Marge vs. the Monorail
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"Marge vs. the Monorail" is the twelfth episode of The Simpsons’ fourth season and originally aired on January 14, 1993. The plot revolves around Springfield's purchase of a monorail from a conman, and Marge's dislike of the purchase. It was written by Conan O'Brien and directed by Rich Moore. Guest stars include Leonard Nimoy as himself and Phil Hartman as Lyle Lanley.
After being caught dumping nuclear waste in the city park by the EPA, Mr. Burns is fined $3 million. A town meeting is immediately held so that the citizens can decide what to spend the money on and Marge suggests that the city use the money to fix up Main Street, which is in poor condition. Grandpa tries to protest it; however, the townspeople mistakenly believe that he is encouraging them to fix Main Street. The town shows enthusiasm for this idea and is about to vote for it when suddenly a sleazy, silver-tongued, fast-talking gentleman named Lyle Lanley suggests that the town construct a city monorail. He leads them in a song, which convinces the town to buy the monorail.
Even though Lanley succeeds in winning over the entire town, including skeptical Lisa, his slick salesmanship doesn't win over Marge who is furious with the purchase, believing that the monorail is unsafe and suspects Lanley is a con-artist. She still believes that they should've used their money properly to fix Main Street, which has been in ruins due to the inhabitants carelessness over the years. While watching TV, Homer sees an advertisement that suggests he become a monorail conductor, and Homer, claiming it to be a lifelong dream, immediately agrees. After a three-week course described by Lanley as "intensive," Homer is selected at random from among his classmates to be the monorail conductor.
Still feeling uneasy about the monorail, Marge decides to visit Lyle Lanley and discovers a notebook that reveals Lanley’s true intentions of running off with bags of money while everyone else falls victim to a faulty monorail. Although Lanley catches her in his office, she quickly comes up with a convincing alibi that allows him to think she suspects nothing. Marge immediately drives to North Haverbrook, which Lanley mentioned was a previous purchaser of one of his monorails. Once she arrives, Marge discovers that the town is in ruins and that those still living there deny that they ever had a monorail, despite the fact that the town is covered in advertisements for it. A woman rudely tells Marge to leave their town at once believing her to be wasting her time asking around for the monorail. While exploring, she meets Sebastian Cobb, the man who designed Lanley's monorail for North Haverbrook. He explains to her that Lanley cut costs everywhere when building it and that the entire thing is a scam. Realizing Marge now knows the truth, Cobb offers his assistance to her in helping to prevent the same fate from happening to Springfield.
At the maiden voyage of the monorail, all of Springfield has come out, and Leonard Nimoy is the guest of honor. Lanley grabs his money and, preempting Lisa's offer to ride the train himself, jumps into a taxi, which takes him to the airport. it isn't long until Lisa discovers Marge's suspicion about Lanley was true. The monorail leaves just before Marge and Cobb arrive (due to Cobb stopping for a haircut). Although the monorail runs normally, the controls soon malfunction causing the monorail to go out of control, putting Homer, Bart, and the passengers in danger. Even worse, the power of the monorail cannot be shut off due to it being solar powered. Meanwhile, Lanley’s flight makes a brief unscheduled stop in North Haverbrook, where Lanley is immediately recognized and brutally beaten down by the locals as revenge for ruining their town. Back in Springfield, Cobb tells Homer that in order to stop the train, he needs to find an anchor. Homer grabs the giant metal "M" from the logo on the side of the monorail's engine, ties a rope to it, and throws it out the window. Eventually the "M" latches onto the sign of a doughnut shop and the rope holds, stopping the monorail and saving its passengers. The episode ends with a narration of Marge saying that was the only folly the people of Springfield ever embarked upon, except for a popsicle stick skyscraper, a 50-foot magnifying glass, and an escalator to nowhere.
Conan O'Brien conceived the idea when he saw a billboard that just said "Monorail" on it. He first pitched this episode at a story retreat — to Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who said the episode was a little crazy and thought he should try some other material first. O'Brien had previously pitched episodes where Lisa had a rival and where Marge gets a job at the power plant and Burns falls in love with her; both went well. James L. Brooks "absolutely loved" this episode when O'Brien presented it.
Leonard Nimoy was not originally considered for the role as the celebrity at the maiden voyage of the monorail, as the writing staff did not think he would accept, because William Shatner had previously turned the show down. Instead, George Takei was asked to guest star as he had appeared on the show once before. After demanding several script changes, Takei declined, saying he did not want to make fun of public transportation as he was a member of the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District. As a result, the staff went to Nimoy, who accepted.
