Original air date: 1/14/1993 (produced in 1992)
Production code: 9F10
"Marge vs. the Monorail" is regarded as one of the best episodes and among the most critically acclaimed episodes in The Simpsons' 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 what they seem.
The Environmental Protection Agency makes Mr. Burns pay a $3 million fine to the City of Springfield for illegal radioactive 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 her suggestion 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 conductor 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.
Life, of course, has deteriorated in North Haverbrook. Marge learns that the monorail went severely out-of-control on its maiden voyage and, upon crashing, heavily damaged the city (and, it's implied, 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 or lives, cut costs everywhere when building the monorail, 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 begun, 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!, 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 out-of-control, putting hundreds of lives in extreme danger and with 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.
"Marge vs. the Monorail" includes the following tropes:
- Acrofatic: During the Flintstones homage at the start of the episode, Homer shows amazing agility for someone so fat and lazy. He expertly slides down one of the power plant's cooling pipes, leaps out the window and makes a three-point landing in his car by smashing THROUGH the closed window!
- Actor Allusion: As the solar eclipse is shown a few bars of the Main theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and Star Trek: The Next Generation) are heard, this as Leonard Nimoy himself narrates.
- 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.
- Adoring the Pests: Marge is startled when she finds a family of possums living on board the monorail. When she informs Homer they're there, he cheerfully responds that he named the big one "Bitey".
- Aesop Amnesia: The end of the episode indicates that Springfield is prone to expensive and dangerous projects and the monorail was far from the only one.
- Alliterative Name: Lyle Lanley.
- An Aesop: Although the town of Springfield isn't likely to take from it themselves, the point of the episode is that voters should be wise with their taxpayer money, and consider which projects actually warrant funding. Even a project that sounds good in theory — like a public transit system — might not have the best execution in mind.
- 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".
- Appeal to Flattery: Lisa, of course, questions the logistics of Lanley's monorail. He gets her off his back by simply telling her that it's the most intelligent question he's ever been asked and that if he explained the answer, no one in the classroom but the two of them would understand it ("And that includes your teacher!"), leaving Marge as the monorail's lone dissenter.
- 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.
- Awesome, but Impractical: The monorail, even without taking into account the fact that Lanley's product is a death trap. As pointed out by Lisa, the town of Springfield is too small to merit such a thing.note Lanley manages to swindle everybody by flattering their ego (in the case of Lisa) or by making it look that it would make the town cooler than the neighboring rival town (in the case of most of the grown-ups).
- 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 Bad: Lyle Lanley, the Crooked Contractor who sells Springfield (not to mention many other cities) the faulty and dangerous monorail with no regard for their safety as long as he makes a hefty profit.
- Big Damn Heroes: Nimoy prevents Krusty from jumping off the runaway monorail (which, considering the speed it's going at, would have left him splattered all over the countryside).Leonard Nimoy: [To Krusty] The world needs laughter.
- 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:
- Bittersweet Ending: Homer manages to stop the monorail and save everyone, but not without causing a large amount of destruction throughout Springfield. Main Street is still broken. Springfield also wasted all of the money they got from Mr. Burns on said monorail and, as Marge points out during the ending, they haven't learned a thing from the incident and will continue to waste money on expensive and impractical projects.
- Blatant Lies: The North Haverbrook woman who informs Marge "There ain't no monorail and there never was!", then immediately slams down a shutter that reads "Monorail Cafe".
- Bloodless Carnage: The conjoined twins who are split apart by Homer's anchor are otherwise completely unharmed and even high-five over not having to pay Dr. Hibbert to separate them.
- 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.
- Brutal Honesty: When Homer asks Bart if they're going to die from a monorail crash, Bart calmly replies: "Yeah. But at least we'll take a lot of innocent people with us."
- But Now I Must Go: Parodied, after the monorail crisis is resolved:Leonard Nimoy: Well, my work is done here.
Barney: Whaddaya mean, "your work is done"? You didn't do anything.
