“See, Marge, strangling the boy paid off,” Homer says in a recent episode, “Just kidding, I don’t do that anymore. Times have changed.”
The Simpsons has kept audiences laughing for over three decades — but over the course of the show’s run, some jokes have become a little less funny. Times have changed and certain aspects of the animated series have been deemed to be inappropriate or offensive by some viewers. Storylines that revolve around racial stereotypes and character’s voices that are more like hurtful impersonations, have become unacceptable — and the show has made an effort to fix these mistakes. Whether that means putting a stop to a running gag or recasting a voice actor, The Simpsons have definitely made some major corrections throughout the years.
Read on to find out how the show has changed…
Homer no longer strangles Bart
Since the early days of The Simpsons, Homer has been strangling Bart when he’s angry as part of a long-running bit. Through the years, the gag hasn’t gone over well with some viewers, who were opposed to the depiction of child abuse on television — even if it was part of an animated joke.
In recent seasons, the team behind the show has hinted at the idea that Homer has felt remorse for his ways, even showing him going to therapy during a season 22 episode. While he learned of the harm he was causing by attacking Bart, Homer was later seen choking his son on several other occasions. But it all seemingly stopped during the show’s 31st season.
Although many viewers didn’t notice the end of the gag, it became clear that Homer had changed his ways for good during a season 35 episode titled “McMansion & Wife.” When a new neighbor points out Homer has a firm handshake, he credits it to years of strangling his son — which he no longer does.
“See, Marge, strangling the boy paid off,” Homer says in the episode before adding, “Just kidding, I don’t do that anymore. Times have changed.”
Apu is portrayed without harmful stereotypes
Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has been a key member of The Simpsons since the very beginning, and for many years was one of the only Indian animated characters represented on television. But recently, Apu’s characterization of Indians has been deemed problematic and made major headlines. Not only was Apu voiced by Hank Azaria, a white actor, but his on-screen actions also played into a lot of harmful racial stereotypes.
Backlash surrounding the character came to a head with the 2017 release of the comedian Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, The Problem With Apu. After highlighting that Apu actually contributed to the negative depiction of Indians and made things harder for Indian actors, Hank decided to apologize and step down from his role.
“I really didn’t know any better. I didn’t think about it. I was unaware how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens. Just because there were good intentions, it doesn’t mean there weren’t real negative consequences to the thing that I am accountable for,” Hank said during an appearance on the Armchair Expert podcast.
During a later appearance on NPR’s podcast, Code Switch, Hank called his casting “embarrassing” and acknowledged that he “helped to create a pretty marginalizing, dehumanizing stereotype.”
While Apu has continued to appear on The Simpsons, he has been seen less frequently and a voice actor has not been recast.
White actors no longer voice non-white characters
In 2020, the team behind The Simpsons announced that they would “no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.” The decision came just a few months after Hank shared that he would be stepping down from his role as Apu.
With the news came the need for several characters to be recast. That included Hank’s other role as Carlton Carlson, who was eventually replaced by voice actor Alex Désert in 2020. Dr. Julius Hibbert’s voice actor, Harry Shearer, was also replaced, with Kevin Michael Richardson taking over the role in 2021.
Gay characters have been recast by gay voice actors
In 2021, Hank stepped down from his role as Julio Franco, a gay Cuban character who has appeared on over 25 episodes throughout the show. Hank was eventually replaced by Tony Rodriguez, a gay Cuban voice actor who had posted an audition video on Instagram, explaining that he saw himself in Julio. When he was selected for the role, he called the opportunity a “dream come true.”
“Tonight I make my debut on The Simpsons as gay, Cuban Julio. This is a dream come true for me and I was already a living cartoon,” Tony wrote on Instagram.