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.Virtually the entire town is won over by Lanley's charisma and smooth talking personality, particularly Homer, who is especially enthused about becoming a monorail conductor. (The class itself is a joke, with nothing relevant taught about being a conductor.) However, Marge –- sensing Lanley's sales pitch is too good to be true –- is suspicious and resolves to investigate. She decides to visit Lanley and ask him hard questions, but finds him absent; however, she finds something very interesting: a notebook detailing Lanley's true plans of running off once the monorail is christened, leaving them to deal with what he knows is a faulty system and the possible consequences. Remembering that Lanley had mentioned that nearby North Haverbrook had also purchased one of his monorails, she decides to visit the town to see how, or if, life has gotten any better with them having a monorail.Of course, life not only hasn't improved in North Haverbrook, but just the opposite. She learns that the monorail had gone severely out of control on its maiden voyage and, upon crashing, heavily damaged the city (and, although unstated, left hundreds of people dead). Deep in debt (and perhaps in deep grief), the surviving residents moved en masse from the town, leaving only a few residents who are in deep denial that they ever agreed to purchase a monorail, despite the fact that the town is covered in advertisements for same. Eventually, Marge meets Sebastian Cobb, the man who designed Lanley's monorail for North Haverbrook, and he is more than willing to talk. He explains that Lanley, whom he describes as a liar who has total disregard for others' safety, much less their lives, cut costs everywhere when building the monorail and that the whole thing is a scam, and that the authorities are trying to arrest Lanley for fraud. Marge realizes she has to stop the opening-day ceremony before the monorail is started.However, it is too late. A huge ceremony with seemingly everyone in Springfield has started, and Leonard Nimoy is the guest of honor. As the ceremony is starting, Lanley decides this is a great time to leave town, grabbing his suitcase and check and sneaking out. He grabs a plane and is set for a life of luxury … until he realizes the plane needs to make an "unscheduled stop" … in North Haverbrook. No big de … Oh, Crap!, as he realizes what is about to happen … as a mob of angry residents immediately confront Lanley by swarming the plane and beating him down; this is the last viewers see of Lanley.Meanwhile, Marge and Mr. Cobb arrive to try to stop the ceremony and reveal the truth about Lanley, but it is too late, as Homer has already started the monorail. Homer and Bart (who has joined him) are having a good ol' time behind the controls … until the brake malfunctions. When Homer tries to make a hasty repair, the control module immediately falls apart, and soon the monorail accelerates dangerously out of control, putting hundreds of lives in extreme danger and no way to cut power to the system. Cobb eventually is able to communicate to Homer that he needs to find a makeshift anchor to stop the train. Taking the M from the side of the train, Homer attaches it to an anchor and latches it to a giant doughnut sign, stopping the monorail and saving its passengers.
This episode contains examples of (YMMV tropes can be found here):
- Adam Westing: Leonard Nimoy as a weird, has-been celebrity who bores people with his stories about being on the original 1960s Star Trek and has teleportation powers.
- Alliterative Name: Lyle Lanley.
- Antiquated Linguistics: To settle an argument over who's in charge during an emergency, Chief Wiggum and Mayor Quimby consult Springfield's town charter (the town was founded in 1796):Wiggum: Hey, according to the charter, as chief constable, I’m supposed to get a pig every month! And "two comely lasses of virtue true".
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Lanley's cost cutting measures on the North Haverbrook monorail:Cobb: He cut corners everywhere: bad wiring, faulty brakes, and the celebrity on the maiden voyage was Gallagher.
- As Himself: Leonard Nimoy.
- Beyond the Impossible: Leonard Nimoy beaming away is a frequently cited example. Up to this point in the show's run, it was the most outlandish thing to happen in a non-Halloween Episode. On the audio commentary, Conan O'Brien admits his surprise over that getting in because (at the time) "impossible things don't happen on The Simpsons." Mike Reiss (who was co-show runner at the time) jokingly accused him of breaking the show.
- Big "NO!": A rare example of Big No being used in unison with Little "No", when Lyle Lanley learns his non-stop flight to Tahiti is about to make an unscheduled stop over in North Haverbrook:
- Boring, but Practical: Before Lanley appears at the town meeting, several townsfolk have perfectly good, sensible ideas on what to do with the money. Maude Flanders suggest the town hires more firefighters, while Apu suggests that the town hire more police officers. Marge suggests that the town fix the horribly decrepit Main Street, and her idea is eagerly accepted by the townsfolk...at least until Lyle Lanley comes along.
- But Now I Must Go: Parodied, after the monorail crisis is resolved:Leonard Nimoy: Well, my work here is done.
Barney: Whaddaya mean, your work is done? You didn't do anything.
Leonard Nimoy: [Chuckles knowingly.] Didn't I? [Beams away.]
- Captain Ersatz: Lyle Lanley is one of Harold Hill, the protagonist of The Music Man.
- Casual Danger Dialog: Even with the monorail going out of control, when Marge calls Homer on the intercom, he replies with "Y'ellow?" like he's just sitting at home watching TV.
- Crapsack World: North Haverbrook due to the failure of the monorail.
- Crowd Song: "The Monorail Song".
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Homer saving the monorail passengers by creating an anchor with a giant advertisement doughnut ("is there anything they can't do"), making him the best mono-thingy guy there ever was.
- Cut the Juice: Two technicians discuss the out-of-control monorail:Tech 1: I got it! We can just shut off the power!
Tech 2: No such luck. It's solar-powered.
Tech 1: [Sighs disgustedly.] Solar power. When will people learn?!
- Cutting Corners: As part of his swindle, Lyle Lanley cut corners everywhere on the monorail: it had bad brakes, bad wiring, no fire extinguishers, the vehicle was itself recycled from a World's Fair and the celebrity guest of one of the previous openings was pretty lousy.
- Dawson Casting: [Invoked] Spoofed with the star of Springfield Heights 90210, Kyle Darren, who Kent Brockman mentions is actually thirty-five years old. He then displays his extremely wrinkly smile.
- Description Cut: When Cobb says that he hopes the monorail has a good conductor, it cuts to Homer trying to open the monorail door with a wire hanger.
- Evil Gloating: Non-verbal example. When Marge goes to Lanley's office to question him, she finds his paperwork, which has drawings of him celebrating with money he stole from the monorail project, while the town falls victim to the poorly-constructed train.
- Exact Words: Lanley boasts in his pitch that he's sold Monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook, "And by gum, it put them on the map!" He then unfurls a map of the USA with just those towns labeled on it.
- Eye Beams: A squirrel mutated by the toxic waste stored in its tree has these.
- Face Death with Dignity: The cowboy on the monorail decides to continue practicing his lasso despite the ongoing mayhem. Also, if one were to pause at the right moment while the monorail passes Wiggum and Quimby while they are fighting with the town charter, Otto Mann can be glimpsed lying back and enjoying the ride.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: Grampa Simpson is hailed for the idea to fix Main Street, even though Marge was the one to suggest it and Grampa was actually speaking against it.
- A Fate Worse Than Death: What's implied to happen to Lanley when his plane lands in North Haverbrook. Many of the survivors of the town rush the airplane and immediately confront Lanley; the plane rocking and shaking violently, and his squealing in pain, suggests that he is being severely beaten. (His ultimate fate is unstated and unseen, but it can be implied that he is killed.)
- Faux Affably Evil: Lyle Lanley, being a conman and all.
- Freudian Slip: Mayor Quimby has one. See Sleazy Politician, below.
- 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.
- Grappling-Hook Pistol: Smithers uses one for him and Mr Burn to escape from the town meeting early on.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lisa is smart enough to question the necessity of the monorail, as Springfield is a small town with a centralized population, but when she confronts Lanley with this question she is easily swayed by his charm and drops the issue.
- Mr. Cobb stopping part-way through warning the town about the massive danger they're in to get a haircut.
- Even before Lanley got involved, the people of Springfield reject perfectly sensible ideas for what to do with the money, such as Maude Flanders' idea that they should hire more firefighters, and Apu suggesting they hire more police officers. The townsfolk are also juggling the idiot ball for completely shredding Main Street, as Homer so clearly demonstrates.
- Ignored Epiphany: After the near miss with the monorail, as Marge's narration explains, 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.
- 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.
- Imagine Spot: Lisa and Bart have one, imagining what they would do with the money at their disposal.
- Implausible Deniability: When Marge goes to see the citizens of North Havenbrook, they protest there isn't and never was a monorail in their town, despite signs saying otherwise.
- Karma Houdini:
- Burns got away with poisoning children and damaging Springfield's environment by storing nuclear waste in parks and playgrounds. Yeah, he paid a three-million-dollar fine, but that's chicken feed for the billionaire.
- Subverted with Lyle Lanley. He almost gets away with defrauding Springfield, but ends up getting beaten up (and possibly killed) by the people of North Haverbrook.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Lanley got one when the plane he was in landed in North Haverbrook. A Torches and Pitchforks crowd storms the plane and it's implied that they lynch him.
