288. The Sweetest Apu

(originally aired May 5, 2002)
Funny how we got two John Swartzwelder shows in a row; the last one being surprisingly sharp, and this one being… well, the exact opposite. The series has handled the idea of infidelity before in such great episodes as “Life in the Fast Lane” and “The Last Temptation of Homer,” but in this show, Apu actually does commit and have an affair; it’s not so much about the emotional connections Homer and Marge had with others as it is Apu getting his rocks off. It’s a different kind of story, but with serious ground to cover. However, this show is not interested in any of that; the story is treated as callously as possible to make stupid jokes and wrap itself up in a nice status quo bow as clumsily and illogically as possible. There’s a lot I hate about this episode… so let’s begin. One late night, Homer witnesses a shocking sight: Apu canoodling with the Squishee machine vendor after hours in the back room. Marge eventually gets the information out of him, and tells Homer he needs to tell Apu what he saw. Eventually Manjula finds out, and files for divorce soon after.

So there’s not much story here, but that’s fine because it’s dealing with a serious issue that has a lot of avenues to explore between the two characters involved… oh wait, we gotta cram the Simpsons into every frame, right. They’re all over Apu and Manjula’s lives. Where the hell is Sanjay? But surprisingly, I was more annoyed with Marge here than Homer, who spends the whole episode meddling and manipulating to get things to go the way she sees fit. I reminded me of Buck McCoy in “Lastest Gun” when she injected herself into his affairs. It’s a bit different here since the couple are friends of theirs, but her actions go from normal concern to abrasively rude and pushy, for reasons that escape me. When Kirk and Luanne got divorced, at her own party, no less, Marge lamented and stood by Luanne as a “friend” like a normal human being. Here, she’s made it her life’s mission to get Apu and Manjula back together. She randomly appears in their apartment, having trained the octuplets to plead for their father back, which is a one-off gag but has some severely creepy undertones to it. She also has her kids dressed in a crude Ganesh costume commanding them to get back together, which she refers to as “this thing.” How unbelievably offensive must that be to them? I can see Homer dressing up like him and being a buffoon at their wedding, but for Marge to do this? She should have more sense.

Characters continue to act bizarre and alien, and combined with callous jokes about suicide and sex puns, really detract from any serious intentions this episode ever even thought about covering about adultery. I have no idea if they wanted this to be treated with any kind of seriousness whatsoever, because the episode is completely aloof from beginning to end. The biggest indicator is the ending: to come back home and be “forgiven,” Apu must perform a list of tasks for Manjula, which are all jokes, like changing his name to “Slime Q. Slimedog,” and performing “My Fair Lady” with the octuplets. Why should I even bother? But that also presents us with a telltale scene. I’m sure there are others just like it, but it rung completely false and awful with me, and indicative of problems we’ve seen and problems we will continue to see as seasons go on. After the performance of “Lady,” we have this exchange between Homer, Lisa and Bart (“It was magic. He took a cockney flower girl and turned her into My Fair Lady!” “I liked all the roles filled by minority actors.” “Why, I didn’t even notice!”) Those three would never say these lines. These are lines that were written, and then just given to the characters. Even if they were saying it all jokingly, it wouldn’t play right. But that’s what this show is now, characters aren’t really speaking lines that feel true, they’re just spewing jokes and one-liners that don’t feel the least bit natural. And when you’re doing an episode about a dour subject like infidelity, dialogue like that really stands out, especially when the whole episode is full of it. This episode sucks, big time.

