My “The Problem With Apu” script

Written for a Simpsons spec script contest

TL:DNR SUMMARY

Click on the image to download the script.

If you’re a Simpsons fan (or you have spent basically any time on social media, ever), you might be familiar with controversy over the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from THE SIMPSONS.

Apu, the operator of the famed Kwik-E-Mart, is a South Asian character voiced by Hank Azaria. Apu first appeared in 1990, in the episode “The Telltale Head.” Comedian Hari Kondabolu made a documentary called “The Problem With Apu,” which focuses on some issues with Apu, who for awhile was the only character of South Asian heritage to appear regularly on mainstream U.S. Television.

Kondabolu’s documentary sparked an online discussion about the racial stereotypes Apu presented. As the discussion grew, the Simpsons responded to it in an episode called “Much
Apu About Nothing.” In this episode, the controversy over Apu is largely swept aside. The Simpsons official stance appears to boil down to Lisa Simpson’s line: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

To double down, Simpsons creator Matt Groening responded to the controversy with this comment:

I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.

— Matt Groening

The episode and Groening’s response did not sit well with some people. In particular, Adi Shankar, producer of DREDD (one of my favorite movies). Shankar felt “Much Apu About Nothing” didn’t really address the problem at all. He launched a crowdsourcing campaign for anyone to write a spec Simpsons script that did a better job of addressing/retconing Apu, hopefully in a way that’s more responsive to current-day audiences and to the South Asian community.

A Simpsons spec script contest? Thrown by a guy who made one of my favorite movies? I was all in.

THE MOST CHALLENGING BIT:
The Simpsons is an episodic show. That means every episode is a standalone story, where at the end everything “returns to normal,” just as it was in the beginning. You can watch the episodes in any order, there’s no persistent plotline connecting them.

That made this contest really challenging. You can’t dismiss 20+ years of the episodes as they are. You have to find a way to address the Apu situation, yet still fall in to the episodic nature — ergo, the contest script had to return everything back to normal.

That’s a tall task, folks. But I love quality retconning, so I was in!

WHITE DUDE WRITES MINORITY PART — EASY PEASY:
Being a White Dude™ writing a script addressing a racially sensitive issue, I didn’t want to wade into this and possibly piss people off even more with the stuff that I didn’t know.

Me & Maria goofing during the holidays.

So I recruited my awesome friend Maria D’Souza Walters to co-write it with me. Maria is one of the funniest people I know. She is also Indian-American (she was born a citizen of India). Maria understands the Apu controversy on a level far deeper than I can. We had an absolute blast riffing off of each other for the funny bits, and I learned quite a bit about the Indian-American experience (if this sounds like a rainbow is about to pop up for a “The More You Know” effect, I’m not surprised).

“We tried to come up with a way to resolve the stereotyping but keep the humor and goofiness that is such a big part of what makes the Simpsons work,” Maria said. “The character of Apu is so obviously a Western caricature of an Indian person that the only way I could see to resolve it was to make Apu not actually be Indian at all, but an American who believed that he was doing a great impression of an Indian person.”

And that strategy worked, peeps. And we got to tip our hats to a wonderful ludicrous John Travolta/Nicholas Cage movie in the process …

TO PAT OURSELVES ON THE BACK …
Seriously, Maria and I think this script is killer. It tries to address the concerns, it properly honors the brilliance that is the Simpsons franchise, and it magically brings everything back to “normal” at the episode’s end.

Think writing a Simpsons script is easy? Fuck no it ain’t. After this, I have so much more respect for the Simpsons creators and writers. They make it look easy episode after episode, and easy it ain’t.

LOSERS!
Sadly, our script did not make it to the final round of the contest, so I’m sharing it with y’all. If you like The Simpsons, I think you’ll dig it. It goes deep into Simpsons lore, which we thought was important for a character that has been such a big part of the show’s history.

We hope you get a laugh out of it. We did.


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Comments

  1. Henry

    The problem has always been this: creation is the work of a lifetime, destruction is the work of an evening. People fail to put things into the context. The Simpsons is nothing but stereotypes, the problem child, the dumb dad, and the dutiful mother. That is just the family, how about the stickler for the rules principle, the greedy businessman, or the bitter spinster teacher. Without a doubt, I know that you have matched a character to every one of those stereotypes. Scary Perry killed his friend Bill who was trying to help him. Does that make him a monster? Only, context holds that answer.

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