94. Homer and Apu

“Woof – woof – woof – woof – woof – woof…”

  • First broadcast: Thursday 10 February 1994, Fox Television
  • First shown on UK terrestrial television: Monday 30 November 1998, BBC2
  • Showrunner: David Mirkin
  • First draft: Greg Daniels
  • Writing staff: Jace Richdale, Harold Kimmel, Frank Mula, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, David Richardson, Greg Daniels, Jonathan Collier, Mike Scully, David Sacks, Brent Forrester, Bob Kushell, Dan McGrath, Bill Canterbury, David S Cohen
  • Animation director: Mark Kirkland

An episode about the unconvincing relationship between two characters with crass, unlikeable personalities. Toss in some gross cultural stereotypes, a miscast special guest and a song that sounds like it’s been written by a bus full of drunks, and what’s to love?

Well, there’s some nice location design (8) when Marge and Apu visit the Monstromart, a building that matches its name both outside and in. The scene where Barney causes a tidal wave of cranberry juice is brilliantly animated, likewise the sequence when Homer has to don the giant hat containing a video camera (8).

It’s impossible not to warm to the sound of Bite Back with Kent Brockman and his Channel 6 Consumer Watchdog Unit (“That dog can sell anything!”). Homer is right to tell Lisa to quieten down (“Shh – the dog is barking!”). There’s also Homer’s nifty comeback when Apu first tries to make amends – the best zinger (5) in the episode:

Apu: I’m selling only the concept of karmic realignment.
Homer: You can’t sell that! Karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos. [slams door]

All that aside, it’s tough to find much else worth celebrating here. Apu is a character (1) who has never in the history of The Simpsons been written with much thought or depth. To make him the star of a whole episode is asking for trouble. What to do with someone who, up to now, has existed solely as a flippant depiction of an immigrant shop owner whose chief motivation in life is shown to be swindling other people out of hard-earned money? A worthwhile exercise might have been to try and unpick some of this persona and start to make him appear less of a crude stereotype. But that doesn’t happen either. He begins the episode as a devious, rude retailer, selling sausages “encrusted with filth”, and, by virtue of the law of sitcom, has to end up back where he started. Along the way the writers nod in the direction of compassion by making Apu briefly question his own actions – but only to the extent that the regrets losing his job, not how he behaved while doing the job. It’s impossible to ever once sympathise with his plight, and therefore the whole plot (2) just feels like the aimless shuttling of protagonists between irreconcilable poles.

Homer is pretty much joyless throughout. There’s precious little to set against his boring stupidity, be it his willingness to hospitalise himself repeatedly, the way he smashes the giant hat just because Apu says there is a bee in it, or his idiotic behaviour during the trip to India. Apu’s song is given a rousing arrangement by Alf Clausen but the lyrics miss the focus and coherency of a single writer (3). James Woods makes no net positive contribution to the episode. His schtick is so relentlessly annoying, the homages (2) so tedious and his manner so utterly without charm that he gets a minus score (-10). Even the Bite Back dog gives a better vocal performance (4).

The depiction of different cultures is insidious and the overall tone (1) thoroughly unenlightened. You want to feel relief when it ends, but the final scene is botched, leaving you exasperated even at the closing credits. 24%. And it’s not even the worst episode in season five.

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