It's official: Kerry Washington has joined the cast of The Simpsons in a role central to the long-running show. Washington replaces Marcia Wallace as Mrs. Krabappel over a decade after The Simpsons character was retired after Wallace's untimely death in 2013. The Scandal star will voice the part of Rayshelle Peyton, Bart's fourth-grade teacher, who is intelligent, blunt, and skilled at her job. Co-executive producer Carolyn Omine told Entertainment Weekly that when Bart first meets Ms. Peyton, he recognizes her from somewhere and "has complicated feelings."
"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," said Omine, who wrote the episode. "She's a great teacher," Washington told Entertainment Weekly. "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."
Omine said that she has been considering a role for the actress since watching Washington 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 said. "She had a lot of characters and just really great comic timing, and I was like, 'We should really think of using her.'" Then, in 2020, when Simpsons star Hank Azaria announced that he would no longer voice characters of color, and cartoon shows including Family Guy and Big Mouth followed his lead, Washington tweeted, "Dear animators looking for black voices… I'm avail."
Dear animators looking for black voices... I’m avail. 🤷🏾♀️— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) June 29, 2020
"That just got it into my head," Omine said. "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." Twitter was instrumental in making the casting happen, according to Washington. However, as a massive fan of the show, she didn't need much convincing. "I'm just a huge Simpsons fan!" she said. "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."
Omine noted that Washington's character would depart from the show's cynical portrayal of the American school system. "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.'" She added that Ms. Peyton is "very dedicated," but "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."
The executive producer said Washington was a joy to work with and that she sent thank-you notes after the first recording session that said, "'It was a dream come true to be part of the Simpsons family.' It was really touching," Omine said. For now, Washington's Ms. Peyton only makes one appearance, but there are already plans to have her return in season 34. Her episode, "My Octopus and a Teacher," airs on April 24 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.