Leonard Nimoy: [chuckles knowingly] Didn't I? [beams away]
- Captain Ersatz: As part of the Flintstones homage at the beginning, the power plant employee blowing the factory whistle resembles the guy who does the same thing in the Flintstones opening.
- Casual Danger Dialog: Even with the monorail going out of control, when Marge calls Homer on the intercom, he replies with "Y'ello?" like he's just sitting at home watching TV.Homer: Oh, my God! We're all gonna die! [intercom beeps] Y'ello?
- Characterization Marches On: Lisa, of all people, goes along with the monorail idea, with her initially just being concerned that it's Awesome, but Impractical rather than an outright scam. Had this episode been later in the show's run, she would have had Marge's role. She does start to realize something's up when she sees Lanley hastily leaving town before the monorail's first journey, but by that point it's too late to do anything about it.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: North Haverbrook, one of the towns Lanley boasts about having sold a monorail to. It's where Marge uncovers the truth behind Lanley's scheme and the extent of his deception, and at the end of the episode, it's where Lanley himself gets his comeuppance.
- Chekhov's Gun: The pothole-filled, cracked-up Main Street ends up helping Homer in the finale with slowing down the monorail.
- Comically Missing the Point:
- Marge brings a scientist from North Haverbrook to stop the monorail, and Marge says she has someone who can help. Homer asks if it's Batman. But when Marge says, "No, he's a scientist!" Homer thinks she's telling him that Batman's a scientist.
- The town mistakes Grandpa arguing against fixing the Main Street as arguing in its favor.
- Commander Contrarian: Parodied with Abe Simpson (who else) who tries to warn the town against spending all the money at once in fixing Main Street as Marge suggests but never gets to explain why because the Springfielders mistake his speech for support, and even end attributing it to him.
- Conjoined Twins: Homer fashions a makeshift anchor out of the M on the train. He tosses it outside, and it drags on the road. At the same time, Dr. Hibbert is advising a pair of conjoined twins about the "very tricky procedure" that might allow him to separate them and then Homer goes by with the anchor, chopping them apart easily. The separated twins promptly high-five each other.
- Con Man: Lyle Lanley is a con artist and shyster who sold faulty monorails to several towns.
- Convenient Eclipse: Parodied and subverted. A total solar eclipse happens seconds after it's revealed that the out of control monorail is solar-powered, stopping it. However, reality ensues and the eclipse is over also within seconds, preventing passengers from getting out.
- Corrupted Character Copy: In costume and motivation, Lyle Lanley is very similar to Harold Hill in The Music Man, not to mention the fact that he talks in song. However, he displays none of Harold Hill's redeeming qualities.
- Couch Gag: The family sits and are blocked by rows of secondary characters.
- Crapsack World: North Haverbrook due to the failure of the monorail.
- 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.
- Crowd Song: "The Monorail Song".
- Cutting Corners: As part of his swindle, Lyle Lanley cuts corners everywhere on the monorail: it has 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.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Cobb looks threatening and actually scares Marge (it probably didnt help that he walked behind her with his arm outstretched like a zombie), but he's not bad in the slightest and helps explain to Marge exactly how bad Lyle's conning is.
- Dawson Casting: Spoofed with the star of Springfield Heights 90210, Kyle Darren, who Kent Brockman mentions is actually 34 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.
- Destructive Savior: Homer's anchor, while it does save the day, does a lot of damage to Springfield's streets, cuts down the town's oldest tree — which in turn falls on and destroys the birthplace of Jebediah Springfield in a massive explosion — and cuts a pair of conjoined twins in half. Played in the last of those, as the twins actually did want to be separated, but Dr. Hibbert ends up losing out on the fee he'd have gotten for performing the operation to separate them — which would probably have gone a long way to repairing the damage that the anchor causes to his office.
- Dirty Coward: Lyle Lanley flees as soon as his scheme is completed, though to be fair he'd be stupid to hang around.
