Recap: The Simpsons S 4 E 12 Marge Vs The Monorail
Episode - 9F10 First Aired - 1/14/1993"Marge vs. the Monorail" is regarded as one of the best episodes and among the most critically acclaimed episodes in The Simpsons's run. Written by Conan O'Brien (after he wrote for Saturday Night Live, but before he got his own talk show on NBC, then lost it, then regained it on TBS), the show draws a contrast between most of the easily duped residents of Springfield and the more intelligent Marge, who is suspicious that a slick-talking salesman and his visions of a multi-million dollar monorail bringing wealth and dreams to Springfield are not all what they seem.Mr. Burns is forced by the Environmental Protection Agency to pay a $3 million fine to the City of Springfield for illegal toxic waste dumping, and the residents have to decide what to do with their windfall. Marge wants to use the funds to make repairs to a severely damaged Main Street and it looks to be the one honored, but that's when out-of-towner Lyle Lanley steps in and uses a catchy song-and-dance number to hornswoggle the town into shelling out for an expensive monorail system instead — and Homer takes a job as the conductor.
This episode contains examples of (YMMV tropes can be found here):
Leonard Nimoy: [Chuckles knowingly.] Didn't I? [beams away.]
Captain Ersatz: Lyle Lanley is one of Harold Hill, the protagonist of The Music Man — but Hill's phony promises of a spectacular marching band didn't put innocent lives at risk, whereas Lanley is heartlessly aware of the carnage his old, poorly-made monorails will wreak (to the point of being outright smug about it if his artistic nature is anything to judge by).
Convenient Eclipse: "The cosmic ballet...goes on." Too bad it only lasts a couple of minutes.
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Homer saving the monorail passengers by creating an anchor with a giant advertisement donut ("is there anything they can't do"), making him the best mono-thingy guy there ever was.
Ghost Town: After she becomes suspicious of Lyle Lanley, Marge goes to North Haverbrook, the town he sold a monorail to before Springfield. She finds the town nearly deserted after their monorail crashed on its maiden voyage.
Homage: The opening scenes have Homer, who's just getting off of work, doing his own version of the opening credits and theme song from The Flintstones.
Simpson, Homer Simpson! He's the greatest guy in history! From the town of Springfield He's about to hit a chestnut tree! Aaaah! (crash)
I Love Nuclear Power: Mr. Burns stores nine drums of nuclear waste in a single tree, causing some of the tree's branches to turn into purple tentacles and a squirrel inhabiting it to gain Eye Beams and a long prehensile tongue, both of which it uses to its ecological advantage.
Idiot Ball: Virtually the entire town, as typical for Springfield, who fall hook, line and sinker for Lanley's pitch for a monorail – which is why he is easily able to get away with his scheme to sell what turns out to be shoddy and ultimately worthless; note they make an agreement with virtually no specifics given about the monorail or its benefits. Also helping Lanley's case: He implies that arch-rival town Shelbyville is strongly considering buying one of his monorails — perhaps not mentioning (indeed, it never comes up) that he was likely kicked out of a Shelbyville meeting when he had gone there previously to make his sales pitch and warned never to return.
Also, Lanley himself when he finds Marge in his office snooping around his paperwork … instead of detaining her (because he would now realize she knows he's a shyster and a fraud, and keeping her silent would have allowed him to continue with his fraud), he lets her leave, though she doesn't actually find out what he's planning until she decides to investigate one of the cities he claimed to sell a monorail too.
Add to that, the discriminating evidence Marge found was sadistic doodles of him laughing at the "suckers" he conned meeting their deaths in his shoddy monorail. He left this rather clear and evident Villain Ball just lying around in his office.
Ignored Epiphany: After the near miss with the monorail, the town makes it the last folly they made...except for the popsicle-stick skyscraper ... and the giant magnifying glass ... and the escalator to nowhere.
Meat-O-Vision: Homer is trapped on the out-of-control monorail train and needs to find an anchor. He looks to Bart, and visualizes him as a large ship's anchor. Bart, for understandable reasons, urges him to think harder.
Al Jean amusingly notes in the commentary that the engineer was modeled after Max von Sydow, as he once played a man trying in vain to warn a town of an impending disaster...except Jean now can't recall what the movie was called, or even what the disaster was.
"The Music Man" – Parts of the episode are a tribute to the classic musical, with Lanley patterned after the play's Professor Harold Hill and "The Monorail Song" a spoof of "Trouble."
The Towering Inferno: Not usually thought of, but the connection is there – a shoddily built skyscraper with the developer making extreme cuts to save money vs. Lanley's discount-model monorail, which is also poorly built thanks to his deep cost-cutting measures. In both cases, thousands of lives are put at risk as disaster strikes (a massive fire that is growing vs. an out-of-control monorail that, if it were to have crashed, would have surely killed many people and caused catastrophic damage).
The Sociopath: Lanley crosses the line from just apathetically conning people with a dangerous monorail to cruelly gloating about their demise, expressing so through childlike doodles.
Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: Marge's closing narration: "And that was the only folly the people of Springfield ever embarked upon... Except for the Popsicle stick skyscraper. And the 50-foot magnifying glass [the sun focused through the magnifying glass sets the Popsicle stick skyscraper on fire]. And that escalator to nowhere."
Total Eclipse of the Plot: The runaway monorail, which is solar-powered, halts briefly due to a total solar eclipse which nobody realized/remembered was due in Springfield that day — only to start up again as the eclipse passes totality. This is realistically portrayed as taking under a minute (real-life solar eclipses can last any time from an eyeblink to, under the most favorable circumstances, about 7-8 minutes).
Versus Title: One of many for The Simpsons. Others include "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson," "Bart vs. Thanksgiving," "Homer vs. Patty and Selma," "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy," etc.