Let’s end the week on this anomaly of an episode. It’s the rare case where we get an episode about Lisa teaching someone about a better way to live their life, and the someone she’s teaching isn’t Homer! So let’s see if Lisa can successfully teach Mr. Burns the meaning of the word recycling.
Things start off with Lisa waking everyone in the house up by rummaging through the trash to find recyclables. Marge gets up from bed, and Homer and Bart wake up from watching a movie called Colonel Dracula Joins the Navy, which is shockingly not a Troy McClure film. They all come to Lisa, trying to figure out why she’s making so much noise, and she explains recycling to them. She’s apparently in a club that’s trying to get a lot of recyclables together, and tries to get the family to help out, even though she cautions Homer that “you’re not supposed to have fun recycling.” And once she’s done teaching her family about basic ecology, she heads to school for her meeting of the Junior Achievers, where they have a special guest speaker, Mr. Burns!
Burns gives the kids a lecture about becoming a success in business, and how you need to slay the three demons of family, religion, and friendship in order to succeed. And when it becomes time for questions from the audience, Lisa hits Burns with a curveball, and asks about recycling at the Plant. Burns’ brain then rifles through a dictionary looking for the word recycling, but only comes up with words like Redskin, ragamuffin, and rutabaga. Lisa is a little put off by this, but then asks about Burns and his dwindling wealth, which makes Smithers finally admit that his net worth has been falling for some time, causing Burns to leave the meeting in a panic. He calls his yes-men and financial guys together, and they find that his stock portfolio is doing really poorly, since he still owns stocks in slavery companies. So Burns decides to turn things around with a little stock shake-up, sinking all his money into zeppelins and hay.
Which doesn’t really work well for him, since the next time they meet they find out that Burns is now officially broke. So broke that the bank has already foreclosed on his mansion, and the Plant, leaving Burns unemployed and homeless. And after finding out that the mansion has been bought by Brett the Hitman Hart, Burns has to move in with Smithers. Meanwhile, we learn that the bank kept the Plant in operation, and just put Lenny in charge, which starts to worry Marge. But Lisa finds it hilarious, having some serious schadenfreude.
But while Lenny is acclimating nicely to his new position, Mr. Burns is doing worse. He’s a complete nuisance to Smithers, and is frustrating him to no end. And things get worse when Burns decides to actually help by doing Smithers’ grocery shopping. Which does not end well. Burns is baffled by the grocery store, getting trapped in a freezer, struggling to find cereal whose mascot looks like him (he lands on Count Chochula), and finally having an argument with himself over the difference between ketchup and catsup. All all of this is apparently enough for the grocers to commit Burns to the Retirement Castle. So Burns is trapped in the Retirement Castle for an afternoon, and starts to come to terms with his bleak future. That is until he runs into Lisa, whose there to recycle crap from the old people. Burns decides that he’s going to win back his fortune, and that Lisa needs to be his adviser. She refuses.
And if there’s one thing Charles Montgomery Burns doesn’t like, it’s someone refusing to help him. So Burns starts stalking Lisa around the city, begging for her to help him, until he finally breaks down and comes to the Simpsons home. He introduces himself to Homer, and asks to speak with his daughter, getting more specific when Homer assumes he’s talking about Maggie. But he’s not there to talk to the baby that shot him, and when Lisa come down, he makes her a deal, promising the do nothing evil to make his fortune back, as long as she helps him. So after some thought, Lisa decides to help the old man.
So Lisa starts to teach Burns about recycling, and after some reticence, he takes to it, becoming more and more efficient in his recycling ability. He even does so well that Kent Brockman does a newscast on him, where he hilariously refers to Mr. Burns as “the man who blocked out our sun, ran over a local boy, and stole Christmas from 1981 to 1985. And while the news is mocking Burns, and how far he’s fallen, it turns out he’s actually doing amazingly. He’s employed the old folks at the Retirement Castle to do manual labor, and has created a pretty efficient system. Things are going so well that he’s able to open a huge recycling Plant on the beach, which he names the Lil’ Lisa Recycling Plant. Surely nothing horrible goes on in there!
Right before the new Plant opens Lisa is invited to tour it, where she learns that the whole building is environmentally sound, and made from recycled materials. It looks like Mr. Burns and the Plant are up to some great work. That is until Burns also reveals the secondary function of the Plant. He’s developed a giant net made from sewn together six-pack holders, which he uses to dredge the sea clean, dragging all the sea life into the factory, where it’s then processed into the Lil’ Lisa Animal Slurry. Burns plans to use the slurry as an engine coolant, an explosive, or an animal feed. But Lisa is not cool with it, finding the whole thing disgusting. She runs off, trying to stop people from recycling in a goofy Soylent Green ending. But as Lisa is reeling from this discovery, she’s approached by Burns who tells her he was able to sell the recycling plant for $120 million, while also buying back the Nuclear Plant. He also says that since Lisa was his partner, she gets 10%. But Lisa sticks to her principals, and rips up the check for $12 million, which causes Homer to have four simultaneous heart attacks, even though he only thought the check was for $12,000.
This is a really goofy episode. It combined two types of episodes I love, Lisa teaching people things and Mr. Burns trying out a new racket, but shockingly the sum of the parts didn’t quite work wonders for me. It’s a funny episode with some great gags, but overall I think that Lisa and Burns just don’w quite have good enough chemistry. Lisa episodes work well when she’s teaching Homer, and oddly enough Homer works best with Mr. Burns trying new things. But having Lisa and Burns together just kind of fell flat for me, at least this viewing. It was funny to see Lisa’s idealism trying to overcome Burns’ evil, even though it fails in the end.
Take Away: Stick to your principals. Unless someone’s offering you $12 million for doing basically nothing. You don’t want to give your loved ones heart attacks.
“The Old Man and the Lisa” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Mark Kirkland, 1997.