586. Much Apu About Something

Original airdate: January 17, 2016

The premise:
Sanjay hands down his share of the Kwik-E-Mart to his now college graduate son Jamshed, who proceeds to reinvent the shop as a trendy health food store.

The reaction: For a show to run for almost three decades now, and make absolutely zero effort to introduce any change, you end up with running jokes, show elements, and even whole characters who start to feel slightly out of date. Apu is one such example; born from a simple stereotype of an Indian convenience store clerk, he has since grown into a more nuanced character, but seeing him after all these years, as television has grown more and more diverse, a hilarious Indian caricature voiced by a white guy seems a little bit off (the show has also done some offensive, borderline racist jokes with Apu over the past decade as well.) I only bring this up because the show calls this out directly, as Jamshed butts heads with Apu, calling him out on his exaggerated stereotyped persona. It felt like another example of the show pointing out the laziness of their writing and feeling like that excuses it, but to me, it just makes things worse. Not-so-little Jamshed makes his return, as does Sanjay, having both been absent for over fifteen years. “Jay,” as he likes to be called, is a recent Wharton graduate, and seeks to completely overhaul the Kwik-E-Mart into a healthy “Quick-N-Fresh” store. So what’s the point of all this? With Jay, I was vaguely reminded of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, which features his complicated relationship with his traditional immigrant parents. It’s a rich topic, and that show is consistently hilarious in dealing with it (helped in no small part with Ansari’s father playing himself, who is just the best.) But we don’t get anything like this. Jay is just a venue for them to make first draft hipster/millennial jokes (“Swipe left on that accusation, bro!”) Didn’t this show have its fill already after that Portlandia episode? We’re just at the point where these episodes feel so empty, they’re about nothing and they’re saying nothing. We get nothing new from the Jay character, his store is filled with limp health food satire we’ve seen several times before, and we learn nothing about Apu except he had a stupid addiction to scratcher tickets. Meanwhile, a subplot involves Bart promising Homer he’ll give up pranking, he does, and then in the end, he starts pranking again. This show is like an empty void.

Three items of note:
– This episode features Tress MacNeille doing a few lines as Manjula, her first speaking role since the death of Jan Hooks. I guess that puts her in the same category of Lunchlady Doris… sorry, Lunchlady Dora as replaceable guest stars. Why not write her out like they did with Mrs. Krabappel? Again, I really don’t understand what the line is. What separates performers like Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace from the likes of Hooks or Grau?
– Because I guess the show didn’t get its fill from an entire Treehouse of Horror segment out of it, we get a stupid Clockwork Orange moment when Bart is convinced to prank once more. He stares at camera as that music plays, which is all you need. We get what this is referencing. It’s halfway decent in context. But as always, we need to both push it too far, and acknowledge what we’re referencing. So Bart puts fake lashes on his eye like the protagonist of the film, and Homer comments, “I never should have bought that Clockwork Orange video for his fifth birthday! I thought it would help him tell time!” Also, what a belabored set-up for such a weak joke. But I expect nothing less from this show.
– Apu getting called out for being a stereotype is nothing new. Remember “Team Homer” with the bowling team The Stereotypes? (“They begged me to join their team! Begged me!”) Luigi was on said team, who shows up as a capper to the scene where Apu and Jay square off, where the joke is he says he doesn’t like stereotypes, but he totally is one! That’s what I mean when I say all this feels wrong; all of this material the show has already pushed to the nth degree. By season 7 and 8, the show was already ripping itself inside out, making fun of its running gags and being very meta and self-conscious about show hallmarks. That’s why a character like Apu feels almost like a relic to me, but he’s untouchable not only because the series is such a hallmark, but the show doesn’t change anything regardless unless a cast member dies, and sometimes not even then (see: above). I’m interested in seeing the documentary The Trouble With Apu by comedian Hari Hondabolu to see a different perspective on the character. I guess the larger point for me is that I mostly feel about Apu like I do with everything else about the show: it’s all played out, it’ll never change, and it should have died years ago.

One good line/moment: Bart and Lisa teasing Grampa making him think his hearing aid was busted was pretty cute. Nice to see them getting along. The context is that Bart is actually getting good grades now that he isn’t pranking, but is ignored by his parents, which Lisa fully relates to. But isn’t messing with Grampa sort of like pranking? Or is that just child-like fun? Oh, whatever.

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12 responses to “586. Much Apu About Something

  1. “It’s all played out, it’ll never change, and it should have died years ago.”
    But… the stories are still “so fresh.”
    http://www.digitalspy.com/tv/the-simpsons/news/a835193/the-simpsons-not-ending-soon/

  2. This is one of those plots that could have worked if the show was still trying, but as is, is just a waste of time since Jamshed is a completely forgettable combination, the usual end result of old men with no ambition writing scripts in a bubble.

    I mean it’s pretty much the whole show in the nutshell, but with more competent and fresh writers, they could have made Jamshed a regular as shows these days that do showcase ethnic recurring characters usually have a 2nd generation sibling or offspring as a counterbalance and to play off of each other

  3. Lazy satire, but it’s nice to see an Apu episode that isn’t about your marriage or children.

  4. forbidden-donut

    There are a couple other jokes in the series as well, about Luigi being a stereotype (I recall one in season 15 where he is angry at movie stereotypes). So, at this point, the show is doing rehashes of rehashes of jokes.

  5. Tress MacNeille had replaced Jan Hooks as Manjula long before her death (I think as far back as “The Sweetest Apu”), so that’s why it wasn’t really an issue here.

    • I knew MacNeille had been used a time or two when it was just one or two lines from Manjula, but I didn’t realize that was her in “Sweetest Apu.” Apparently Jan Hooks was only in six episodes total, that’s a lot less than I thought.

  6. I wish they would actually do something with the octuplets.

  7. I don’t think Jamshed was even in the show- he was in the COMICS. I might be wrong, but he never appeared on the show before this.

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