After 34 seasons, Carl Carlson is finally getting in touch with his roots.
Sunday’s episode of The Simpsons (Fox, 8/7c) sets Homer’s coworker on a journey of discovery when a new relationship with a Black woman makes him curious about his own own heritage.
“It’s a more direct conversation of race than we’re used to having on The Simpsons,” acknowledges writer Loni Steele Sosthand, but it’s also long overdue. Carl was voiced by white actor Hank Azaria for the first 32 seasons of the show, and was only recently replaced by Black actor Alex Désert.
“I had an exchange with Alex, and he expressed how much he identified with this story,” Sosthand recalls. “He’s of Haitian descent, and he talked about growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in New York. It’s not literally what we’re doing with Carl, just as it’s not exactly like my experience [growing up multiracial], but it’s thematically about the assumptions we make about identity. It was interesting to get into it with this character. It really adds another layer to him.”
The show introduced Carl’s Icelandic adoptive parents back in Season 24, which laid some of the groundwork for this new adventure 10 years later.
“People who are adopted often are curious about their birth parents and their heritage, so we honor that history but also take him in a different direction in this episode where he discovers another aspect to his identity that he hadn’t explored before,” Sosthand says.
Without giving too much away, that “different direction” includes a deep dive into the “fascinating, under-told history of Black cowboys,” who apparently made up a quarter of the cowboys who settled the west.
“I liked having that be a part of Carl’s Black identity in an unexpected way,” Sosthand adds. “We’re not saying you have to conform to a stereotype or anything to be authentically Black. There are all kinds of authentic stories. It was really rich territory once we opened it up.”
Hit PLAY on the video above for an exclusive sneak peek of Sunday’s episode, then drop a comment with your thoughts below.