Another classic review and this week we go back to season 4.
In “Marge Vs. The Monorail” Mr. Burns and Smithers are caught trying to hide containers of toxic waste inside trees at a local park after their previous dumping ground—the playground—resulted in altogether too many mysteriously bald children. The park where Burns and Smithers now stow their toxic waste has undergone some strange mutations of its own. A tree rich in toxic waste has developed unnerving octopus arms while a mutated squirrel now boasts such special features as glow-in-the-dark radioactive eyes and lasers it uses to collect nuts.
When Burns’ bad behavior results in a $3 million fine, a town hall meeting is called to discuss what to do with the unexpected windfall. The Simpsons have some ideas of their own: Bart wants to use the money to build an army of giant killer mechanical ants to do his bidding, Lisa wants to use it to add virtual reality to her classes, Homer thinks a giant billboard reading “No Fat Chicks” should be constructed with the funds while the eminently reasonable Marge thinks the money should be allocated to fix up the town’s pothole-ravaged Main Street.
Mr. Burns of course tries to get his money back. He disguises himself as Mr. Snrub from some place far away. Fortunately the people see through his ruse.
Then enter Lyle Lanley.
In a superb song and dance, Lyle convinces the town that the one thing missing from Springfield is “a genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car monorail.” The song is the biggest highlight of an episode full of highlights. The call-and-response rhymes are both silly and right on the money: “What about us brain-dead slobs?/You’ll be given cushy jobs.”
Soon everyone in Springfield is caught up in Monorailmania, especially Homer, who finally, if temporarily, earns the respect of Bart after he becomes a monorail conductor after finishing an intensive three-week course that consists entirely of Lyle explaining that “mono” means “one” and “rail” means “rail.”
Homer goes so far as to suggest to Bart: “Do you want to change your name to Homer Junior? The kids can call you Ho-Ju”. Lines like this show how the episode didn’t waste any screen time.
Marge however is not convinced and eventually figures out that Lanley wants to con Spingfield and run away with the money. This leads Marge to travel to North Haverbrook, a semi-ghost town driven half-mad by the failure of its malfunctioning monorail system. Marge’s drive back to Springfield features one of my favorite Simpsons gags: a character replaying over and over again in their mind something that’s bothering them, along with a bizarre non sequitur. In this case, the non sequitur happens to be one of my all-time favorite lines on the show: Homer telling Marge “I call the big one Bitey” after a family of possums is discovered in the monorail.
The episode then turns disaster movie spoof with the monorail itself losing control on its maiden voyage. Homer uses the M from train as an anchor and latches on to the donut from Lard Lad.
In the meantime Lyle, on his flight to Tahiti, has to make an emergency landing in North Haverbrook where the townspeople mob the plane and take vengeance on Lyle.
We also get some weirdly integrated star power in the form of a hilariously self-deprecating voice turn from Leonard Nimoy as an endlessly self-absorbed would-be mystic who bores strangers with the mundane details of making Star Trek and generally behaves as if he is Mr. Spock, and not just an actor who played him. This extends to mysteriously disappearing after cryptically telling Barney that his work is done after Homer saves the monorail. He has the best line of the night when he leaves by saying ” my job here is done, to which Barney replies but you didn’t do anything, Nimoy responds didn’t I? before mysteriously disappearing.
The episode finishes with Marge explaining that the monorail was the last folly Springfield ever had…except for the popsicle-stick skyscraper…and the giant magnifying glass…and the escalator to nowhere.
One of the all time classics, the episode has plenty of re-watchability and the late Phil Hartman is superb as Lyle Lanley.
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