Okay, this is probably still my favorite Simpsons episode to re-watch. It’s also the episode that best defines the city of Springfield and the exact level of blind idiocy that permeates the town. It was written by Conan O’Brien, who knows something about comedy, I’m told.
Quick Recap: The main characters of the show are the fat, lazy, idiot father Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his wife who definitely could have done better Marge (Julie Kavner); his prankster (and later sociopath) son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); brainy daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); baby Maggie; and the city of Springfield (hundreds of characters at this point).
If you haven’t seen The Music Man, you should. If you don’t like musicals then just see this episode, because it’s almost as good and over 2 hours shorter. The setup for the episode is that Mr. Burns, the town’s leading plutocrat, is found dumping toxic waste into the Springfield children’s park (he had to stop dumping at the playground because of the bald children). For this, he is fined 3 million dollars. He pays with his pocket change, and also buys a statue of justice on the way out, because subtlety is for the weak. Because of this, Springfield suddenly has a surplus of funding, despite the mayor’s attempt to steal $1 million and hope no one noticed. At a town meeting, Marge rationally proposes fixing up Main Street, which has been destroyed by people leaving on their snow chains and carrying too much weight. Mostly Homer “Look at that pavement fly” Simpson. The crowd is about to be swayed when a man who sounds remarkably like Phil Hartman whistles from the corner. That man’s name is Lanley, Lyle Lanley, and he manages to convince the citizens of Springfield to spend the money on another project: a Monorail. Lanley convinces everyone in town that the monorail is a good idea, either through flim-flams, flattery or falsification. Best of all, he does it in a peppy song that includes lyrics so funny that I have 2 different people who randomly text them to me sometimes.
Homer hears about the opportunity to become a monorail conductor and goes to an intense three-week course (The total lessons: Mono = 1, Rail = Rail). At the end, he is randomly picked by Lanley to run the monorail, while Lanley takes most of the town’s money and runs. At the same time, Marge, who was angry at Lanley and the town for ignoring her idea, is now convinced that Lanley is up to something and investigates. Upon going to one of Lanley’s former marks, the town of North Haverbrook, she learns Lanley’s entire plan from Sebastian Cobb (Harry Shearer), the man who built the last monorail. Lanley’s cost cutting on the monorail is so devastating that the monorail is doomed to fail and kill everyone onboard, which, sadly, includes celebrity guest Leonard Nimoy (whom the mayor thinks was one of the little rascals). Marge and Cobb arrive too late, because Cobb stopped for a haircut, and the town citizens are stuck on an out of control monorail. At the last minute, Homer constructs an anchor which stops the monorail, saving the town. Marge ends the episode by saying that it was the only folly of the city of Springfield… except for the Popsicle stick skyscraper, the giant magnifying glass (which sets the stick skyscraper on fire), and the escalator to nowhere (which appears to kill about 1 person per second).
The key to this episode is that, just like the Music Man’s River City, Springfield represents America. Even though we are usually rational, sometimes we can get caught up in a scam or a bad idea. We follow it until eventually it collapses on us, then we say we’re going to learn better and not get fooled again… until we are, just by a slightly different bad idea. We can even have memorials of our own bad ideas featured around us, and we fail to really learn from them. Because of this, Springfield itself comes off as just another character in the show, and almost 20 years later, it may be the best-developed one.
PREVIOUS – 44: The X-Files
NEXT – 42: Sesame Street
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If you have an FX account, here’s the show officially:
And if not, here’s the hilarious opening with Burns:
And here’s the Music Man sequence: