It goes without saying that the best days of The Simpsons are so far behind it that to even speak of the golden era is like bringing up ancient texts from yore. However, the show has persisted and for a while lost its way with mediocre content, losing many fans in the process. This season, though, has been on the whole a very decent one.
And yet episodes like this one give more justification to those fans that left. The episode wasn’t great though it had potential. The main thing going against it was that it was a Lisa episode which are traditionally hit or miss. She is, easily, the hardest character to write for on the show. It requires a delicate balance of her high intellect, outsider status and also her desire to just be a kid, unencumbered by her own ‘limitations’.
In Girl on the Bus, Lisa is unsatisfied with both her home and school life. At home, the family eats TV dinners while having dinner in the living room watching some Ninja Warrior knock-off. On the bus ride to school Lisa is alone amidst a jungle like atmosphere of kids running around and screaming. She at least is aware of the goings-on when Bart asks her to wish him luck in his lunch box-ing match with Nelson. She replies “What’s the use, they’re never going to unify the titles”. Lisa sees a girl sitting on a porch playing a clarinet who she immediately connects with. The next day she gets off the bus early and proceeds to find this girls house. Seeing the door open, she lets herself in and quickly becomes friends with the girl whose named Sam Monroe.
Lisa finds that Sam and her family are highly intelligent, worldly cultured and socially conscious and spends as much time as she can with them. She even lies about what her family does and how they’re going away on a trip to Lithuania. The Monroe’s want to meet Lisa’s family but Lisa devises any lie to not have them meet, even passing off Ned as her father. She spends time by staying with them in the evenings and going back home early morning on account of her fictitious swimming lessons.
She’s eventually caught by Marge who as punishment tells her to invite the family over for dinner. Marge gives Homer a cue card with the only 4 phrases he’s allowed to say that night. Sam’s parents are so impressed with Homer that they want to here more about him. Seeing as he can no longer say whats on the cue card Homer, and the rest of the room unbeknownst to the guests, gets nervous but saves himself by asking if they like beer which they do. The episode ends with Bart showing off his new room which he’s converted into a club for some unknown reason.
Girl on the Bus takes a lot of liberties. From the beginning, right up to the end Lisa’s actions are abrupt and peremptory in order to make the story move. She essentially breaks into Sam’s house and everyone acts like that’s fine. There’s also no discussion of why Sam isn’t in school or where her parents were when Lisa broke in. The Monroe’s too are kind of bland and the episode commits to neither parody or complexity in the portrait.
Lisa’s conflict comes off like a template document, very formulaic. She’s unsatisfied with her lot, sees something better, throws the family dynamic out of whack, pays her dues and everything’s put right by the end. Because of this characters like Marge and Homer are fundamentally changed in order to service the formula. Marge comes off as very rude and uncaring while Homer is the understanding one. But then their roles are once again reverted back to normal once the conflict is nearly over. Marge worries that the family will ‘fail’ the dinner by not making a good impression and Homer back to his general aloof self.
The only funny part was when Sam’s father asked Homer to speak about himself. At which point Homer and the rest of the room, including Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball, get nervous. Otherwise, there was very little to laugh about here.
The ending was also weird and out of nowhere. There was literally no need for Bart to turn his room into a club and to have that be the final scene.
I get that Lisa episodes are hard but good ones have been done before and knowing the difficulty the writers should take extra care when writing them. But like I said at the beginning, this season has been pretty solid and hopefully this is just an aberration.
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