- The Dissenter Is Always Right: Marge is the only one who questions the unnecessary and expensive construction of the monorail, with the rest of the town being swept up in "monorail fever."
- Dub Name Change: Downplayed. In Brazil, Mr. Burns' alias is called "Snurb" instead of "Snrub".
- Dying Town and Ghost Town: North Haverbrook, thanks to the catastrophic damage and death inflicted by Lanley's monorail on its maiden voyage. Marge learns this, finding the town nearly deserted, while investigating Lanley.
- Early-Installment Weirdness:
- When attempting to handle the crisis, Wiggum stands up to Quimby. Later episodes would often have him as the Mayor's lapdog.
- Though deliberately vague, Lanley's map puts Ogdenville and North Haverbrook many states away from each other, with Ogdenville in the Southwest and North Haverbrook (the one within driving distance of Springfield; "Marge in Chains" later in the season would place it 63 miles away) in the Midwest. Later episodes would place Ogdenville in Springfield's state.
- 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 pauses at the right moment when the monorail passes Wiggum and Quimby while they're fighting with the town charter, Otto Mann can be glimpsed lying back and enjoying the ride.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: Grandpa Simpson is hailed for the idea to fix Main Street, even though Marge was the one to suggest it and Grandpa was actually speaking against it.
- Faux Affably Evil: Lyle Lanley is kind, flattering, charismatic, and friendly to all he talks to. He's also planning to scam Springfield out of a good deal of money and risk the lives of hundreds of people in the process. And he's done so at least three times before.
- Freudian Slip: Mayor Quimby has one that implies he's already taken a third of the three million dollars for his own pocket.
- Gilligan Cut: Cobb's ominous warning that the Springfield monorail had "better have a damn good conductor" is immediately followed by Homer trying to pry open the door to the monorail's cockpit because he locked his keys in there.
- Goal in Life: One of the show's Running Gags is Homer having a new lifelong dream. In this episode, he describes it as being a monorail conductor, while Marge points out he's achieved his most recent lifelong dream, to run onto a baseball field during a game, which is a Noodle Incident.
- Grappling-Hook Pistol: Smithers uses one for him and Mr. Burns to escape from the town meeting early on.
- Green Aesop: Inverted for laughs: the train cannot be stopped by cutting the power to it because it's completely solar-powered. The technician who gets told this fact growls out an angry line that normally would be applied to gadgets not being solar-powered:Technician: Solar-powered?! When will people learn?!
- Homage: The opening scene has 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]
- During the commentary, the song is described as an "homage", to which the reply by writer Mike Reiss is "Yes, homage: French for theft."
- 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.
- 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 have sold a monorail to.
- Add to that, the incriminating 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.
- Even with the aforementioned evidence, Marge may never have been able to conclusively prove Lanley was a scam artist if Lanley hadn't brazenly name-dropped his previous victims, allowing her to discover the devastation his scam had wrought on North Haverbrook.
- 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 partway 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.
- Imagine Spot: Lisa and Bart have one, imagining what they would do with the money at their disposal.
- Immediate Self-Contradiction: Lyle briefly plays Reverse Psychology on Mayor Quimby, demurring on revealing his suggestion of what to do with the money as it's "more of a Shelbyville idea."Mayor Quimby: Now wait just a minute! We're twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville! Just tell us your idea and we'll vote for it!
- Implausible Deniability: When Marge goes to see the citizens of North Haverbrook, they protest there isn't and never was a monorail in their town, despite signs saying otherwise.
- Karma Houdini: Burns gets 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. Mr. Burns buying the statue of justice just rounds out the visual metaphor.
- Karma Houdini Warranty: Lyle Lanley. He almost gets away with defrauding Springfield, but ends up getting beaten up (and possibly killed) by the people of North Haverbrook after his plane makes an unexpected stopover there.
- Laser-Guided Karma: After fleeing Springfield, Lyle Lanley lands in another town he's swindled as his flight has to make a brief stop. He's promptly rushed by an angry mob and beaten (possibly to death).
