Homer and Apu
"Homer and Apu" is the thirteenth episode of The Simpsons' fifth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 10, 1994. In the episode, Homer participates in a hidden camera investigation of the expired meat selling at the Kwik-E-Mart. Apu is immediately fired and replaced by actor James Woods, who is doing research for a role in an upcoming film. Apu begins to miss his job at the Kwik-E-Mart, so in an attempt to get it back, Apu and Homer travel to India to talk with the head of the Kwik-E-Mart corporation.
The episode was written by Greg Daniels, and directed by Mark Kirkland. James Woods made a guest appearance as himself. The episode features cultural references to films such as The Hard Way, JFK, and Lawrence of Arabia. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 13.3, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
At the Kwik-E-Mart, Apu is selling items to customers at outrageous prices, like normal. Apu scribbles out the best before date and then lowers the price on expired ham from 1989 instead of throwing it out. Homer buys the meat, eats it, and contracts food poisoning. After recovering, Homer returns to the Kwik-E-Mart to complain, and Apu gives him two five-pound buckets of expired shrimp to placate him. Homer eats the shrimp and gets the same symptoms. Whilst recovering at home, Homer sees the investigative news program Bite Back with Kent Brockman, hosted by Channel 6 journalist Kent Brockman. Lisa gives him the idea to get the show to investigate the Kwik-E-Mart. Kent gives Homer a giant novelty hat containing a spy camera to expose Apu for selling expired food. Though Homer almost immediately abandons the hat after mistaking the buzzing of the machinery as a bee, the camera catches Apu placing a hotdog in the bain-marie that he had recently dropped on the ground. Apu is immediately fired by his company (even though he actually follows the company "ethics"), and is replaced by actor James Woods, who is doing research for a role in an upcoming film.
After being fired, Apu appears at the Simpsons home, acting like he's about to strangle Homer, but this turns out to be the bizarre traditional form of apology of Apu's village, because he thinks that he is in debt to Homer for selling him expired food, and helping him would pay off his debt of karma. At first, Homer is reluctant to accept his help, as "karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos!", but as time goes by, the family begins to love Apu and his dutiful behavior (especially after he helps Marge buy products in another market, and cooks an exotic Indian dinner for the family). However, Apu misses his job at the Kwik-E-Mart, so Homer decides to help him by accompanying him to the Kwik-E-Mart head office in India. Once they arrive, they meet with the head of the Kwik-E-Mart corporation, who says that they can ask him three questions. Unfortunately, Homer wastes the three questions ("Are you really the head of the Kwik-E-Mart?!", "Really?!", and "You?!"), and the head of the Kwik-E-Mart does not help Apu with his problems. An enraged Apu chokes Homer (which is mistaken for another apology) before they return home disappointed.
When they get home to Springfield, Apu decides to return to the Kwik-E-Mart to "face his demons". A robber bursts into the store and shoots at Woods, but Apu saves him by jumping in front of the bullet. At the hospital, Dr. Hibbert says that Apu survived because the bullet ricocheted off another bullet that was lodged in his chest from a previous robbery. Eternally grateful, Woods gives Apu his job back, and goes away to fight against extraterrestrial beings in his next 'movie'.
The episode was written by Greg Daniels, and directed by Mark Kirkland. It was the first full episode of the show that Daniels wrote. The Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who were show runners during the previous two seasons, came up with the idea for the episode. They left the idea with David Mirkin, who took over the job as show runner during this season. Mirkin said he was "very excited and intrigued" with the idea of the episode. Soon thereafter, he assigned Daniels to write the script because he knew that Daniels would "step up" and "throw himself into it". In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Mirkin stated that when he took over the show, he wanted to "bring it back" to character and story, unlike the previous season which got "so fast-moving and so full of cutaway gags". Mirkin added: "I explored the characters a little more, took them a little further. I had one of the first episodes where Homer was really tempted by another woman, "The Last Temptation of Homer", and Bart having a girlfriend even nastier than himself, "Bart's Girlfriend", plus more of a focus on side characters. We did the first episode to really feature Apu as a main character. Those were my goals." Kirkland said he was grateful that he got to work with a "wonderful crew" on the episode, including Bob Anderson, who he thought was a "wonderful" director. Kirkland said that Anderson assisted him on the episode and did "fine animation throughout".
When Mirkin took over as show runner, he listed actor James Woods as one of the people he would most like to guest star on the show. Michael Caine was originally supposed to be the actor in the episode who takes over Apu's job at the Kwik-E-Mart, but he rejected the role. The story was therefore rewritten so that Woods received Apu's job instead. Woods was one of animation director David Silverman's favorite guest stars. Mirkin said he provided one of the "most fantastic" performances ever on the show, and commented that he "nailed" all of his lines and was "so funny, right at the top of his head". Mirkin said that when most guest stars come in to record their lines for the show, they are a little nervous because they have never done voice-over before. Mirkin noted, however, that Woods was a "fearless guy" and he was "so excited to do it because he was a huge fan of the show". Silverman noted that in addition to his humorous ad-libbing, Woods's tendency to hesitate while speaking was "great for animation", explaining that it made the character feel more realistic. "Homer and Apu" features the popular Simpsons song "Who Needs The Kwik-E-Mart?", sung by Apu and the Simpson family. The song was written by all of the show's writers in the writer's room, and it was composed by Alf Clausen. The song later appeared on the soundtrack album Songs in the Key of Springfield, which was released on March 18, 1997, and compiled many musical numbers from the show.
