Hello and welcome back to Laughing Place’s regular recaps of new episodes of The Simpsons on the FOX Network. Tonight saw the season premiere for the series’ 32nd season, entitled “Undercover Burns.”
Chalkboard Gag: None
Couch Gag: The Simpsons collide into the couch and fall to the floor in a heap, but then the background disappears to reveal a green-screen. The shot pulls back to reveal Nelson Munz (Nancy Cartwright) controlling the chromakey, and he lets out his trademark “Haw-haw!”
The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant is hosting a family fun fair for “Take Your Kids to Work Day,” featuring fun attractions like the Burns Bounce House. Poor Lenny (voiced by Harry Shearer) has hired actors to pretend to be his kids. Mr. Burns (also Shearer) welcomes the crowd and ushers the parents away so he can talk to the children directly. Once they’re gone, he turns into his more familiar diabolical self: “I now declare the start of Put Your Kids to Work Day.” The swing ride hurls kids into the plant, and the bumper cars begin driving in as well, though Lisa (Yeardley Smith) escapes the restraint closing down on her. “Get to work, slackers!” Burns yells as the kids are driven into their new servitude. “At least this ride doesn’t have a creepy song,” says Bart (also Cartwright) from his bumper cars. But it does, and of course it’s sung by Burns.
Lisa confronts Burns about child labor laws, but he hides in the men’s room and Lisa is too grossed out to pursue him in there. Relieved, Burns starts to read the graffiti on the bathroom stall walls and discovers that his employees apparently hate him. He even goes into the ladies room to see if it’s better, but there he finds a burning effigy swinging from the ceiling. “Effigies can be burned?” Later, Burns asks Mr. Smithers (Shearer yet again) why there’s an undercurrent of contempt for him. They open the window and overhear Lenny and Carl (now voiced by newcomer Alex Désert instead of Hank Azaria) arguing about whether Burns is worse than Hitler in the parking lot. Burns decides to go undercover to infiltrate the plant workers.
He hires the face-mask specialist from the Mission: Impossible movies and adds a robot body costume and voice modulator to turn himself into Fred Cranepool (guest star David Harbour from Stranger Things) from turbine maintenance. Homer (Dan Castellaneta), Lenny, and Carl invite Fred to sit at their table at lunch, and at the start Burns acts like his usual self. We see him via Iron Man-vision as he probes his employees about their complaints. Then they run from the hounds that chase them after each lunchtime. “I guess when you’re on the other side of it, releasing hounds can be… cruel?” Burns/Fred gives each of them a buffalo nickel and Homer invites him to Moe’s (as featured on I’ll Drink What Phil’s Drinking with Phil Rosenthal). Burns agrees and signals smithers with a miniature rocket.
Homer buys Fred a beer but when Moe (Azaria) slides it down the bar it knocks the robot body over on its back like a turtle. After his friends help him up, Burns toasts “to friendship and respect… and also evil! No… football.” Barney (also Castellaneta) enters and finds there are no seats left for him, but thankfully Moe has instituted drive-through service. Then we get a montage of Burns/Fred becoming friends with the group and doing karaoke to “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” As the next song, Burns chooses “The Spaniard That Blighted My Life” and the gang sings along. “Those idiots like me for me… Fred Cranepool.” Burns turns the transmission of Smithers off when he tries to remind him of the reality of the situation.
At Burns Manor, Smithers paces the floor waiting for his boss to return home: “I’m supposed to read him his bedtime story.” Burns finally enters and says he had the greatest night of his life: “I’ve had frenemies, but they were all French enemies… never a friend.” When Smithers attempts to bring up the subject of a pending union dispute, Burns responds, “The only union that concerns me now is the union of men; what would you know about that?” Meanwhile, the Simpson family is upset that Homer is spending so much time with Fred– citing Laga Gaga’s brief visit to Springfield (she inspired Lisa then disappeared forever) as a cautionary tale. At work, Fred tells off Smithers and the other guys are impressed. Lenny suggests Fred ask Burns for a better benefits package. Burns agrees, though the robot body begins to malfunction.
Behind closed doors in his office, Burns has an play-acting argument with his alter-ego and then (as Fred) tells his friends he succeeded and Burns is thrilled to celebrate with the guys, despite Smithers’ protests. The next day, our favorite family is shocked that Homer actually wants to go to work. He says work is a magical place now due to Fred, and Marge (Julie Kavner) wants to meet him, but Homer says she already has… through the smile on his face. Another montage shows Homer excited to go to the plant, which now features a lot more amenities– all the guys even start wearing glasses because of the free on-site optometrist. Smithers pulls Homer aside and reveals to him that Fred is secretly Burns, as he is worried the plant will go out of business due to the outrageous new benefits. He asks Homer to end his friendship with Fred.
At home, Homer is bummed because he can’t be friends with Fred anymore. Bart says he understands because he also can’t shake Milhouse (Pamela Hayden), who calls his mom again to pick him up– but the Van Houtens are on vacation and Kirk throws his phone in the pool. At work, Lenny and Carl start insulting Burns to Fred’s face, though Homer tries to mediate the situation. Homer tries to hold Burns back as he attempts to kill Lenny and Carl, but accidentally rips off Fred’s robot arm. Alone on a catwalk, the Fred robot has evidently taken on a life of its own, and he and Burns begin fighting.
Homer enters and finds Burns being crushed under Fred’s now-lifeless body. Homer lifts the robot off him, and they have a discussion about the rightful order of things: how bosses are inevitably disliked by their employees. This seems to work, as Burns announces, “Back to work, and everything nice is cancelled!” Burns throws Fred into bubbling nuclear waste, then realizes something. “Oh Smithers, I left my car fob in that suit. Go get it!” Smithers is thrilled to have Burns back, but then Burns pulls off his face to reveal the Mission: Impossible mask expert underneath. Does it make sense? Probably not.
In a coda, Smithers introduces the guys to a new coworker named Don Phonyman. “I’m not going through this again,” says Carl. Lenny releases the hounds to see if it’s Burns in disguise again, but he runs away from the dogs screaming. “I didn’t know we could release the hounds,” says Carl. “We can also work the trap door,” responds Lenny, and Carl falls through the fall. Lastly, we see an Iron Man parody sequence in which Mr. Burns suits up in the Fred suit and sings “The Spaniard That Blighted My Life” again.
The Simpsons airs Sunday nights on FOX.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.