- Late to the Tragedy: Marge visits North Haverbrook, the scene of one of Lanley's scams, to find that it's become a Ghost Town filled with faded evidence of the same monorail fever currently gripping Springfield, including the wreckage of its monorail still on view.
- Living Out a Childhood Dream: Homer claims that becoming a monorail conductor is his lifelong dream. Marge points out that his actual lifelong dream was to run out on the field during a baseball game and he already did it last year.
- Manipulative Bastard: Lyle Lanley not only charms the whole town, but even gets Lisa on his side.
- Meaningful Name: Lyle Lanley, professional liar.
- 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".
- Mouth Full of Smokes: Homer in his file photo◊.
- Must State If You're a Cop: Before he starts his "course" for monorail drivers (which, from what little we see, doesn't seem to involve any actual training), Lanley asks whether anybody in the room is a reporter. Several students raise their hands and Lanley tells them to get out (and they do, even taking the guy with the hidden camera, who hadn't raised his hand).
- 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.
- Marge and Cobb arrive too late to prevent the monorail from taking off because Cobb decided to stop over to get a haircut.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- Kyle Darren, the 34-year-old star of Springfield Heights, 90210 is modeled to look a lot like Luke Perry, who was 23 (still quite old for a high school student indeed) when he started playing Dylan McKay on Beverly Hills, 90210. Interestingly, the real Perry would guest star as himself in "Krusty Gets Kancelled" a few episodes later, where he was also revealed to be Krusty's half-brother.
- 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. While it's still unconfirmed, the film Jean was thinking of was most likely the little-seen 1979 movie Hurricane.
- No Off Button: 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?!
- Noodle Incident:
- Chief Wiggum has pictures of Mayor Quimby in a compromising position that involves his ass.
- When (and, perhaps more importantly, why) 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.
- Homer apparently once stuffed his mouth with dozens of cigarettes, which somehow became his file photo at the local news station.
- Not so Above It All: Lisa starts off skeptical of Lanley, but ends up losing it after he uses his charisma to sweet-talk her into dropping her concerns.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Everyone aboard the monorail when things start going haywire.
- Lyle Lanley loses his smug expression and freaks out when he realizes that his plane to Tahiti is making a stop at North Haverbrook, the last town he ruined with his monorail scam. His panic is justified — moments after the plane lands, it's attacked by an angry mob.
- Only Sane Man: 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.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Mr. Burns' attempt at disguising himself consists of a Sdrawkcab Alias and a fake moustache. Despite Smithers' support, everyone instantly sees through it.
- 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 lampshades in 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".
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Mayor Quimby mistakes Star Trek for Star Wars, and apparently thinks that Leonard Nimoy was one of the Little Rascals.
- Purple Prose: Nimoy's response to the solar eclipse, much to the annoyance of the man sitting next to him.Leonard Nimoy: A solar eclipse. The cosmic ballet goes on.Other guy: Does anyone want to switch seats?
- Recognition Failure: Mayor Quimby doesn't recognise Leonard Nimoy.
- 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.
- It is never stated whether Lanley had already gone to Shelbyville to pitch his swindle.
- 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.
- Shaped Like Itself: The final class ends with "'Mono' means one, and 'rail' means rail."
- Shipped in Shackles: C. Montgomery Burns is given the Hannibal Lecter mask treatment when he is dragged into court.
- The Towering Inferno: Not usually thought of, but the connection is there: a shoddily-built skyscraper whose developer makes 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.
- A Deleted Scene would have had Selma telling Homer he looked "like Darth Vader without the helmet".
- Springfield Heights 90210.
- Ralph asks Lanley if the monorail is faster than The Flash ("You bet!") and another student asks if Superman can outrun the Flash ("Uh, sure. Why not?"). The latter question has been debated by comics fans for decades.
- Mr. Burns is brought into the courtroom in a straightjacket and muzzle, just like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. The music as he's brought in even sounds like some of that movie's score.