Tidbits and Quotes
– This is a nice exchange, and kind of classic bonehead Homer (“Are you sure you don’t want to come, Apu? In a Civil War re-enactment, we need a lot of Indians to shoot!” “…I don’t know which part of that sentence to correct first, but I cannot come.”)
– The Squishee Lady is voiced by… go on, guess! …Tress MacNeille. Is she the only voice actress on the planet now?
– The Civil War re-enactment doesn’t really have any laughs, though I kind of like how they comment how absurd it is in concept (“The Second Battle of Springfield was fought by the North, the South, and the East, to keep Springfield in, out of, and next to the Union respectively.”)
– The end of the first act with Homer walking backwards stunned goes on for faaaaar too long. Then they do it again at the very end with Homer on the ladder, after he had just been spying on Apu and Manjula having sex. When did he become a creepy stalker? First Flanders, now Apu? What a lovable perverted scamp that Homer is.
– The bit during badminton with the repeated sex slang terms might have been amusing, except they bash you over the head with setting it up and pointing at it. Marge comments how they have their game the next day, and very directly points out, “Oh, I hope no one makes any double entendres!” Thanks for setting that up, Marge! Then after every line, they cut to Homer and Marge doing the Charles Nelson Reilly collar tug. Couldn’t they have just let it play? Or do we think the audience is stupid and won’t notice unless we illuminate it with a big sign?
– I’m really not sure why Marge cares for goddamn much about this situation, to the point that she’s sitting on the couch crying watching Apu and Manjula’s wedding tape. She must have known other couples who have broken up in the past, who acts like this other than a crazy person?
– I don’t understand the gag with Homer wanting to involve Krusty in everything. More bizarre, out-of-character “jokes.”
– I guess instead of giving her any semblance of a personality, the Squishee Lady is just a whore. I guess that’s okay for what she represents for the story though. The “Do Me” licorice thing was kind of dumb and crass.
– My favorite bit in the show is Apu’s poorly disguised cover when Manjula asks if he’s hiding anything in bed; it’s just a great performance by Azaria (“How can you even accuse me of repeated infidelity! I’m so angry I could just fall asleep!”) Then he fakes sleeping, with “Completely innocent” muttered under his breath. But then later on the convenience tape, it’s played too far, with Apu during sex doing a Johnny Carson “Mmmm, that’s good adultery!” That’s just kind of… weird.
– The Inside the Actor’s Studio bit with James Lipton is pretty good, except feels like complete padding.
– Why the fuck would Homer and Marge need to tell the kids about Apu and Manjula’s separation? Why would they need to know? Or care? It’s just another desperate excuse to try to shoehorn the Simpsons into this story of which they don’t belong.
– Oh, and an overused Homer quote that I’m tired of, is when he goes into his low voice after a proclamation and goes, “And if they [blank]…” “Yeah! ‘Cause if they don’t…” “How much sex will be involved? ‘Cause if it’s some…” Enough already…
– I get the feeling that the writers don’t like lawyers. Not sure why… Maybe it’s the grossly cartoony lawyer at the start of act three that tipped me off, who laughs maniacally and dances atop his desk in devilish glee. What a pathetic attempt at “commentary.”
– I guess Marge is a pervert now too, wanting desperately to go to a strip club with Manjula. Like husband, like wife, I guess…
– Manjula walks in on Apu with a noose around his neck. Her response? “Oh, Apu, you’re such a drama queen.” That’s right folks, people with suicidal tendencies? They’re just being dramatic. What a bunch of whiners, amiright?
– The whole third act is garbage. Apu completes Manjula’s stupid inane tasks, he moves back in, the two of them are fine, the end. It couldn’t feel any less sincere or meaningful. Or funny.

16 responses to “288. The Sweetest Apu

  1. Every post-Season 9 scene with a lawyer has done nothing but remind me of how much I miss Phil Hartman.

    Now, this episode I distinctly remember hating when I first saw it in 2002. Ten years later, nothing has changed. I believe this was Al Jean’s first attempt at wildly pounding the reset button on all the big character changes that occurred before he took over. But it feels like they just didn’t have the cojones to split up Apu and Manjula for real, so we get this…whatever it is. We’d later see this go even further with Barney falling off the wagon, Skinner abandoning Krabappel at the altar, and Kirk and LuAnn remarrying. Some of these changes are all right – sober Barney was never funny, and frankly, I don’t think Manjula and the octuplets have ever brought anything worthwhile to the show. But others really rub me the wrong way. Kirk and LuAnn being divorced was a great character turn, and I actually rather liked Skinner and Krabappel as a couple (though I don’t think they should have gotten engaged, but I guess we’ll get into that a few episodes later).

    Is this Manjula’s last major appearance? I know she shows up for quick jokes in “Brake My Wife, Please” and “Smart and Smarter” after this, but then I don’t remember seeing her at all in the years since. It’s like the writers couldn’t think of a legitimate way to write her off so they just conveniently forgot she existed. Whatever.

    • Manjula makes a minor appearance in “Large Marge”, convincing Marge to get liposuction.