The episode features cultural references to many American and British films. Woods becoming a convenience store clerk to prepare for a film is similar to Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox) becoming a police officer in the 1991 film The Hard Way, which Woods also starred in (interestingly, this is a reversal of roles: Woods played the cop that Lang was saddled with in the film). When Kent asks Homer if he is willing to go undercover to "nail" Apu, Homer replies: "No way, man, get yourself another patsy!" This is a reference to a line in the 1991 film JFK. The scene of Homer and Apu riding on mules to the Springfield Airport, with their luggage strapped to the mules' backs, is similar to a scene from the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. In his Kwik-E-Mart job interview, the interviewer asks Woods why he would want to work at the Kwik-E-Mart, to which he replies: "To be honest, in my upcoming movie I'm going to be playing this tightly-wound convenience store clerk and, I kind of like to research my roles and really get into it. For instance, in True Believer I actually worked in a law firm for two months. And then, the film Chaplin I had a little cameo in that. I actually traveled back in time, back to the twenties, where... Well, I've said too much," referencing the 1989 film True Believer and the 1992 film Chaplin.
Ratings and critical reviews
In its original American broadcast, "Homer and Apu" finished twenty-sixth in the ratings for the week of February 7–13, 1994, with a Nielsen rating of 13.3. The episode was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week. The song "Who Needs The Kwik-E-Mart?" was nominated for an Emmy Award in the "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics" category, but lost to "The Song Remembers When" from the television special Trisha Yearwood: The Song Remembers When.
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, wrote: "One of the very best, with the gags coming thick and fast. We particularly like the spy camera concealed in Homer's massive stetson, Apu and Marge's trip to the Monster Mart, and 'Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?', possibly the cleverest song in the series. And the Christians harassing people at the Indian airport, and Homer's wastage of three questions, and James Woods' parting words to the Simpsons, and the footage of Apu doing a hummingbird impression..." DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson said: "The first episode to focus on Apu, this one works well. Our glimpses of Apu’s sleaziness and culture are entertaining, and the 'Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?' tune is one of the better musical numbers [of the show]." Jacobson went on to say: "Also count James Woods as one of the all-time best guest stars, which is likely why he gets many more lines than the average cameo voice." Total Film's Nathan Ditum named Woods' performance in the episode the 19th best guest appearance on The Simpsons.
Patrick Bromley of DVD Verdict gave the episode a grade of A+ and commented that it features one of the best musical numbers in the show's "history of great musical numbers". Adam Suraf of Dunkirkma.net named it the best episode of the season, and added: "I don’t know what it is about this episode — the 'Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?' song number; James Woods filling in for Apu at the store; or Homer’s wise line 'I’ve learned that life is one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead' — but the entire affair is inspired. [...] It’s in the little details that make this episode the year’s best, and solidifies The Simpsons as the funniest sitcom of all time." AskMen.com ranked "Homer and Apu" as number six on their list of the top ten The Simpsons episodes. Bill Gibron of DVD Talk gave the episode a score of 5 out of 5.
The episode has become study material for sociology courses at University of California Berkeley, where it is used to "examine issues of the production and reception of cultural objects". In the book Leaving Springfield, Duncan Beard said the episode served as a parody of the peculiarities of the American convenience store. Beard particularly cited the Muzak and the dinging bell as Homer and Apu entered the Kwik-E-Mart in India, and the sign that read, "The Master Knows All (except combination to safe)". Beard said, "Here the show presents its own instance of the global culture of consumer capitalism, transplanted intact and indistinguishably unaltered from the suburbs of America to a mountain top in some indefinable region of the post-partitioned Commonwealth nation of India, purely for the purpose of parodically criticizing the banality of quick-stop stores."
Paul Cantor, who analyzed the episode in his book Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization, said, "The Simpsons could offer no better image of the bizarre logic of contemporary globalization than a worldwide convenience store empire run by an enlightened guru from the sacred mountains of India." Cantor also specifically cited the "Master Knows" sign, which he said combined the perceived wisdom of the East with the business acumen of the West.
Tasleem Shakur and Karen D'Souza write in their book Picturing South Asian culture in English that "Homer and Apu" typifies the key articulation of the character of Apu juxtaposed to Homer, "something like his alter-ego", where Homer is the all American, Duff drinking, rather lazy nuclear plant worker, and Apu is the immigrant, clean living, hard working, small businessman. Their friendship, the authors added, is typically of a strong degree of mutual respect and a kind of admiration for what the other represents.
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