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The Simpsons is currently airing its thirtieth season on Fox. As one might expect, not all of the stories and characters covered over the span of three decades have gone over with fans, and there's been no backlash quite like that surrounding Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. The convenience store owner, voiced by Hank Azaria, has been the center of controversy. Many find him to be an inaccurate and even offensive portrayal of Indian-Americans in the U.S. Well, it now looks like The Simpsons is taking the drastic step of removing Apu.
The news comes from producer Adi Shankar, who you may remember launched a contest back in May for somebody to write an episode that fixes aspects of Apu's characterization that have proved problematic. Shankar is not connected to The Simpsons, but he nevertheless learned that the show is apparently getting rid of Apu. Here's how Shankar described the situation:
I got some disheartening news back, that I've verified from multiple sources now: They're going to drop the Apu character altogether. They aren't going to make a big deal out of it, or anything like that, but they'll drop him altogether just to avoid the controversy.
Instead of attempting to remedy the problem and tweak Apu's characterization, Adi Shankar reports to Indiewire that Apu's elimination has been confirmed, if not officially announced by The Simpsons or Fox. His comments that the producers aren't going to make a big deal out of dropping Apu at least make it likely that Apu won't be killed off a la Maude Flanders. That said, Maude was killed due to a dispute with the voice actress, and Hank Azaria certainly isn't going anywhere.
The Simpsons' attempted to address the controversy that largely arose after the release of a documentary called The Problem With Apu that highlighted what many found offensive about the character, but it wasn't effective in stopping any backlash. Hank Azaria himself spoke up with an idea of how The Simpsons should change now that his "eyes have been opened."
Hank Azaria suggested that there should be Indian and South Asian writers in the room at The Simpsons, then said that he's "perfectly willing and happy to step aside or help transition" Apu into something new. That will evidently not be the case. Adi Shankar has weighed in on whether he believes removing Apu from the show was the right move, and he argues that it is a mistake, saying this:
If you are a show about cultural commentary and you are too afraid to comment on the culture, especially when it's a component of the culture you had a hand in creating, then you are a show about cowardice. It's not a step forward, or step backwards, it's just a massive step sideways. After having read all these wonderful scripts, I feel like sidestepping this issue doesn't solve it when the whole purpose of art, I would argue, is to bring us together.
The original goal for Adi Shankar's script contest was for Fox to produce the winning script for the show. Shankar has found what he considers the "perfect" script to do justice to Apu; the apparent removal of the character makes the production of the script as a canon episode of The Simpsons unlikely. In the winning script, Apu becomes a thriving businessman, moving on from his status as owner of a single convenience store.
Apu's absence from The Simpsons moving forward doesn't mean the script will never be produced, however. Adi Shanker is working to produce the script through his YouTube page, Bootleg Universe. We'll have to wait and see if and when this Apu script makes it to the small screen.
If you're still a Simpsons fans, you can catch new episodes of the series on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. There are plenty of other viewing options, and you can find them on our fall TV premiere schedule.