      • she made an appearance in the season 23 episode “Exit Through the Kwik E Mart”

        it saddens me that I know that

      • Alright, I was curious. According to Simpsons Wiki, here are the episodes since this one where Manjula had a speaking role.
        “Large Marge,” “Brake My Wife Please,” “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind,” “Papa Don’t Leech,” “Wedding for Disaster,” “Pranks and Greens,” “The Squirt and the Whale,” “Moe Letter Blues,” “Homer Scissorhands,” “The Man in the Blue Flannal Pants”
        So ten episodes in ten seasons, with a humungous five year gap between “Brake” and “Moonshine.” It’s true you never really see the wives of major characters that much (Sarah Wiggum, Bernice Hibbert), but the show went through the trouble of giving Apu a wife and children, then dropped them when they found it too hard to center shows around them, I guess.

  2. I’m glad someone has noticed how every other character is voiced by Tress Mcneil. That’s one thing that really, really bugs me in the later seasons. And it’s not that she isn’t a good voice actress, far from it, it’s that they use her to do the EXACT same bland Linsay Nagle voice for everything.

    The one-off characters used to be so interesting and cool, with their own voices and personalities, but now they’re little more than flimsy props for Captain Wacky’s hilarious antics.

    • I’m glad to see that pointed out. I don’t mind when the same actor does different voices, when they are using their full vocal range in making different voices come to life, e.g. Phil Hartman, but any Tress Mcneil voice always sounds the same. I wish they’d ask her to sound somewhat different to Lindsay Naegal everytime.

  3. Guy Incognito

    God Manjula is a bitch. I’m certain Apu would have taken his chances with the Squishie Lady if it weren’t for his kids.

  4. Manjula walks in on Apu with a noose around his neck. Her response? “Oh, Apu, you’re such a drama queen.”

    I actually thought that was the only funny part of the episode… though it does feel sorta weird and out of place in the Simpsons universe, which has obvioiusly dealt with dark humor before but… something feels a bit off about that one. All the Moe suicide jokes they do nowadays are completely awful though.

  5. Rembrandt Q. Einstein

    “How unbelievably offensive must that be to them?”

    Um, not at all, given that they’re characters in a TV show and feel what the writers want them to feel?

    • Well, Mike Amato thought this through better than you. If characters in a TV show have any character at all, just the tiniest bit of consistent personality traits…then it probably would be offensive to them because if they actually FEEL like characters, then they would not just feel what the writers want them to feel (see Friends and Family for a particularly egregious example of characters who start and stop having emotions on a dime).

  6. This is a prime example of my least favorite type of episode where the idea is good and then the execution just ruins everything.

  7. “The Squishee Lady is voiced by… go on, guess! …Tress MacNeille. Is she the only voice actress on the planet now?”

    Could have been worse, though – imagine if they had got someone like Renee Zellweger to waste a few minutes of her life here. (No disrespect intended towards Renee, of course – but I wouldn’t say it was beyond possibility, given that within the past year or so they had wasted several minutes of the respective lives of Kathy Griffin, Reese Witherspoon and Olympia Dukakis.)

    But it could have been better, too – not only was there no reason not to get Tress to do a voice significant different to Lindsay Naegle’s, but I don’t think there was a reason not to give Annette (that *is* the Squishee Lady’s name, for anyone who cares) about 30 seconds more airtime and considerably more of a personality, either. Heck, she doesn’t seem to show any feeling whatsoever when Apu tells her that their relationship is over…

    • There was a rumor that Kathy Lee Gifford was going to voice the Squishy delivery girl, but that was proven to be false.

      Also, it’s not that Tress MacNeille is the only female voice actor on the planet. It’s just that the others are on shows that are more worth your time watching than The Simpsons.

      And I don’t like that joke about Apu’s next incarnation being Lorne Michaels’ assistant on “Saturday Night Live.” 1) Because “The Simpsons” does not have the right to make fun of a long-running comedy series whose quality can be (is) a little shaky at times when The Simpsons’ quality went from shaky to “Parkinson’s disease patient in an earthquake,” 2) the best Simpsons writers they had came from SNL (George Meyer, John Swartzwelder, Conan O’Brien, hell,even Ian Maxtone-Graham), and 3) The joke on “Homer the Heretic” where Homer reads a Playdude article about Lorne Michaels, then flips the page when he realizes he’s not interested in that was funnier.

  8. I kinda like the cartoony lawyer
    “When will you humans learn that your ‘feelings’ as you call them, get in the way of huge cash payoffs!?”

  9. Jennifer Schillig

    I thought the line was “You’re such a Brahma queen”…you know, a pun on his Hinduism.

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