Al JeanLatest News and Opinion
Posted Monday 4/16/18 at 11:31PM EDT
The Simpsons' Apu controversy is what happens when a show is stuck in an eternal 1990
"The show seems to take pride in the way it hasn’t changed since 1989, even as change is a fact of life," Todd VanDerWerff says of "the horrible way" showrunner Al Jean has reacted to the controversy over Apu. "And for a show that likes to satirize everything, its inability to talk about aging, about shifting political opinions, about how different America has become, ends up miring it in a past it could so easily escape." With the Roseanne revival in mind, VanDerWerff wonders what would've happened if Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge and Maggie had grown up? What if they were 29 years older? "I keep thinking about a Simpsons where everything had changed, and just by its very nature, such a show would have had to deal with Apu slightly better (though (Hank) Azaria would probably still be playing him)," he says. "When things can change within your fictional universe, it’s only natural for the characters to grow and change with them. "
Posted Saturday 4/14/18 at 12:07AM EDT
A journalist of South Asian descent says "most of us happily embraced Apu" in the 1990s, but The Simpsons can fix its most controversial character
"For those of us with low expectations, starving for any representation, Apu was a breath of fresh air," says Wajahat Ali, the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants who grew up near Silicon Valley. While other portrayals showed brown people as cab drivers or terrorists, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon "was an integral character in the Simpsons universe who was able to be a co-protagonist of several episodes," he says. "Only in a cartoon, we thought, could people who look like us achieve such a feat." But that doesn't mean Apu or The Simpsons "get a lifetime pass to perpetuate lazy stereotypes," he says. "Any piece of art, no matter how well intentioned, harmless or silly, is not above reproach or critical examination... Instead of engaging with the issue of representation, which would have made for a more satirical and topical show — you know, the type The Simpsons used to do years ago — the writers responded with the worst creative sin: laziness." What The Simpsons shouldn't have done, he says, is "hijack your show’s most intellectual and empathetic voice, Lisa, as a foil for the writers’ unwillingness to be self-critical and engage their blind spots when it comes to listening to people of color who feel silenced and misunderstood. Thus, the show engages in another major sin: omission. After Lisa’s finger-wagging, the camera pans to a photo of Apu with the inscription 'Don’t have a cow!' Apu, who is a supporting character, is robbed of lines, rendered mute and frozen in a suffocating frame, smiling as a token prop. That’s exactly how so many people of color feel in real life — all the time." Ali adds: "What The Simpsons should have done was a stand-alone episode centered on Apu, who, after becoming a citizen many years ago, is confronted with an immigrant travel ban...Nobody would have a cow. But we would have an intelligent, critical, satirical show that at least confronts problematic issues instead of running away from them."
- Showrunner Al Jean explained why Lisa Simpson defended Apu, but why did she look at the camera?
- Jean criticized for tweeting conservative media in The Simpsons' defense
- Jean tweeted a link to the National Review piece: "Why the Apu Simpsons Controversy Bothers Me as an Indian American"
- Harry Shearer stuck up for the show, tweeting to Hari Kondabolu: "Bart, a pre-pubescent boy, is played by an adult woman. What's up with that?"
- BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg slammed The Simpsons response: "Imagine choosing to describe yourself and your work as 'applauded and inoffensive'"
- Bill Maher defends The Simpsons' response to Apu: "If you spend your time combing through old TV shows to identify stuff that by today’s standards looks bad, you’re not ‘woke,’ you’re just a douchebag"
Posted Friday 4/13/18 at 1:17PM EDT
The Simpsons boss: "I truly appreciate all responses pro and con" to our response to the Apu controversy
Showrunner Al Jean tweeted this morning that the show "will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right."
Posted Monday 4/09/18 at 6:11PM EDT
The Simpsons' response to Apu is what happens when a show loses its identity after being on for "a long damn time"
The Simpsons was once the rebellious outsider, says Jen Chaney. Now, it's the Establishment, incapable of grappling with Apu. "When it first dominated the pop-culture landscape in the early 1990s," says Cheney, "a lot of the show’s appeal stemmed from its skillful and fearless tendency to jam its thumb in the eye of the American Establishment, by highlighting white male laziness via Homer, the crass privileged class via Mr. Burns, and a whole host of other marks of ignorance — from sexism to intolerance of vegetarians — via the crusading Lisa Simpson, the show’s perpetual 8-year-old voice of reason. For all of the stereotypes he has embodied, even some of the jokes generated by Apu actually pointed a finger at the abhorrent attitudes that Indian-Americans have to tolerate from their Caucasian counterparts." Chaney adds: "One could argue that The Simpsons is now the Establishment, and has been for a while. Once you become the Establishment, there is a tendency become lazy and complacent, while also feeling fiercely defensive of one’s legacy. In my view, that combination of factors plays a key role in the show’s inability to fully own up to the Apu problem."
- The Simpsons was "utterly dishonest" with its response since Apu isn't a central character: "His existence at the periphery — his very flatness, and his definition as a bag of signifiers meant to scream 'INDIAN!' is integral to what it means to write a racist stereotype," says Linda Holmes. "It's galling that writers will force a character to exist as funny scenery and then complain that they cannot change him without upsetting the emotional arc of the series."