The episode starts with a tribute song to The Flintstones as Homer heads home from work and crashes his car into a chestnut tree. Later, Leonard Nimoy makes a guest appearance as himself. References are made to his role in Star Trek: The Original Series, and an allusion to his role as the host of In Search of... from 1976 to 1982. Kyle Darren, the caricature of Luke Perry star of Beverly Hills, 90210, appears as well. Mayor Quimby uses the phrase "May the Force be with you" from the Star Wars franchise, confusing it with Nimoy's work on Star Trek (and—at the same time—believing Nimoy of having been "one of The Little Rascals"). Homer's Monorail conductor uniform is based on uniforms from Star Wars. When Mr. Burns is brought into the court room, he is restrained in the same way as Hannibal Lecter in the film The Silence of the Lambs.
In its original American broadcast, "Marge vs. the Monorail" finished 30th in the ratings for the week of January 11 to January 17, 1993, with a Nielsen rating of 13.7. The episode was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week.
"Marge vs. the Monorail" has frequently been selected in lists of the show's best episodes. In 2003, Entertainment Weekly released a list of its Top 25 episodes, ranking this episode in fourth, saying "the episode has arguably the highest throwaway-gag-per-minute ratio of any Simpsons, and all of them are laugh-out-loud funny." In his book Planet Simpson, Chris Turner named the episode as being one of his five favorites. In 2006, IGN.com named the episode the best of the fourth season. John Ortved of Vanity Fair called it the third best episode of the show, due to, "An amazing musical number; Leonard Nimoy in a random guest appearance... Besides being replete with excellent jokes, this episode reveals the town's mob mentality and its collective lack of reason. This is the episode that defines Springfield more than any other." In 2010, Michael Moran of The Times ranked the episode as the ninth best in the show's history.
The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, called it "an unsurpassed episode. It's hard to know where to start dishing out the praise — Leonard Nimoy's guest appearance, the Monorail song, Marge's narration, the truck full of popcorn..." Robert Canning of IGN strongly praised the episode, stating "It is by far one of the most loved episodes of The Simpsons and can safely be called a classic by any fan. From beginning to end, there's joke after joke after hilarious joke. There's nothing in this half-hour that doesn't work, and no matter how many times I watch this episode, it never, ever gets old." Todd VanDerWerff of Slant Magazine named it the show's best episode, stating "It's the one you think of when you think of a Simpsons episode," and is "maybe the show's funniest, and it most perfectly encapsulates what may be the show's overriding theme: People are really stupid and self-serving, but if you give them long enough, they'll eventually bumble toward the right answer."
Leonard Nimoy's appearance as himself has been praised as being one of the show's best guest appearances. In a list of the 25 greatest guest voices on the show, released September 5, 2006, IGN.com ranked Leonard Nimoy at 11th. Nathan Ditum ranked his performance as the 13th best guest appearance in the show's history. Nimoy would make a second guest appearance in season eight's "The Springfield Files".
Conan O'Brien has said that of all the episodes of The Simpsons he wrote, this is his favorite. Homer's lines "I call the big one Bitey" and "doughnuts, is there anything they can't do?" are among series creator Matt Groening's favorite Simpsons lines.
In 2012, "Marge vs. the Monorail" was the second-place finisher in a Splitsider reader poll to decide on the best episode of any television sitcom, losing to the Community episode "Remedial Chaos Theory."
- "Marge vs. the Monorail" The Simpsons.com. Retrieved on February 14, 2007
- Marge vs. the Monorail BBC.co.uk. Retrieved on February 14, 2007
- Martyn, Warren; Adrian Wood (2000). I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide. Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0495-2.
- Richmond & Coffman 1997, p. 173.
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- Jean, Al (2004). The Simpsons season 4 DVD commentary for the episode "Marge vs. the Monorail" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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- Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances IGN.com
- Ditum, Nathan (March 29, 2009). "The 20 Best Simpsons Movie-Star Guest Spots". Total Film. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
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- Frucci, Adam (March 7, 2012). "And the Best Sitcom Episode of All Time Is…". Splitsider. Retrieved 2014-02-23.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. Created by Matt Groening; edited by Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman. (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ASIN 0060952520. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. ISBN 0-06-095252-0, 978-0-06-095252-5.
- Mullen, Megan (2004). "The Simpsons and Hanna-Barbera's Animation Legacy". In Alberti, John. Leaving Springfield. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2849-0. Retrieved 2009-02-27.
- Turner, Chris (2004). Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation. Foreword by Douglas Coupland. (1st ed.). Toronto: Random House Canada. ASIN 0679313184. OCLC 55682258. ISBN 0-679-31318-4, 978-0-679-31318-2.
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