Lifetime of Simpsons

S04 E12 – Marge vs. the Monorail

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Holy crap guys. This episode. Back with “Kamp Krusty” I wrote something about not knowing what to say about the episode, because it’s so well known and beloved, and I really should have kept that for this episode, because…c’mon. Everyone knows this one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a list of best Simpsons episodes that doesn’t have this episode near the top. How could it? This episode is amazing. And it’s one of the few that get a “written by Conan O’Brien” credit, which is pretty cool.

The episode starts off with a super great gag of Homer reenacting the opening of the Flintstones while singing his own version of the theme song. It’s a really funny scene, and a great parody of the opening, and even ends with a funny button of him ramming his car into a chestnut tree. But that scene is completely irrelevant to the rest of the episode, and we cut back to the Power Plant where Lenny and Carl are welding barrels of nuclear waste shut, while wondering what happens to the waste after their done with it. They then walk off and Smither and Mr. Burns pop out of the shadows and take the waste away to the place where they dump it, the park. I love that Mr. Burns actually does his own dirty work here and personally shoves barrels of toxic waste into tree trunks. Unfortunately for Mr. Burns though, apparently the EPA has been watching him, and they show up in droves to arrest him for creating mutant laser squirrels. Burns is then brought before the court in a crazy Hannibal Lector restraint, and is ordered to give the city of Springfield $3 million, which is just walking-around money for him, and he gets right out of his wallet.

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The real plot then gets going while the town starts to imagine what they’re going to do with the new $3 million that the town gets to play with. I love Lisa’s fantasy of the schools getting all the money, and using it to get virtual reality helmets that will let the kids follow along with history, including Genghis Khan. “You’ll go where I go, defile what I defile, eat who I eat.” It’s also funny seeing Bart’s crazy fantasy of buying an army of giant robot ants that will destroy the school and brutally murder Principal Skinner. Bart may have some issues. Anyway, the family heads off to a town meeting to discuss the money, and man do I love town hall meetings on this show. I’ve never even heard of a town hall meeting in real life, so it always seemed like such a weird concept to me growing up, but man are they great in this show. You just get to see all the freaks that live in this town. We get some terrible ideas of what to do with the money, liking putting out fires, until good old Mr. Burns shows up with a fake mustache, calling himself Mr. Snrub, telling everyone that they should give the money back to the Power Plant. The town doesn’t fall for this trick though, and Smithers has to fire a Batman grappling hook to the roof and zip the two off away from the crowd, which is such a goofy joke, and I love that the meeting just continues on from there as if nothing happened.

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Marge then kills everyone’s buzz by suggesting that they use the money to fix mainstreet, which is devastated with potholes. The idea doesn’t gain much traction though until Grandpa gets up and starts to complain about the idea, and everyone misconstrues his objection as support, and they end up getting seconds away from approving the idea, until their attention is called to a stranger in the back. And now the episode gets crazy, because Lyle Lanley, a super weird Phil Hartman character who is a blatant parody of Harold Hill from the Music Man. Although instead of scamming the town with musical instruments, Lanley is here to scam them into buying and building a monorail. He starts pitching the monorail to the people, even getting a song going, which is amazing, because if there’s anything better than the whole town getting together to argue, it’s the whole town getting together to sing for no reason. And it works! Lanley convinces everyone they need a Monorail, and the plans begin.

Lanley starts going around town, persuading everyone that this is a great idea, even stopping by Lisa’s class to get the kids to want it. The plot then thickens with Homer watching TV, and after a brief commercial for a Truckasaurus movie, starring an impersonated Marlon Brando, Homer sees a commercial that’s pretty much specifically designed for him that’s trying to get people to sign up to become a monorail conductor. So Homer decides to go for the training, and actually starts studying for it. I think it’s adorable that Bart helps him out, which leads to one of my favorite Homer lines of all time “do you want to change your name to homer jr? The kids can call you Hoju!” Oh Hoju. However, not everyone is down with the Monorail plan, and of course it’s Marge. She’s worried about the safety of the construction, and starts worrying about the project. Things get worse when Homer is randomly chosen to be the conductor for the Monorail and she gets to see just how unsafe it is. It doesn’t even have a fire extinguisher, just a cabinet full of possums. “I call the big one Bitey.”

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Worried Marge then heads off to Lanley’s trailer, wanting to talk with him about the safety concerns, but finds it empty with his notebooks all open. She snoops and finds that it’s just full of drawings of the monorail crashing and a stick figure Lanley running away with their money. Lanley shows up and believes Marge when she says she didn’t see anything, because he’s kind of an idiot. She then heads off to North Haverbrook, a town that Lanley previously conned to see if she can get the lowdown. Turns out it’s a desolate hellhole, and no one is willing to talk about the Monorail, except Sebastian Cobb, a weird engineer who helped build it. He tells Marge that Lanley is a conman, and the Monorail will break.

But Marge finds this out a little late, because the Monorail is opening, ready for its maiden voyage complete with local celebrities and Leonard Nimoy, who is just there to make super weird comments to everyone. The ride is getting ready to start, and Lanley sneaks out to catch a flight to Tahiti, while we get to see Homer’s insane Monorail conductor costume, which is amazing. The ride begins, and everything breaks pretty much immediately. Some controls stop working and the Monorail reaches its peak speed while the breaks go out, sending the train on a wild ride across the city in an insane circle. Since it’s a state of crisis, we get to see another great pissing match between Wiggum and Quimby, which ends with them storming off to check the town charter to see who’s in charge in a situation like this. They don’t find that out, but do learn that as constable Wiggum in entitled to a pig a month, and two comely lasses of virtue true. We get a brief moment of comeuppance where Lanley’s flight to Tahiti has a layover in North Haverbrook, and the whole town gets on the plane to…kill him? Oh well, guess he deserved that. Anyway, Marge and Cobb show up, too late to stop the train, and they start brainstorming how to fix things. We then get an amazing exchange between Marge and Homer that’s possibly my favorite thing in the whole episode.

Marge: “There’s a man here who thinks he can help you.”

Homer: “Is it Batman!?”

Marge: “No, he’s a scientist.”

Homer: “Batman’s a scientist.”

Marge: “It’s not Batman!”
So good. Anyway, Cobb suggest that Homer makes an anchor of some sort, so he grabs a lasso from the cowboy on board (what?) and rips the M of the Monorail sign off the side, and tosses it out. We then get a montage of gags while the anchor zips around town while it cuts down Springfield’s oldest tree, which crushed Jebediah Springfield’s birth-house which explodes, and cutting two Siamese Twins in half. It then smashes into a giant donut and saves the day. Everybody gets off the Monorail, and the town never did anything stupid again, except the Popsicle-stick skyscraper, a 50 ft magnifying glass, and an escalator to nowhere.

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This episode is amazing. Yeah, there’s no emotional depth or character insight in it, but that’s okay. The thing that makes this show so great is the balance, and this season has had a lot of emotional episodes, so we were in need to a completely wacky episode of nonsense to keep that balance, and boy does this one deliver. It’s just so cartoony and wonderful. We have a crazy out of control Monorail, a town hall meeting where Mr. Burns flies through the air with a grappling hook, and Homer’s insane Monorail outfit. Holy crap is this episode great. I have nothing else to say, just go watch it.

Take Away: Don’t trust traveling Monorail salesmen, and donuts can solve all of your problems.

“Marge vs the Monorail” was written by Conan O’Brien and directed by Rich Moore, 1993.

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