Miss this? Here’s a quick recap: In late 2017 TruTV aired stand-up comic Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem With Apu, a film that explored exactly what its title might suggest by inviting a handful of recognized names to discuss the subliminal negative impact Springfield’s solo Indian American character has had on modern popular culture. Reaction online was swift and soon enough the question was raised as to how The Simpsons’ creative team might counter these accusations. It was a tricky situation made trickier when you consider that Apu has been around for the long haul and that he’s voiced by caucasian actor and voice artist Hank Azaria. If this was an episode of the show, they’d probably throw an awkward collar tug in right about now.
As America’s longest running sitcom - one that’s deftly handled its fair share of hot topics with a combination of comedy and wit in the past - expectation was high. However instead of serving up a smart, considered response, sensitive to the social expectations of the day, the show’s eyebrow-raising retort fell spectacularly flat, not only shying away from addressing the issue head on but sweeping the whole conversation under the rug altogether. To borrow a phrase of another Springfield resident, it was probably the worst handling of a topical issue, ever.
Maybe the show’s writers were banking on using the speed at which social issues like these come and go, hoping to offer a brief note, wait out the storm and carry on as usual. However instead of just being a rubbish response, this comes across more like the final nail in the coffin for a show that’s been in a steady decline for almost as long as its Golden Age lasted. When The Simpsons arrived in 1989, it had the gift of being fresh and undoubtedly paved new ground. If it wasn’t for Matt Groening and The Simpson family, it’s unlikely that we’d now have South Park or Family Guy - shows that have arguably taken Springfield’s format and improved upon it for a new generation.
With this in mind - and with new shows, for new demographics, tackling new, topical issues in new ways - it makes you wonder whether we really need to see the slow demise of a once-pioneering show that’s now old and struggling to keep up. The legacy of The Simpsons at its peak is too sharp and revered to be handled this carelessly by a revolving door troupe of new writers. Suddenly, Harvey Dent’s advice sounds all too apt. Maybe The Simpsons has survived long enough to see itself do more harm than good. Maybe audiences need a little vacation from Springfield.
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