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Marge vs. the Monorail is a perfect parody – CartoonClack

Phil Hartman as Harold Hill. Could 'Marge vs. the Monorail' get any better than that? I look back at one of my absolute favorite 'Simpsons' episodes that only gets better with age.

With 23 years/seasons (and going), it’s rather easy to dismiss The Simpsons as being past its prime. In some ways it’s true, but I get tired of people criticizing a show that was so spot-on for so many years. Even if the last few seasons have been weaker, that doesn’t stop me from remembering the damn near amazing episodes that have shaped my own humor and writing. Take, for instance, the little bit of perfection known as “Marge vs. the Monorail.”

If you haven’t seen this fourth season homage to The Music Man, the town of Springfield has some extra funds thanks to the EPA fining Mr. Burns for hiding copious amounts of nuclear waste in the local park. The townsfolk see this only as a good thing since hey, we have more money! And they go to the courthouse to decide what to do with the funds and somehow everyone (except for a mysterious Mr. Snurb from … far away!) agrees with sensible Marge for once that the Main Street needs to be repaved.

But the courthouse scene perfectly sets up the character of Lyle Lanley. Lanley is so expertly played by the late and great Phil Hartman; he’s Harold Hill by way of Lionel Hutz — still the snake oil con man with the charm of a weasel but with Hartman’s signature velvet voice. Of course Springfield’s naivety (or blind idiocy depending on how you look at it) is a decent parallel for the unassuming innocence of River City in the musical. All you need is to give the people a simple yet nonsensical idiom to explain the situation: “You know, a town with money is a little like the mule with the spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!” The monorail song itself is the epicenter of the parody and one of the best songs in the show’s history. It is beat by beat a twin of “You got Trouble” and it’s not at all a surprise that the characters get swept up in the excitement immediately.

The episode was written by a young Conan O’Brien, who time and time again has expressed his love of old timey tropes and The Music Man in particular — you can tell he really gets it because Conan nailed the dialogue and energy in this parody. There are other aspects of the parody found throughout the episode after the song. In the original musical, the stick-in-the-mud female lead calls out the con man in his bullshit but is charmed by him along the way. In the episode, Lisa starts to question him and he immediately plays to her ego thus silencing her criticism. There’s also a scene where Lyle fake teaches the new monorail conductors ALA the boy’s band in the movie. Of course there’s a pretty big difference between giving kids instruments they can’t really play and handing over a high-speed transport to unqualified dunces, but that goes into The Simpson’s lean towards dark comedy.

Outside of the parody segments of the episode, “Marge vs. the Monorail” has some of the funniest and most quotable lines in the whole show. How about when Marge finds someone who can help and Homer assumes it’s Batman. “No, it’s a scientist.” “Batman’s a scientist.” We also have a self-mocking cameo by the one and only Leonard Nimoy — one of many cameos he’d do for both Simpsons and Futurama — who creeps out a fellow monorail passenger (“Does anyone want to switch seats?”) only to beam away at the end of the episode, announcing that his work there was done.

But perhaps the shining moment of this fan favorite is when Homer is proudly showing his family the brand new monorail he’ll be driving, not realizing that the thing was shoddily made and highly dangerous. Marge finds a family of possums living within the brake housing and Homer just happily replies, “I call the big one ‘Bitey.'”

Folks, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that line in regards to any random object at any random time. Even just thinking of that moment of the show makes me crack up. It’s hard to say why I love it so much but it’s a perfect storm of dark humor mixed with a perfect delivery mixed with the perfect name for an angry mother possum if she’s being named by an idiot. The fact that the ominous replaying of the facts in Marge’s head later in the episode includes that line for absolutely no reason only adds to my love of that moment. Am I putting too much into this? I don’t care, it’s hilarious.

In the end, Lanley gets his comeuppance in North Havenbrook (where an angry mob is waiting right next to his terminal) and Marge ends by saying “that was the only folly the people of Springfield ever took on. Except for the popsicle stick skyscraper. And that 50 ft magnifying glass. And the escalator to nowhere.” If you haven’t figured out that Springfield represents the most idiotic side of our culture … well, you probably haven’t watched the show. Fun fact: the designs of the men who fall to their deaths on the escalator to nowhere right before the credits were actually based on some of the writers.

“Marge vs. the Monorail” is one of those episodes I’d suggest Simpsons newbies check out first. It hits just the right marks — it’s a parody of a beloved movie while nailing now-classic jokes outside of the parody while offering a biting commentary on mob mentality in our society. The episode even opens with a short but sweet parody of another pop culture icon that the show has been compared to since its start in 1989. I’ll leave you with that clip.


Photo Credit: FOX

Categories: | CartoonClack | Columns | General |

8 Responses to “Marge vs. the Monorail is a perfect parody – CartoonClack”

August 14, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Great review – although for me it’s actually the last bit with the yelp of each person falling off the Escalator to Nowhere that cracks me up everytime.

August 15, 2012 at 8:18 AM

For me,it’s the Flintstones scene that Katie included in this article. Absolutely hilarious.

August 14, 2012 at 12:13 PM

I really miss Phil Hartman, he was taken far too early :(

August 14, 2012 at 12:20 PM

“I call the big one Bitey” has been a gag line between me and my best friend ever since they first aired this episode :-D

August 15, 2012 at 5:23 AM

My other favorite Simpsons quote I use with my boyfriend is “I don’t know … coast guard?” as the answer to any question.

August 15, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Hmm, don’t remember that one, though I can see it being handy. “Me lose brain? Uh-oh!” is another all too frequently useful homerism…

August 31, 2012 at 12:18 PM

It was from the catburglar episode where Homer starts a reckless posse. Lisa asks him, “But dad, if you’re the police, then who will police the police?” and his response was, “I don’t know … coast guard?” It always stuck with me and is surprising funny when answering pretty much any question.

August 14, 2012 at 7:43 PM

I shouldn’t have stopped for that haircut.

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