(originally aired February 10, 1994)
Oh, Apu Nahasapeemapetelion. Your origins so humble, and your destiny so great. He was great from the start, in the first season we saw him as manager of the Kwik-E-Mart. Some could cry he was a stereotype, but it was more of the show pulling from real life (if you haven’t noticed, many convenience store clerks are Indian.) As the seasons progressed, we’d catch more glimpses of him in his price gouging, yet kind-spirited nature. But this is the show that really cemented him as a respectable secondary character. His tenure living with the Simpsons made him a family friend and ally, and we learned more about Apu, his expertise, his faith and his dreams, all of which involve his beloved Kwik-E-Mart in some fashion. Between this, a hoard of solid jokes and a show-stopping musical number, this is one of the great ones.
In efforts to conserve stock, Apu places expired food in the bargain bin, but no one’s thick enough to fall for such a ruse… except Homer… twice. Attempting to get even, Homer teams up with Kent Brockman to do an expose piece on the Kwik-E-Mart, which he bungles, but not before getting some damning evidence. We don’t dislike Apu for his actions because here he exists as a mouthpiece for the stringent, cost-cutting methods of his company (a point he makes later when he comes under fire by Kwik-E-Mart heads. A representative responds by noting, it’s also standard procedure to blame any problems on a scapegoat or sacrificial lamb. Apu, not fully getting the situation, replies, “And if I can obtain for you these animals?”) Relieved of his post, Apu realizes his wrong-doings and vows to make it up to Homer and his family. He becomes a helpful house guest: cooking ethnic meals, assisting Marge with efficient shopping tips, and overall improving the family’s way of life. It appears Apu has turned the corner to a new life, indicated by his song “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?” But, like many Simpsons characters, he secretly yearns for the status quo, and would like nothing more than to return there.
Filling Apu’s position is guest star James Woods, who takes the job as research for a movie role. He’s one of the best celebrity voices, I think, with his wavering method of speech, and the times he gets really fierce (harassing Jimbo in going through a line reading, arguing with his agent on the phone.) He gives a really mellow, yet spirited performance, and he’s hilarious. Meanwhile, Homer accompanies Apu to India to trek to the world’s first convenience store to beg for his job back. Homer, of course, screws things up, and we’re back in America in about a minute and a half. While it may seem like a stupid sidebar, it’s a classic Simpsons moment nonetheless, with the elderly and wise Kwik-E-Mart CEO slurping on a Squishee as zen-like as he possibly can. After taking a bullet for Mr. Woods, Apu of course manages to restore his employment in the end, and all is well in the world. It’s an episode that seamlessly blends the low-key main story with ridiculous side bits involving celebrities and spur-of-the-moment trips across the world. It also, in one episode, gave new life to a sidebar character, making him someone we truly care about and want to see more of. I mean, who doesn’t love Apu? No one, that’s who.
Tidbits and Quotes
– The first scene sets the stage perfectly, illustrating the Kwik-E-Mart’s inflated prices. A 29-cent stamp? $1.85. Two bucks of gas? $4.20. Penny candy? Surprisingly expensive. A disgruntled customer attempts to wreck some merchandise on his way out, allowing Apu to deliver a classic line: “Silly customer! You cannot hurt a Twinkie!”
– Homer is as thick as ever here: even whilst experiencing terrible indigestion, he continues to eat the rancid ham. Afterwards, he confronts Apu, who counters with five pounds of frozen shrimp. Homer astutely notices the shrimp isn’t frozen and it smells funny. Apu ups it to ten pounds. Homer is sold. Cut to an ambulance. Brilliant.
– The barking dog on “Bite Back with Kent Brockman” may be one of my favorite gags in the entire series. I forgot all about it when it popped up, I love it. It’s one of those gags that goes on for so long, and just gets funnier and funnier. I only wish the barking had been even more ridiculously long. Made even better by the final bit with the dog barking a message from the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
– The camera hat is a wonderful Simpsons accessory, so inconspicuous. The POV shot from the camera wobbling and slowly entering the Kwik-E-Mart as Apu stares blankly is a great bit of direction. Homer tries to be casual (“Don’t be alarmed, Apu. Just go about your daily routine like I’m not wearing the hat,”) but when Apu notices the buzzing sound and posits that Homer may have a bee in his bonnet, Homer freaks out, smashes the hat and runs away. However, it manages to catch incriminating footage of Apu selling the most filth-ridden hot dog in the universe, and ridiculously enough narrating it to the camera (“Now this is just between me and you… smashed hat.”) Homer, of course, buys the hot dog.
– Great bit of the babbling brook Apu believes to be like mocking laughter turning out to be two bums under the bridge having a good time (“Who needs money when we got feathers?”)
– I love the stupid fake-out between act one and act two of Apu appearing to want to viciously strangle Homer, but revealing it to be the signal of apology in his customs. Apu later comments on the stupidness of it (“You know, now that I think about it, it may be a little confusing. Many have died needlessly.”) When Apu offers to help Homer for karmic realignment, Homer astutely replies that karma can only be dosed out by the cosmos and slams the door. Apu muses, “He’s got me there.”
– In exchange for a Chipwich, Homer agrees to let Apu stay, which leads to a number of great scenes: Apu utilizing store display techniques to push products at home (“Hey, corn! Haven’t had that in a while!”) and the trip to MonstroMart, a wonderful parody of big time warehouse stores (“That’s a great price for twelve pounds of nutmeg!”) Apu wisely chooses against the express line, where a rambling Grampa is at the head of, in exchange for the longest (“all pathetic single men. Only cash, no chitchat.”)
– The musical number is fantastic, with Apu twice knocking over Grampa, and the awkward end where the family just stands there and sits down on the couch (“Everything really wrapped up nicely. Hm. Much quicker than usual.”) Also love Homer’s anger toward Apu’s mood change (“He lied to us through song! I hate when people do that!”)
– Woods has a great monologue on the phone with his agent, a bit of it sounds ad-libbed but it’s really funny (“How can it be the same movie if they’ve changed my character from a convenience store clerk to a jittery eskimo firefighter? …Uh huh… uh huh… mm hmm… well, actually, that’s a pretty good explanation.”)
– Really sweet moment when Apu finally returns to the Kwik-E-Mart, pumped up to face his demons, but melts upon seeing his beloved store (“Ah, my old Squishee machine. And my scum bucket with fly. And a whole check list.”)
– Classic bit of tape with Apu’s 96-hour shift, so delusional toward the end he believed to be a hummingbird. And also classic end where the bullet that hit Apu actually ricocheted off another bullet lodged in his chest from a previous robbery, saving him from death.