After Elementary School Musical, The Simpsons' toe-tappin', star-studded first episode of the 22nd season, I had a hunch that the second episode wouldn't quite measure up. Loan-a-Lisa is an episode that amusingly comments on several different phenomena, including microloans, poor teacher salaries and Facebook, but I would have to say that I didn't find it quite as entertaining as the season premiere.

The episode begins with a spoof of the touching montage at the beginning of Pixar's Up. The music is nearly identical, and several highlights of the montage are recreated in Simpsons form. The best part is when the two lovebirds lie on their backs watching the clouds, which morph into representations of characters from previous Pixar films. However, this is an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, so it can't end well. It concludes just as violently as I would have expected, and again I'm left wondering how vegetarian peacenik Lisa Simpson can laugh at something so grotesque. She seems to take leave of her convictions whenever Itchy and Scratchy is on the tube.

I also didn't appreciate Bart's quip about Grandpa and Reverend Lovejoy both telling thousands-of-years-old stories about stuff that didn't happen. I'm echoing Marge's groan on that one - and also thinking that Ned Flanders hasn't turned up nearly enough in these first two episodes. More Ned, please! Anyway, as it turns out, Bart has reason to be glad to visit Grandpa today since he's in the mood to hand out cash. For an inheritance, it's pretty pathetic, but fifty dollars still is a bit of a windfall to a ten-year-old kid. Who promptly wastes it by paying the hapless Gil to walk up the down escalator at the mall all day. Homer indulges in something just as pointless. Marge, meanwhile, decides to treat herself to a designer purse that just happens to cost exactly $50 - or so she thinks. When she realizes that the price tag is, in fact, $500, she's too humiliated to take the purse back to the display, since she is surrounded by gossipy women who consider her impoverished.

Marge does intend to return the handbag the next day, however, and she manages to do so despite the fact that it becomes stained in a dramatic slow-motion moment when Homer treats her to a night on the town. Big sigh of relief, right? Except that Homer decides this gives him free reign to buy all sorts of high-end items and then return them later. It's a very stupid idea, as Marge tells him, and aside from the adrenaline rush of feeling like he is ripping off a high-end store, he's not getting much out of it, since the items need to be returned in like-new condition. I work in retail, so I found this storyline easy to relate to. I wonder how many people try to pull off that sort of thing? It's definitely something that merchandisers have to watch out for.

The storyline from which the episode derives its title involves Lisa's use of the money, which is both considerate and practical. She seeks out a charity in an effort to honor her grandpa, and she stumbles upon a website that appears to be a parody of Kiva. The commercial on the site spoofs the Ally Bank ads with the unsuspecting children getting hoodwinked by market researchers. It also involves a talking goat and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. It's a silly spot, but I do wonder whether this episode might have introduced a few people to the concept of microloans. Perhaps some viewers might be inspired to furnish a loan to someone in need themselves.

Of course, Lisa's little loan doesn't go so well. That's because she decides to invest in schoolyard bully Nelson Muntz, who also happens to have a romantic history with Lisa. At first, she is thrilled that her contribution has allowed Nelson's bike shop to get off the ground. He starts doing so well that he is able to hire people to work in his shop - including Principal Skinner, in one of several references the episode makes to how poorly educators are paid. Later, however, she realizes that the success of his shop has led to him dropping out of school, which leads to her taking him to an entrepreneur fair, where they meet Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, who is depicted as speaking mostly in status updates and constantly updating his page. The experience does not provide the motivation that Lisa had hoped, since it turns out that he dropped out of college, as did Bill Gates and just about every other successful businessman there.

There's something rather sweet about Lisa and Nelson's friendship. They seem absurdly incompatible, but it's nice to see her taking a chance on him - and to see him appreciating it. The episode seems to imply that she and Nelson may be headed toward a kiddie romance again, but since storylines on The Simpsons rarely progress from one episode to the next, I suppose that this isn't too likely. Still, I prefer this softer version of Nelson.

Loan-a-Lisa let the commentary on culture fly, with parodies on everything from WALL-E to The Real Housewives of New Jersey, or whatever the current incarnation of that series is. Ultimately, it also seemed to come down on the side of education being valuable, though it got there by a pretty roundabout route. Like Elementary School Musical, it presents two viewpoints and leaves those who are watching to decide which one makes the stronger case.

There was one song in this show, a brief clip of a number that Abraham Simpson claims to have written for a stage musical about a baseball player with a very short stature, but it's certainly nothing compared to the inescapable musicality of Elementary School Musical. Of course, song-and-dance numbers are only an occasional part of The Simpsons, making them more appreciated when they do show up. I don't expect another sing-along for quite some time, but I do hope that the next episode of The Simpsons comes closer to Elementary School Musical than Loan-a-Lisa when it comes to the number of laughs it provides.