- Burns and Smithers' escape from the courthouse parodies Batman's rescue of Vicki Vale in Batman.
- Simple Solution Won't Work: When the monorail goes out of control, it is suggested to simply cut the power off, but the idea is shot down because the monorail is solar-powered.
- 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".
- Mayor Quimby and Chief Wiggum don't contribute to solving the disaster because they first argue over which of them should be in charge, then get caught up reading the town charter.
- 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: 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 [people fall off the top with surprisingly low yelps]."
- Somebody Else's Problem: At the beginning of the episode, Lenny and Carl wonder where the barrels of radioactive waste are going, before deciding they don't care.
- Song Parody: The episode begins with Homer singing a parody of The Flintstones theme song, which abruptly ended when Homer's car "hit a chestnut tree". "The Monorail Song" is a parody of "Trouble" from The Music Man.
- Special Guest: Phil Hartman as Lyle Lanley and Leonard Nimoy As Himself.
- Spontaneous Choreography: Played with when the whole town join in on a salesman's song about the benefits of having a monorail. Homer sings on after the song ended, and immediately realises his mistake.
- Spoof Aesop: Played with when the two technicians are unable to stop the monorail due to it being solar-powered, with one of them bemoaning "When will people learn?"
- Spy Cam: Hidden underneath a turban by some Intrepid Reporters at the conductor school.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: An average solar eclipse only lasts a couple of minutes in real life, just like the one that occurs at the climax of the episode, giving no time at all to evacuate the passengers.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Though Lanley doesn't pick up on it, when Marge finds a notebook that makes it clear he thinks the monorail will crash.Lanley: [dangerously] How much did you see?
Marge: Uh, nothing incriminating...
Lanley: [immediately reassured] Good!
- 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!
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Homer gets the conductor job by speaking up when Lanley makes a vague statement about the subject at the end of the class.Lanley: This gentleman here clearly stands out above the rest.
Homer: Who, me?
Lanley: [unconcerned] Yeah, sure.
- Take That!: The worst part of North Haverbrook's inaugural monorail showing? Their celebrity guest was Gallagher.
- 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).
- Toxic, Inc.: 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.
- Uncertain Doom: Lyle Lanley's last seen being brutally attacked by an enraged mob, and since he makes no more appearances afterwards even as a cameo, it's probably safe to assume he was killed. Not that he didn't deserve it. The closest he's ever had to a reappearance was a flashback on a Clip Show episode.
- Understatement: During the town meeting, Marge mentions that the potholes on Main Street are becoming a real nuisance. Cut to one guy driving into a pothole big enough to fit his entire car.
- 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 the eclipse only lasts a few seconds and the monorail starts up again, not giving the people any time to escape.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: While North Haverbrook and Ogdenville were featured or mentioned in later episodes, Brockway was never mentioned since the events of this episode. Justified if you assume that Brockway was hit even worse than North Haverbrook and ceased to exist entirely.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: While the episode still doesn't give any clear idea of where Springfield is, it (intentionally or otherwise) heavily implies that it's somewhere in the northern-to-central United States, as the map of his previous customers that Lyle Lanley shows puts North Haverbrook roughly in South Dakota, Ogdenville in Arizona, and Brockway in either Georgia or South Carolina. North Haverbrook is evidently close enough to Springfield that Marge can drive there and back over the course of a day or two. Later episodes would retcon this by showing all four towns to be in the same state, though given Lanley's status as a conman, his map likely wasn't accurate to begin with.
- Whole-Plot Reference: Parts of the episode are a tribute to The Music Man, with Lanley patterned after the play's Professor Harold Hill and "The Monorail Song" a spoof of "Trouble."
- Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Burns had been storing his barrels of radioactive 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 shouldn't have stopped for that haircut. Sorry.
Barney: What do you mean? You didn't contribute to this trope page!
Nimoy: [chuckles knowingly] Didn't I? [beams away]