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The Simpsons, "Loan-A-Lisa"

A gift of $50 may make for a poor inheritance from Grandpa, but the Simpsons are determined to make the best of it; especially Lisa, who anonymously sponsors Nelson’s burgeoning business venture. The road to hell, however, is paved with good intentions, and this one leads both Lisa and Nelson to unexpected places. Meanwhile, Marge is backed into a corner after mistakenly attempting to buy a $500 purse, and Homer seizes on the opportunity to live the good life - one day at a time. After last week’s “Elementary School Musical” opened The Simpsons’ 22nd season with a resounding crash, the show is back on track - for the most part - with “Loan-A-Lisa”.

Motivated after Nelson’s video requesting sponsorship for his bicycle shop (and also so his mom can get the rest of her “Classy Lady” tattoo removed and he can have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), Lisa invests $50 in his business, and at first, it’s a good venture. Nelson recruits the other lowlifes in Springfield to take bikes from Milhouse and Martin and make them into cool rides. Things become so good for Nelson that he drops out of school, much to Lisa’s horror. She first turns to Principal Skinner, only to find that working for Nelson is apparently infinitely better than being the principal (or, for that matter, the superintendent) of an elementary school in middle America. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates turn out to be bad (but unimaginably successful) role models, and it’s left up to Mother Nature to show Nelson the error of his ways.

As for Marge, she unwittingly buys a $500 purse (at first believing it was only $50). Homer convinces her to show the purse off before she returns it the next day, and while it gets them a better table at Springfield’s swankiest restaurant, it’s also stained by Homer’s exuberance at the buffet table. Nonetheless, Marge successfully (if nervously) returns the purse, and Homer hits on the idea of buying the most expensive things he can imagine, enjoying them for a day, and then returning them the next. It works (to a degree - don’t take the protective cover off the new flatscreen TV, don’t take the hot-tub out of its box, don’t wipe your feet on the Gucci ‘Welcome’ mat), until Homer is busted on a To Catch a Credit Whore episode.

While “Elementary School Musical” wouldn’t have existed without its pop culture references, “Loan-A-Lisa” has plenty of its own jokes to stand on its own. It’s nice to see Nelson and Lisa interact, and Nelson is given a lot to do (although he gets a few “haw-haw!”s in by the end of the episode). Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is certainly makings the rounds, being played by Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, and voicing himself in “Loan-A-Lisa”. His presence in this episode is well-used as a gag (updating his Facebook status after being knocked over by a roller skating Nelson and Lisa), and not the crutch that it would have been used as in last week’s episode. I found Homer’s credit whore story much funnier (even though the Lisa/Nelson angle was probably the more interesting of the two), and while it wasn’t as huge a step forward as, say, Lisa believing in Nelson, Nelson becoming a legitimate businessman and the two of them holding hands and roller skating together, there’s something wonderful about Homer asking a customer service employee when her shift is over so he can be served by her more gullible co-worker.

“Loan-A-Lisa” isn’t the unmitigated triumph that The Simpsons needed after the stupendously disappointing “Elementary School Musical”, but it was funnier than Family Guy’s “Excellence in Broadcasting”, and that’s a relief if there ever was one. There are many good moments in “Loan-A-Lisa”: Chief Wiggum busting Lou’s undercover operation; Principal Skinner, and then Superintendent Chalmers, ripping the sleeves off their suits in an attempt to impress Nelson; or my favorite, which was when Homer was busted on To Catch A Credit Whore, ran out screaming, returned to sign the legal release, and then ran out again. A 4.0/5.0 may be nothing to write home about, but after last week’s debacle, it’s certainly worth a Facebook comment.