used to be. And part of it is, 30 years is a long time to have the same characters. Why don’t you just introduce certain new things? You don’t have to fundamentally change the show. That’s not a fundamental change, to have someone else run the Kwik-E-Mart.”
Kondabolu declined to comment any further on the issue to The Daily Beast on Monday, but did release the below statement on Twitter:
For the those who want to know more about how he feels, Kondabolu suggested you just watch his film.