This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.
The Simpsons: Season 30 Episode 19
The Simpsons, season 30, Episode 19, “Girl’s in the Band” hits all the right notes, especially the blue ones. The family dynamic is explored on a more intimate and insider-informed way. Outside characters are filled in and a fantastic new character is introduced, though we’ll probably never see him again because he’s a sixty minute drive from Springfield to Capital City.
That is the journey of the episode. Lisa’s talent is recognized and she is called to play in the big little leagues. Someday she might even play for Utah Jazz, but that’s a different instrument entirely. Not onlike whatever it is Millhouse plays in the Springfield Elementary School band. “Girl’s in the Band” is filled with tributes. It opens with a masterful nod to Bugs Bunny. Springfield Elementary School’s music teacher and band leader Dewey Lugar is bored. He’s just going through the notes at this point. He’s also going through his emails. He does this while he’s conducting, he’s so bored. Then everything changes, and this deserves a classic reference. A Loony Toon if you will.
Largo reads the email about being noticed and is so surprised his hands stay in the air. The kids, who are holding a note in the piece they are rehearsing get stuck on the note, just like Bugs Bunny had opera singer Giovanni Jones do in the classic 1949 short film Long-Haired Hare. One of the student musicians’ cummerbunds flips up, though we’re not sure why he’d be wearing one as this is just a practice.
The episode and segment begins with a flashback to the crushing of his spirit, and we see why he’s been stifling creativity ever since. Back when Largo graduated with the Class of 1999, he was tied with another musical genius for an impressive future conductor award. The presenter has a momentary peak into the future. His prediction is a wonderful nightmare, reminiscent of Harry Potter, playing out with only the blandest of notes for accompaniment.
Voiced by Harry Shearer, Dewey Largo can make any piece of music uninteresting. His last name is the musical term for slower than adagio, which is pretty slow. He’s not exactly known for his enthralling lessons, and the performances he stages have no luster at all. He doesn’t even know what Millhouse plays. But after the letter from the Capitol City Philharmonic, he decides he’s actually going to try and do something. He finds the words to inspire his band of children to give the performance of his life. If they play wonderfully, he promises they will never see him again.
The promise pays off as with what we think is Homer’s punchline, “oh my gosh it’s bearable,” before we get the true revelation Marge wears ear plugs through the recitals. This is probably why she never notices her husband is usually listening to a game. Even Superintendent Chalmers is moved by the performance, enough to ask Principal Skinner to move to a father seat. It seems everyone needs a buffer chair between themselves and Skinner. Still, it’s better than Chief Wiggum’s son Ralph’s position in the assembly. They keep him safe in a cello’s f hole.
We also get to see the arc between Dewey Largo and his lover Dewy, who reminds me of Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. He is an over-bearing British slouch. Telling his dog Sir Winston there will be no cigar for him and greeting the teacher as “Lord Grumpy of the morning breath.” Towards the end, Dewey decides to move Dewey out of his house and all his lover can see is the mover, and is thrilled to think he’s being the man. But it all gets sorted out by Puccini. There is a lot of music in the episode.
There are also a lot of great short sight gags, like the spit valve overflow tub Willie carries out, and how we came to Springfield for Whacking Day but stayed for the Snake Chowder. Prison really is a revolving door system in Springfield for Sideshow Bob. There is a quick visual gag showing him slipping through a manhole Jimbo and his gang leave open. Lisa’s celebratory dance after she is asked to join the youth section in the Capital City Philharmonic is also wonderful.
Homer gets to star in a Breaking Bad homage. He will do extreme things for his daughter. Even, gasp, work double shifts. When Marge wonders if that might be a little dangerous. He informers her “I am the danger. I’m the one who knocks.” At first we think it’s just a good line to steal, then we realize he works at a nuclear plant and, yes, he is a very real danger.
There is subtle self-referential foreshadowing in Homer’s line “Prime time TV, I’ll miss you most of all.” It “No TV and no beer that made Homer go crazy in the “Treehouse of Horror V” segment “The Shinning.” In this case it the fantasia of overwork that brings his belly to the bar. Musician Dave Matthews is an unexpected choice as the Bartender, but his speedy delivery puts the segment on par with any verbally abusive duets played on the series. First he hints Homer take care of his family with irradiated salad. But Homer doesn’t eat salad, which forces the Bartender to drop any hints and ultimately the Simpson family is saved by his stupidity.
Burns gets the last laugh after catching Homer in the afterglow of an Overlook Hotel dance. First by explaining what happens on the night shift stays on the nightshift. Then by happily witnessing the real Jack Torrance on his way to settle a dispute with an axe, and telling Homer that was the head of human resources. This all comes after he tells Homer the energy plant doesn’t waste energy with lights at night because you “never get high on your own supply,” a line from Brian De Palma’s Scarface.
The conductor is a great character, although he won’t be around much, as he lives in Capital City, which is quite a commute. Victor is written as a kind of cross between Scorpio, played by Simpsons go-to voice Albert Brooks, and Kiefer Sutherland’s drill sergeant. Each line is a zinger and J. K. Simmons is obviously having fun messing with Lisa’s head with M sharps and Frank naturals, and asking “you think everyone gets to hang out with Mozart.” His every attempt to break her spirit makes her a better player. Even as he undermines her final audition telling her she’ll have to travel a half hour farther than everywhere, he is also pushing her to be a better musician. He could have been a band leader or a prison guard and chose the one where he could be more cruel. You should see him as a father.
The family all make sacrifices for Lisa. Bart killing time is hysterical. Banging his head on the car works for him. Bart decides he’s too cool for the shadows and teaches the other secondary family castoffs how to get attention. After a while it gets to be too much for them and invades their subconscious Marge drives the car in her sleep. Homer is pushed beyond his limits when he realizes “Oh my god, Maggie is talented too.
Bart shows extreme understanding of his sister when he observes she’d be better and loved it more if she joined the fancy philharmonic, but at least her self-sacrifice drove the two kids back to violence, even Homer tries to squeeze in on that. It makes it all worthwhile.
The episode was written by Nancy Cartwright, who has voiced Bart Simpson since The Simpsons were on The Tracey Ullman Show. While watching this I pictured it being written by Lisa, with Bart going over it and adding the jokes. Bart does his sister proud. She gives everyone in the family good lines and a real dilemma for Lisa. She has the talent to go anywhere, but at the cost of the family. At first she doesn’t really see it. But her empathy is all over. She feels bad about overshadowing her teacher, almost bad about getting bumped up from second chair.
“Girl’s in the Band” is good, middle-school good, which in this case is a big endorsement. You “get the giggles” more in middle school than in any other period of life. The jokes in those grades are less filtered. Cartwright has lived most of her life as a mischievous ten year old boy and as a Simpson. The episode is another major move forward in the family dynamic.
“Girl’s in the Band” was directed by Jennifer Moeller, and written by Nancy Cartwright.
The Simpsons stars Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Abe Simpson, Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson, Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson. Hank Azaria plays Comic Book Guy, Kirk Van Houten, Chief Wiggum, Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr., and Moe. Harry Shearer is Seymour Skinner, Kent Brockman, C. Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers. Guest stars: Dave Matthews as Bartender and J. K. Simmons as Victor.
The Simpsons‘ “Girl’s in the Band” aired Sunday, March 31, at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Bart’s Chalkboard: I am not a grandmother.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.