Wait…this is, like, the second episode in a row that I have actually kinda liked…
That’s not because this was a great episode. It was a good one. I’ll take a good one, and many times I get the impression that The Simpsons these days isn’t so much a bad show as one that doesn’t quite match up what it used to be.
But this one was also a bit of a weird one. For starters, this was Nancy Cartwright’s first time writing an episode, and to her credit (even with a chalkboard gag in the opening credits that actually references her indirectly), it’s not a Bart-focused episode so much as it is a Lisa-focused episode. True, Bart gets some rather Bart-ish moments, but the episode as a whole actually gives all the Simpsons, even Maggie, something to do in ways many episodes don’t. Adding to the weirdness is there’s a voice cameo by Dave Matthews in an episode about music and his character doesn’t do anything musically-related.
So, what happened? Well, we open with the eternally disappointed Mr. Largo, living in misery with a freeloading boyfriend that looks a lot like Ian McKellen, so was this a reference to the British sitcom Vicious? If so, color me impressed for a somewhat more obscure reference than I would have expected. As it is, Largo’s life seems to take a step up when he gets a call from one Victor Kleskow, a J.K. Simmons-voiced big time conductor type, and he’s coming to see Largo’s band perform. Could this be a way out for Largo? I mean, we do see that he goes all out, getting the band kids to perform well (partially because he stuffed Ralph Wiggum into a double bass), and…Kleskow is there to see Lisa. Lisa has a gift, and her parents agree it should be encouraged.
And that’s where most of the Simpsons sees their lives go to hell. It’s expensive, so Homer has to do a double shift at the Plant, working nights, while Marge has to drive Lisa to Capital City every day, an hour each way, and due to a lack of babysitter resources, she needs to take Bart and Maggie along with her. Bart hates being dragged along, especially after he’s locked up in a store room with other lesser siblings, Maggie grows to hate having to go herself, Marge hates the drive, and Homer finds problems working at the Plant at night when the lights are dim due to a lack of power. Mr. Burns says they shouldn’t get high on their own supply.
Lisa, meanwhile, learns Kleskow is basically a comedic version of Simmons’ character from Whiplash, but she, um, likes getting abused like that because it makes her play better. And as a result, her whole family is tired and miserable, Homer especially when he learns Lisa won’t be playing for the Utah Jazz.
Heck, Homer is so exhausted, he sees himself in the hotel from The Shining where bartender Lloyd (that’d be Dave Matthews) argues he should murder his family, but Homer’s special brand of stupidity means the other Simpsons are safe, and that’s before he literally waltzes into the radioactive core. Fortunately, Smithers shut the door in time and Mr. Burns doesn’t mind insanity in the late shift, hence the reason the Plant’s HR man seems to be Jack Torrance.
As it is, Lisa has a conscience, and when she is forced to audition for the next school up since she’s almost too old for the group she’s in, spotting her miserable family outside causes her to screw up and get kicked out of the music academy. Everyone goes home happier, even Mr. Largo for some reason.
So, yeah, it was a nice episode. Maggie even got some good bits in. Is The Simpsons turning itself around?
I kinda doubt it, but I can enjoy it while it lasts.