151. Much Apu About Nothing

(originally aired May 5, 1996)
Now look at this; a scant two episodes after “22 Short Films” showed us the potential of our supporting cast, we have an episode further examining our favorite jovial price-gouging convenience store clerk. Who doesn’t love Apu? Starting as basically a quick observation gag that Indians run all quick stop joints, he evolved into a very rounded character, a man embodying service with a smile and immense pride of his work. To prove he’s gone way past a stereotype, go to your local 7-11 and see if the man behind the counter doesn’t look like he wants to kill himself. Anyway, not only do we learn a lot about Apu in this episode, it’s coupled with some political satire regarding anti-immigration legislation. I believe this was a hot button issue in California at the time, and wouldn’t you know it, all the jokes and jabs are just as relevant today, if not more so. When this show would tackle issues, it seems like they only went after things that they knew would never go away, so episodes could remain relevant. They were mindful like that back then.

The episode begins with an uproar in Springfield after a curious bear wanders into a residential area, resulting in Mayor Quimby implementing a bear task force. Then the citizens are upset over being taxed for said force, leaving Quimby’s hands tied. He then realizes he can just pass the buck onto another issue: it’s those damn illegal aliens’ fault! He proposes a proposition to deport all illegals, which the town quickly gets on board for. I’m sure there’s probably many viewpoints on this, and there could be stuff I’m forgetting, but I consider this the first first act that’s irrelevant to the main plot. Now this would become common practice in later years, with stories that are much more ridiculous than this, but you could easily divorce it from the rest of the episode and it would still make sense. That being said, at least the first act sets up the idea of a quick-to-act, easy-to-please collective mindset, that they can’t put it together that they can’t have it both ways regarding protection from bears and being taxed for it. That being said, of course they go with Quimby’s dumb proposition. The connection is a bit tenuous, but nowhere near as thin as first acts would become.