- 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.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Homer's anchor stops the monorail from crashing and saves dozens of innocent lives...but it also chops down Springfield's oldest tree and destroys the landmark birthplace of town founder Jebediah Springfield.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Heavily implied with Lanley after his plane lands in a town he previously conned.
- Noodle Incident:
- Chief Wiggum has pictures of Mayor Quimby in a compromising position that involves his ass.
- When did the town build the Popsicle stick skyscraper, the fifty-foot magnifying glass, and the escalator to nowhere?
- Apparently, Homer once disrupted a baseball game by running across the field and ended up forcing Springfield to forfeit the Pennant.
- Oh, Crap!: Lyle Lanley when it was announced he'd have to land in North Haverbrook.
- Only Sane Woman: Marge is the only person in town not drawn in by monorail fever. As such, she is able to uncover the true danger of the monorail.
- Pointless Civic Project: The titular monorail—even more pointless and thus a blatant scam because (as pointed out by Lisa) Springfield is just not big enough to demand something like a monorail. And, as Marge showcases on the episode's epilogue, Springfield is pretty much prone to being swindled into creating these for the sake of some brain-dead desire to make the town "cool".
- Riddle for the Ages: It's never revealed how North Haverbrook's angry mob learned of Lyle's "unscheduled stop" on time to be ready for him as soon as he arrived.
- Runaway Train: A Runaway Monorail rendered brakeless by its laughably cheap construction quality. Someone suggests cutting the power when the brakes don't work. Another person says they can't because it's solar powered. Bitterly, he says, "Solar power. When will people learn?"
- Scarily Competent Tracker: Not only does the above-mentioned North Haverbrook's angry mob know about Lyle's "unscheduled stop" ahead of time, they can tell which seat he's in before the plane even lands.
- Sdrawkcab Alias: Mr. Burns attempts to get his money back by disguising himself with a fake mustache at the town meeting and calling himself "Mr. Snrub". Fortunately, for once, it fools nobody else.
- Self-Deprecation: Leonard Nimoy, voicing himself, is portrayed as self-important, annoying, and still clinging to his memories of being Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek.
- Shipped in Shackles: C. Montgomery Burns is given the Hannibal Lecter mask treatment when he is dragged into court.
- 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 by then couldn'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 "escalator to nowhere" is a parody of numerous "bridges to nowhere", where government money is spent on constructing unnecessary bridges, usually with accusations that the company building the bridge is in cahoots or most of the money is being funneled to elsewhere. The escalator tops these by literally ending in the sky.
- Homer's monorail conductor uniform◊ is inspired by the Imperial Military uniforms from Star Wars.
- Springfield Heights 90210.
- Skewed Priorities: Marge and Mr. Cobb don't arrive on time to stop Springfield's monorail from starting because Mr. Cobb "stopped for that haircut".
- Sleazy Politician: Mayor Quimby is implied to have already skimmed off the money before Lanley even gets involved:Quimby: We will now, uh, hear suggestions for the, uh, disbursement of the two million dollars.Lisa: Don't you mean three million dollars?Quimby: Beat Of course. How silly of me.
- 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 fifty-foot magnifying glass [the sun focused through the magnifying glass sets the Popsicle stick skyscraper on fire]. And that escalator to nowhere."
- Somebody Else's Problem: At the beginning of the episode, Lenny and Carl wonder where the barrels of toxic waste are going, before deciding they don't care.
- Special Guest: Phil Hartman as Lyle Lanley.
- Spy Cam: Hidden underneath a turban by some Intrepid Reporters at the conductor school.
- Sustained Misunderstanding:Marge: Homer, there's a man here who thinks he can help you!
Marge: No, he's a scientist.
Homer: Batman's a scientist!?
Marge: It's not Batman!
- Too Dumb to Live: Even though the escalator to nowhere ends in a long fall, citizens of Springfield still take it, presumably falling to their deaths.
- Torches and Pitchforks: North Haverbrook has an angry mob ready and eager to take down Lyle at the end.
- 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 seven to eight 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.
- Weather Saves the Day: Subverted. Homer and much of Springfield are on a runaway solar-powered monorail when a solar eclipse causes the monorail to slow to a stop, but only lasts a few seconds and the monorail starts up again, not giving the people any time to escape.
- Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Burns had been storing his barrels of toxic waste in a playground. He only changes the location when he decides all the bald children might make someone suspicious.
- You Are Too Late: Marge and Mr. Cobb arrive as soon as the monorail starts:Marge: We're too late!
Cobb: I should not have stopped for that haircut. Sorry.