After last weeks season defining episode it would be a stretch to expect The Simpsons to strike lightening twice. Indeed, Girls in the Band is more akin to season 30 in general: good episodes that are an improvement on recent years. To be honest, that’s as much as fans of the show can hope for these days.

It also marks Nancy Cartwright’s debut as a writer on the show. She joins Harry Shearer and Dan Castellaneta as the only cast members to have written for the show. You would think Nancy to write a Bart episode but we actually get a Lisa episode instead. Girls in the Band is essentially about Lisa getting picked to play for the Capital City Philharmonic Youth Division and the toll that brings to the family via the added cost and long commutes.

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The opening however deals with Dewey Largo and how his early success as a conductor still haunts him to this day. He went from being a prodigy to a miserable music school teacher. The dream sequence was interesting because it added a hint of creepiness which makes perfect sense for Largo. It’s just a shame that the episode didn’t continue with this story. If my memory serves me correct, there have been no Largo centric episodes on the show to date. He’s appeared numerous times and has delivered some funny lines (Nobody like Milhouse!) but never had his own episode. The setup here was actually pretty good and I was looking forward to exploring this character.

The switch comes when Largo gets an email that the conductor from the Capital City Philharmonic will come and listen to his show. Largo thinks this will finally be his big break but the conductor (Victor Klesko, played well by JK Simmons) chooses Lisa to join the youth division instead.

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Then the story switches to the hardship this choice causes on The Simpson family. Homer has to take the night shift at the plant while Marge has to take Bart and Maggie with her on the long commute because they can’t afford a babysitter. This type of story, of course, has been done before and its not an easy one to do either. The writers have to start at zero develop a conflict and bring it back to zero all in 20 minutes. On top of that the writers have to operate in a world where the characters never change. For a first time writer Nancy does an okay job but its not perfect.

For starters, Homer and Marge each take on more than they have to which is fine, but there’s no examination beyond that. The episode never touches on how much is too much to sacrifice for your kids. Instead, Lisa is the one who realizes what she’s putting her family through and intentionally plays a wrong note to get her kicked off the team. A noble effort for sure but one that should’ve been explored more fully.

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Aside from the that there were some notable things about the episode. The scenes at the Philharmonic were great, especially how all the other kids were demoralized by Klesko. Simmons did a great job with this character and you could tell he had a fun time playing the overly strict conductor. During Homer’s time at the night shift he eventually loses it and we get a daydream type sequence that’s a parody on The Shining. Its a bit of an odd fit but the funny part about that is how Homer can’t quite pick up the hint from the bartender that he should kill his family. Lastly, it was nice to end the episode with Bart and Lisa bonding over their shared knowledge of Lisa’s act all the while baiting Homer from the back seat of the car. Some of the nicer Simpsons moments are when the kids are allowed to be kids.

All in all a decent episode with a few missed opportunities. Nothing fatal but exploring either Largo or the parental hardship theme would have taken this episode over the top.

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