The Simpsons learn that Apu is an illegal, and all try to help him pass his citizenship test. In between we have a great segment where he purchases a fake ID and documents from Fat Tony, and heeds the mobster’s advice to “act American.” Adorned with a cowboy hat and ridiculous accent, Apu tells Homer that he’s just like him (“What do you say we take a relaxed attitude towards work and watch the baseball game?”) It’s a great performance by Azaria, which only gets better when Apu finally breaks and expresses his sorrow about betraying his heritage, how he wants to stay in this land he loves, but as himself. It’s a wrenching scene that feels so genuine, so much that it manages to permeate Homer’s thick skull, inspiring him to go against Prop 24. Later when Apu passes his test, Homer gives an impassioned speech about how immigrants are the backbone of the country and to vote no, and the crowd goes out in droves… to vote yes. He’s dumbfounded (“When are people going to learn? Democracy doesn’t work!”) Sure, it’s a repeat joke from Kent Brockman, but it works just as well the second time.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I love how insanely panicked Ned is at seeing the bear on the street, who is really doing nothing. Maude can’t unlock the door because she’s panicked too, leaving Ned to smash through the window.
– The bear part is pretty silly, with Homer climbing a wire we’ve never seen before or since to get to his car, but falls. There’s a great shot of a pathetic terrified Homer looking up at the bear, and I also love that when Wiggum shoots the tranquilizer dart, Barney has walked out of nowhere to be the recipient of it. Of course, he breaks it open and drinks the sweet contents inside… then collapses.
– Homer’s at his thickest here (“I’m sick of these constant bear attacks. It’s like a frickin’ country bear jambaroo around here!”)
– Wasn’t a fan of Moe claiming the bear was “smarter than the average” and “swiped [his] pic-a-nic basket,” but it all turned around when we see Quimby whip out a picnic basket when the mob leaves. Why would he take that? Even when this show cranks a dud joke they can turn it around to be funny.
– Lisa’s claims at her father’s spacious reasoning is such a classic scene, that just because something is present doesn’t mean it’s preventing something else. Lisa proposes a random rock could keep tigers away: it doesn’t seem to be doing anything, but there’s no tigers around. Putting some brief thought in, Homer offers to buy the rock. Lisa gives in and accepts her father’s money.
– Homer is incensed by the five dollar Bear Patrol tax (“Let the bears pay the bear tax. I pay the Homer tax.”) Lisa points out that it’s Home-Owner tax.
– Last episode we saw a more serious Grampa flashback. Now we’re back to silly. It starts out well enough when he talks about living back in the old country… he forgets which one. It ends with them actually living in the Statue of Liberty (“We had to move out once we filled the entire head with garbage.”)
– I love Moe in this show, how irrational and outraged he is, just like an average American. I particularly love his main gripe (“You know what really aggravazes me? It’s them immigants. They wants all the benefits of living in Springfield, but they ain’t even bother to learn themselves the language.”)
– Apu’s life story is as informative as it is entertaining, starting from his graduation from CalTech (Calcutta Technical Institute), the top of his class of seven million (pretty damn good). As he leaves for America, we see his proud parents, and also his child bride Manjula, who we will see again in a few seasons. He goes to Springfield Heights Institute of Technology (this show rewards you for paying attention. They’d use the same joke in the movie Accepted, which continuously bashed the joke over the head), and we see a younger Frink (“I predict that within one hundred years, computers will be twice as powerful, ten thousand times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings in Europe will own them.”) He explains he took his job at the Kwik-E-Mart to pay off his student loans, and continued to work after his student visa expired. Marge is accepting of this (“What you’re saying is so understandable. And really, your only crime was violating U.S. law.”)
Apu is most grateful for Fat Tony’s help, to which the mobster responds, “Can the courtesy. You’re an American now.”)
– I love Apu’s fake American voice, and his gaffs (talking about the NY Mets, but pronouncing it “nye Mets.”) I also love the breaking line for him, as he speaks he gets increasingly more frustrated and goes off (“Who needs the infinate compassion of Ganesha when i have Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman staring back at me from Entertainment Weekly with their dead eyes!!“)
– The first plan is to get Apu married, so Homer immediately turns to Selma. She isn’t receptive (“My name’s already Selma Bouvier Terwilliger Hutz McClure. God knows it’s long enough without Nahassapeema-whatever. From now on, I’m only marrying for love… and possibly once more for money.”)
– Great “Where is Springfield?” moment where Lisa points where they are on the map just for Bart to pop his head into frame, blocking it. Though from the angle, Lisa’s too short for the map so perhaps she’s pointing in the south. Or maybe it’s just a gag and there’s no answer.
– Great payoff for all the hatred Moe dished this episode, only to find out that he is taking the citizenship test too, with a fake mustache.
– Apu seems pretty learned about American history as is; for his final question on the oral exam, he starts to explain in detail the causes of the Civil War, but is just told to just say ‘slavery.’ I love his joke about asking where the welfare office is right after being accepted; the proctor is stunned but Apu assures him it was a joke.

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3 responses to “151. Much Apu About Nothing

  1. David X. Cohen talks a bit on the DVD commentary about how outcomes like the one in this episode happen all too often in real life because of the way these questions are worded on the ballot (“Should the law not be reversed?”), and people don’t really know what they’re voting for.

    Springfield Heights Institute of Technology slipped right past me the first three or four times I watched this episode. When I finally caught it, it was another one of those moments where I really appreciate how densely written this show was, where there were so many jokes that you were still finding new ones even after numerous repeat viewings.

  2. particularly love Homer’s “now your a real American Indian” line at the end of the episode.

    For someone who spent quite a while as a child getting confused as to the differences between American Indians and Indians from India, —- particularly since while I was very familiar with indians I’ve not met many that many native Americans in this part of the world, that line always amused me.

    Actually this hole episode is a really nice one, particularly for how frighteningly relevant it is given many of the attitudes I’ve heard myself, especially around brexit.

  3. Such a great episode, beginning to end.

    “Mayor, there’s an angry mob here to see you.”

    “Do they have an appointment?”

    “Uhhh…yes, they do.”

    Skinner: I phoned ahead!

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