Over the past two years, Cuba has been besieged by a parade of celebrity actors, athletes, musicians, and political figures in a sort of ongoing international coming out party (or perhaps “welcome back party”) for the crumbling communist island. But between the Obamas, Kanye West, and Carmelo Anthony, few recent visitors can match the vintage prestige of a recent crop of high-profile visitors to la Perla del Caribe: namely Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, Maggie, and Abe; collectively known as The Simpsons.
Indeed, Season 28, Episode 7 of the US’s longest-running television sitcom brought the world’s most iconic cartoon family to Havana for a bit of medical tourism this past November. Titled “Havana Wild Weekend,” the episode starts when grandpa Abe finds himself faced with a potential $2,000 medical bill to soothe some of the maladies of his advanced age, and a six-year waiting list for treatment at the VA hospital. When he learns the same procedure can be done in Cuba for a mere six dollars, the Simpson family packs up their bags and heads across the Strait of Florida for a tropical weekend jaunt. There, Abe learns not much can be done about his aging, but a taste of Cuba’s throwback 1950s charm is enough to get him skipping, dancing, and playing flamenco guitar all over again.
Along the way, husband-and-wife writing duo Dan Castellaneta and Deb Lacusta, along with first-time scribe Peter Tilden, give a sharp, lived-in perspective on Cuba’s idiosyncrasies. From the vast cultural knowledge of unassuming cab drivers, to the occasional substitution of horse meat for an ever-elusive cut of beef, The Simpsons Havana is nothing like the romanticized, two-dimensional clichés you would expect from a network cartoon. To boot, the episode takes swipes at everything from Ticketmaster to US government incompetence, topped off with hilariously perceptive one-liners like “Welcome to Cuba: The Hawaii of Russia.”
But then again, The Simpsons has never been your typical network animation, and after the family makes it back to the US of A, the writers leave us with a typically bittersweet, but deeply true pun from grandpa Abe: “Like every good thing in life, I’ve already forgotten it.”