In a wide-ranging interview with USA Today as the unparalleled series reaches its 700th episode on Sunday, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening touched on the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who became mired in controversy in wake of Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu. In the doc, the comedian called out the show for exploiting racial stereotypes.  

The show’s initial response came in the episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” as Lisa breaks the fourth wall and addresses the conversation sparked by Kondabolu. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect,” Lisa says in the episode “What can you do?” Shortly after, actor Hank Azaria stepped down as the voice of Apu. 

Given the controversy surrounding Apu, Groening reassured fans that the show has a vision for where to go next. “We’ve got plans for Apu, but we have to see if we can make the stories work,” he said. When asked if there is an actor in place to take up the role, Groening would only say that the casting choice is “something kind of ambitious.” 

When reflecting on the Apu’s journey heading into what will, at least, be a 33rd and 34th season, Groening apprehensively admits that he looks back at the character with pride. “I think the Apu stories are fantastic, and he’s one of the most nuanced characters on a silly two-dimensional cartoon show,” he said. “So, yeah, I’m proud of Apu. (Pause.) I’m trying not to open up another chasm of criticism, but it doesn’t matter what I say. I’ll get it anyway.”