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 by the EPA dumping nuclear waste in the city park, Mr. Burns is fined $3 million. Mayor Quimby pockets $1 million, and a town meeting is held so that the citizens can decide how to spend the rest. Marge suggests that the city use the money to fix Main Street, which is in poor condition. Grandpa tries to protest, but the townspeople mistakenly believe that he supports it. The town is about to vote in favor when a sleazy, silver-tongued, fast-talking huckster named Lyle Lanley suggests that the town construct a city monorail. He leads them in the catchy Monorail Song, after which the now enthused townspeople decide to build the train.
Even though Lanley succeeds in winning over almost the entire town, his slick salesmanship doesn't convince Lisa who questions why a city with such a small population needs such a huge public transit project, though she is soon persuaded; or Marge, who is furious with the town's purchase because she believes the monorail is unsafe and suspects Lanley of being a con man. While watching TV, Homer sees an advertisement that suggests he attend Lanley's school of monorail conducting, which is a transparent effort by Lanley to make even more money from his con. (The school, called the Lyle Lanley Institute of Monorail Conducting, is so obviously fake that a photograph in the ad of the supposed school building includes the narrator's disclaimer "Actual institute may not match photo.") Homer, claiming for the first time that monorail conducting is a "lifelong dream," immediately decides to enroll. After an easy three-week course sarcastically described by Lanley as "intensive," Homer is selected at random from among his classmates to be the monorail conductor.
Still feeling uneasy about the town's lack of understanding of the monorail, Marge decides to visit Lyle Lanley to question his motives. She discovers a notebook containing drawings which reveal Lanley’s intention to run off with bags of money while everyone else falls victim to the faulty train. Although Lanley catches her in his office, she comes up with a convincing alibi that causes him to think she suspects nothing. Marge immediately drives to North Haverbrook, which Lanley mentioned was a previous purchaser of one of his monorails. She 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. While exploring, Marge meets Sebastian Cobb, the man who designed Lanley's North Haverbrook monorail. He explains that Lanley embezzled construction funds through shoddy workmanship and materials, and that the entire project was a scam. Realizing Marge believes him, Cobb offers his assistance in helping to prevent the same fate from happening to Springfield.
At the maiden voyage of the Springfield monorail, the whole town has come out, and Leonard Nimoy is the guest of honor. Lanley grabs his money and tries to escape in a cab to the airport, where he plans to board a flight to Tahiti. Lisa tries to stop him by persuading him to ride the monorail. He refuses, telling Lisa he has a plane to catch. The monorail departs just before Marge and Cobb arrive (due to Cobb stopping for a haircut). Although it runs normally at the start, the controls soon malfunction and cause it to speed wildly around the track, with the "Springfield Monorail" label on the engine peeled back by the wind to reveal that the train was originally constructed for the 1964 World's Fair. Homer, Bart, and the passengers are in danger, but the monorail's electricity cannot be shut off because it's solar powered, though a short eclipse briefly causes the train to stop, before the sun reappears and the train begins to speed off again.
Meanwhile, Lanley’s planned flight makes a brief unscheduled stop in North Haverbrook, where he is immediately recognized and beaten up by local residents as revenge for ruining their town. Back in Springfield, Marge and Cobb contact Homer by radio and Cobb tells Homer that he'll need to find an anchor in order to stop the train. Improvising quickly, Homer pries loose the giant metal "M" from the logo on the side of the monorail's engine, ties a rope to it, and throws it from the train. Eventually the "M" catches on the sign of a doughnut shop and the rope holds, stopping the monorail and saving its passengers.
As the passengers depart the train, Nimoy cryptically announces that his work is done. Barney Gumble replies that Nimoy didn't do anything. Nimoy, continuing his cryptic tone, responds "Didn't I?", after which he vanishes in a Star Trek-like transporter effect. The episode ends with a narration from Marge in which she says the monorail 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 had the word "Monorail" on it, with no other details or explanation. 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, 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 to have 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.
Conversely, the episode was not initially well received by many fans of the show's earlier seasons, as it was a particularly absurd early example of the show taking a more joke-based cartoon approach to comedy, rather than the more realistic situational style of comedy it had employed in its first few years. In 1995, during the production of Season 7, Yeardley Smith said of the episode as "truly one of our worst – we [the entire cast] all agree".
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 BBC.co.uk. Retrieved on February 14, 2007
- "Marge vs. the Monorail" The Simpsons.com. 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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- Moran, Michael (January 14, 2010). "The 10 best Simpsons episodes ever". The Times. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
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- VanDerWerff, Todd (2007-08-01). "5 for the Day: The Simpsons". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances IGN.com
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- Groening, Matt (2004). The Simpsons season 4 DVD commentary for the episode "Marge vs. the Monorail" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Jim Schembri (6 July 1995). "My life as Lisa". The Age (Green Guide) (Melbourne, VIC). p. 10.
- 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 (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M.
- 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. ISBN 978-0-679-31318-2. OCLC 55682258.
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