- The Simpsons didn't have to address the controversy -- Apu has become "a genuine, multidimensional character" -- but last night's episode amounted to a "glib 'f*ck off"
- The Simpsons made Lisa Simpson sound like a "wealthy middle-aged white male writer"
- Molly Ringwald demonstrated how to address problematic past depictions with her recent New Yorker essay on her John Hughes films
Posted Monday 4/09/18 at 1:45PM EDT
The Simpsons dismisses Apu criticism, sparking backlash
The Simpsons' acknowledgement of the Apu controversy on Sunday's episode came nearly five months after Hari Kondabolu's The Problem with Apu documentary made headlines by delving into the hit cartoon's Indian-American stereotype. "On Sunday night, The Simpsons, a cultural staple and television’s longest-running sitcom, now in its 29th season, finally responded: with a dismissive nod that earned the show more criticism, especially from Mr. Kondabolu himself," writes Sopan Deb, adding: "The writers of the episode — one of whom was Matt Groening, the show’s creator — received immediate backlash. Some viewers found the response tone deaf, and criticized the choice of Lisa, often the show’s moral center, to voice it." For his part, Kondabolu sent out a series of tweets last night saying "The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress." This morning, he added: "TO THE JOURNALISTS WHO HAVE ASKED ME FOR A PUBLIC STATEMENT ABOUT LAST NIGHT’S SIMPSONS EPISODE, I JUST WANT SAY: 'Congratulations to the Simpsons for being talked about & being seen as relevant again.'"
- W. Kamau Bell: Having Lisa Simpson make this "argument" was what it made it most ridiculous and toothless
- The Simpsons' response was petty and remarkably regressive
- It was a surprisingly glib response considering Hank Azaria's thoughtful response to the controversy
- It was remarkably tone-deaf and callous response
- Asked to comment, Showrunner Al Jean said: "No the episode speaks for itself"
- On Twitter, Jean defended Apu by noting that Hank Azaria won an Emmy for voicing the character
- Jean also retweeted a Twitter user who tweeted "I'm Indian" and "Loved how you guys handled this non-issue"
Posted Wednesday 3/14/18 at 6:35PM EDT
The Simpsons boss on Stephen Hawking: "One thing about him that is maybe not as well known, he had a tremendous sense of humor"
"He would tell jokes when he came to our table reads, which he did several times," says showrunner Al Jean. "What we would do is send him the script and then he would record it through his machine," Jean adds. "So it was his voice, his special audio program. He did come to studio when he was in America, but he didn't ever go to the record." ALSO: Discovery and Science channels to re-air their Stephen Hawking specials.
Posted Monday 3/12/18 at 6:57AM EDT
O.J. Simpson was almost on one of the greatest Simpsons episodes
Showrunner Al Jean revealed this tidbit on Twitter hours before Fox's O.J. Simpson: The Last Confession? aired: "Ironically OJ Simpson airs on Fox 25 years to the day after the episode we asked him to be in (pre-murders) and he turned down." Jean says "fortunately" Simpson passed on the 1993 "Last Exit to Springfield" episode, which is regarded to be one of the show's Top 10 episodes on many Simpsons lists.
Posted Monday 2/26/18 at 6:26AM EST
The Simpsons predicted USA's Winter Olympics gold medal in curling in 2010
Showrunner Al Jean celebrated the accurate prediction from a February 2010 episode -- titled "Boy Meets Curl" -- tweeting: "Congratulations to us men's gold medal curling team! Good predictions can come true too!"
Posted Thursday 2/22/18 at 4:58PM EST
The Simpsons boss slams Ted Cruz for calling Democrats "the party of Lisa Simpson"
"The Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson and Republicans are happily the party of Homer, Bart, Maggie and Marge," the U.S. senator from Texas -- who once "auditioned" for The Simpsons -- said today of the Fox animated comedy at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean responded on Twitter: "Ted Cruz says Maggie Simpson would vote for him. I think Ted's the one who could use a pacifier in his mouth." Jean added: "The way things are going even Mr. Burns is thinking of becoming a Democrat." In an interview with The Wrap, Jean said, "If I was Ted Cruz, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off Lisa’s vote. I think she’s an important person with a lot of intelligence and you’d really want to win her over and not just abandon her.”As an MSNBC producer pointed out, The Simpsons once portrayed Lisa Simpson as becoming president and inheriting a President Trump budget crisis long before the president entered politics.
Posted Friday 10/27/17 at 10:04PM EDT
The Simpsons boss settles a 25-year-old grudge in response to George H.W. Bush’s groping problem
President George H.W. Bush famously said in 1992 that the American family needed to be "more like the Waltons and less like The Simpsons." Today, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean tweeted: “I think George HW Bush should act more like the Waltons than the Simpsons. #25yearoldgrudge.”
Posted Monday 10/23/17 at 7:10AM EDT
Why The Simpsons tried cannibalism on “Treehouse of Horror”
“We want to surprise people,” Simpsons boss Al Jean tells EW. “We really heard a lot of people saying they wanted something that was scary — and this one’s scary. There definitely have been comments online where a number of people have said we want the horror back in ‘Treehouse of Horror.’” ALSO: This year’s “Treehouse of Horror” was visually ambitious but forgettable.