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Write this many times on the chalkboard: Bart finally has a new teacher.
Nearly a decade after The Simpsons retired the character of Mrs. Krabappel in the wake of Marcia Wallace's death in 2013, the long-running animated Fox comedy has officially found a permanent replacement — voiced by none other than Kerry Washington.
The beloved Scandal and Little Fires Everywhere alum has joined the show's cast in a recurring role as Rayshelle Peyton, Bart's very thoughtful, highly capable, and rather unfiltered fourth-grade teacher. In the show's April 24 installment, when Bart recognizes Ms. Peyton from somewhere, "he has complicated feelings," co-executive producer Carolyn Omine, who wrote the episode, tells EW. "She's really good at figuring out what the kids need, but she can't really figure out what his problem is until he finally comes clean."
You can get your first glimpse at Ms. Peyton via this exclusive clip from "My Octopus and a Teacher," in which she earnestly takes stock of her new students. "She's a great teacher," Washington tells EW. "But like all the best teachers, she knows that her students have just as much to teach her as she has to teach them. And teaching Bart is a job filled with growth opportunities."
Kevin Winter/Getty Images; fox Kerry Washington and Ms. Peyton
That's certainly true — it just took quite a long time to find the right person for the gig. After The Simpsons bade farewell to Mrs. Krabappel in a season 25 episode — her husband, Ned Flanders, was seen wearing a black arm band and mournfully recalling a tango dance with her — executive producer Al Jean told EW, "It's possible both given the way the show works and the state of public schools there won't be a permanent teacher. We can get some great guest stars here and there before we settle on somebody."
Which is what they did. In a season 26 episode, Bart's class was taught by the highly unstable Jack Lassen (Willem Dafoe), who became a chilling nemesis of Bart and was quickly fired for his revenge tactics. The following season, Sofia Vergara guest-starred as retired-army-sergeant-turned-substitute-teacher Carol Berrera, on whom both Bart and Principal Skinner crushed, but she departed at the end of the episode to serve in Afghanistan. In a season 29 episode, Flanders became Bart's teacher.
"I don't know why we've been putting it off," Omine says of permanently replacing Mrs. Krabappel. "I do miss our dear Marcia, and I think there was a little sadness and reluctance to do it, but it's been nine years. We would have a conversation at least once a year, maybe every other year. We couldn't really decide, and we couldn't really agree. There just wasn't the inspired thought — until we came upon this."
Omine had been pondering some kind of role for Washington since seeing the actress host Saturday Night Live in 2013. "I had always known she was a super-talented actress who had great range, but just never knew she was funny," she says. "She had a lot of characters and just really great comic timing, and I was like, 'We should really think of using her.'"
Opportunity arose in 2020. When Simpsons star Hank Azaria announced that he was no longer voicing characters of color, and animated shows including Family Guy, Central Park, and Big Mouth followed suit, Washington tweeted, "Dear animators looking for black voices… I'm avail." "That just got it into my head," Omine says. "I began thinking, 'Maybe she could be the new teacher. We've had this spot.' I talked with [executive producer] Matt Selman, and we decided to write it with her in mind."
Dear animators looking for black voices... I’m avail. 🤷🏾♀️
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) June 29, 2020
Omine recalls that when the producers sent the role to Washington's team but didn't hear back right away, "we decided, well, we heard about her wanting to do animated shows through Twitter, so we'll let her know through Twitter. So Matt Selman [tweeted], 'Hey, Kerry Washington, please contact us, we have this part we want you to play.' I don't know if that's what prompted her to get back to us, but it's just funny that it played out through Twitter in that way."
Washington confirms that Twitter was "instrumental" in making this casting happen. And it doesn't sound like the offer was a tough sell, especially given her connection to the education profession. "I'm just a huge Simpsons fan!" she says. "What an extraordinary legacy to be a part of! And I thought the idea of playing Bart's teacher was so funny. I used to be a teacher in NYC public schools. And my mother is a retired teacher. Teaching is, to me, a sacred profession. I could only imagine the laughs involved in teaching Bart."
Those laughs will come in different ways than before; Rayshelle is a rosy paradigm shift from the cynical, smoking Edna. "We're not going to feel like, 'Oh, this is a new Krabappel," Omine insists. "Most of our teachers are kind of burnouts, and it's just a function of comedy. But we thought, 'Let's just make this different, let's make her a good teacher.' Sometimes it's hard to find comedy in people that are good, but then you think about people like Leslie Knope. They're just a bit too much, but they're good at their job. We wanted to have that kind of teacher."
fox Ms. Peyton, voiced by Kerry Washington, on 'The Simpsons'
Ms. Peyton is "very dedicated," she continues. "She blurts [things] out. She's a little too honest, in a very, very sweet, quirky way. She has a very ambitious project, and she seems like she's going to be able to at least whip up the other teachers to raise their level a little bit too. She's inspiring. She can be, as they say, 'a lot.' But she's also fun." (Omine says Washington was a delight to work with, adding that after her first recording session, "she sent everybody thank-you notes [that] said, 'It was a dream come true to be part of the Simpsons family.' It was really touching.")
While viewers probably won't hear again this season from Washington (who stars in the upcoming YA film The School for Good and Evil), the Simpsons writers are already plotting several return appearances in season 34. (The plan is for Ms. Peyton to pop up with the same frequency as Mrs. Krabappel.) "Kerry is so busy, but we're very excited," Omine says. She perks up at possibilities beyond Bart, hinting that Lisa may be a little envious of the education Bart will receive. "Lisa's going to have an opinion, like, 'Why did Bart get the one good teacher?'" Omine says. "Also, [Rayshelle's] husband is part of the symphony orchestra, so there's that connection. We already can see where other little things can happen."
Tune in Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox to see Washington go fourth (grade) and conquer.