Homer Simpson may be maturing, or so he says.
The character, voiced by Dan Castellaneta, hinted that he would no longer choke his son, Bart, appearing to acknowledge that one of the oldest recurring bits on “The Simpsons” was a clear form of animated child abuse that was played for laughs.
In the third episode of the current season, the show’s 35th, titled “McMansion & Wife,” Homer meets a neighbor who compliments the grip on his handshake.
“See Marge? Strangling the boy has paid off,” Homer says to his wife in the episode, which aired on Oct. 22. “Just kidding. I don’t do that anymore. Times have changed.”
It was not clear whether this signaled a lasting shift in the show, which was renewed for a 36th season this year. A spokesman for Fox, the network that has long aired “The Simpsons,” declined to comment.
“The Simpsons,” created by Matt Groening, has made moves in recent years to update its humor to fit with evolving standards. In 2020, Hank Azaria said he would no longer voice the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, an Indian convenience store owner who became known for his catchphrase, “Thank you! Come again.”
Apu had long been a sore point among viewers of Indian descent, many of whom viewed the character, which Azaria had voiced since 1990, as nothing more than a racist caricature. Azaria has said the voice was inspired by South Asian clerks he heard growing up in New York, as well as Peter Sellers in the 1968 film “The Party.”
The discussion took off in the public sphere after the release of the 2017 documentary “The Problem With Apu,” in which the comedian Hari Kondabolu spoke to other Indian American actors and performers who said the character had become emblematic of the marginalization they faced in the entertainment industry.
But there isn’t a consensus among people of South Asian descent, as evidenced by the Indian American comedian Akaash Singh, who argued in a 2022 YouTube special titled “Bring Back Apu” that the character was a positive portrayal of an immigrant story. Apu has not been seen since Season 33.
The “Simpsons” creative team responded to Kondabolu’s documentary through the show, then in its 29th season, in a 2018 episode titled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished.” In the episode, Lisa Simpson breaks the fourth wall and says: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
The shot immediately pans to a framed picture of Apu. Marge chimes in and says, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” to which Lisa replies, “If at all.”
The show has long been self-referential, and has been so with the choking bit on several occasions. One episode — “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing,” from Season 22 — examines the roots of Homer’s choking impulses, with the help of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as himself) and Paul Rudd (as a therapist). A newly empathetic Homer swears to never choke Bart again, which then sends Bart on a spree of bad behavior, as he is no longer afraid of his father’s rage.
The Season 11 finale, titled “Behind the Laughter,” was a parody of the VH1 documentary series “Behind the Music.” After Homer is shown choking Bart, he says, “And that horrible act of child abuse became one of our beloved running gags!”