Episode 12 - Marge vs the Monorail
24 June 2011
Synopsis: Mr Burns is fined three million dollars for illegally dumping toxic waste. The town holds a meeting to decide what to do with the windfall and Marge suggests they fix up Main Street. Sharp salesman Lyle Lanley then appears insisting that instead Springfield should have its own Monorail. Homer applies to be the conductor and it is left to Marge to keen an eye on the suspicious Lanley and expose his fraudulent practices.
The Good: This is a landmark episode in that the whole populace of Springfield becomes the focus of attention albeit with the Simpsons playing the vital roles. The episode also has a grander feel to it because of the big structural change to the town, the action sequence ending, Leonard Nimoy's cameo and of course the musical number. We've already seen music play a bigger role this season (402, 04, 07, 09) but this is both an original song and one that plays a key part in the plot. We've also heard several times that Springfield is an awful town filled with stupid people. But it's always been a throwaway joke and this episode attempts to install that as fact when they act like a mob, entirely willing to ask no questions and follow someone blindly.
The Monorail plot itself is pretty entertaining. There is no pretence that Lanley is anything but a con artist and it was fun to see him able half assing his way through everything he did. I liked that Lisa asked intelligent questions about the project and yet he still disarmed her with his charm. Marge's concerns about safety flow naturally from Homer's role as conductor and so she visits the shattered town of North Haverbrook. She brings back the engineer to help Homer and the last few minutes play out like a mock action movie with Leonard Nimoy playing a calming spiritual role while Wiggum and Quimby bicker over what to do. Homer manages to save the day and Lanley gets his comeuppance. The joke is still at Springfield's expense though as Marge's closing voiceover makes it clear that the foolish town has not learnt its lesson at all. All in all it's a very satisfying tale and that ending takes the Simpson family's ability to never change and applies it to the whole town.
The jokes flow nicely from the story being told with Mr Burns and Smithers ludicrously carrying barrels of toxic waste around town and looking for places to hide them. The whole town is interested in where the money will be spent and I loved the way they just shouted Quimby down until he gave up on the pretence that the meeting would discuss anything else. Naturally while the citizens gathered Snake and other burglars robbed everyone's houses. Then we get more fun as Quimby tries to embezzle a million for himself and Burns comes in disguise to suggest the money should come back to him. The witty song however trumps them all and we have ourselves a monorail. Leonard Nimoy was a really good sport and the writers mocked his persona including Quimby not knowing who he was and amusingly asking "Weren't you one of the Little Rascals?" (he's thinking of Leonard Maltin).
The episode also had an interesting bit of continuity as Lurleen (320) shows up looking the worse for wear. And the episode opens with a very amusing Flintstones parody as Homer rushes out of work singing a the theme tune with his own lyrics.
The Bad: The episode is not as strong as some might think. The really funny jokes dry up as the episode goes on. Lanley was never a figure of great satire, he is much more a silly cartoon villain. It's difficult to believe that no one ever asked questions about his operation considering how terribly constructed the Monorail turned out to be. The result is that Homer stops the train using a rope. Umm, yes a train going nearly two hundred miles an hour is stopped by a rope. Bart's adoration of Homer was entirely based on repetitive silly jokes where Homer's ignorance was exposed and yet Bart didn't see it. The strange engineer Sebastian Cobb then stops for a haircut as he and Marge drive back from North Haverbrook. Sometimes those ridiculous jokes work but on this occasion it was more weird than funny. I know I'm the only one asking but how could anyone in North Haverbrook know that Lanley was on that flight?
Best Joke: It's got to be the song itself where Lanley rhymes his charming answers to the towns questions. Chief Wiggum in an unrelated question announces "The ring came off my pudding can!" But quick as a flash Lanley keeps the beat going and responds "Take my pen knife my good man" and continues with the song.
The Bottom Line: A really fun episode which further pushed the boundaries of what the show was capable of.
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