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‘What’s That Sound?’: Some Facts About The ‘Simpsons’ Monorail Episode

First airing in January 1993, “Marge vs. The Monorail” was the midway point of the show’s fourth season, the last one that would include the show’s original production staff. Written by Conan O’Brien, the plot involves the town of Springfield coming into a few million dollars thanks to Mr. Burns’ negligence, and citizens gathering at City Hall to discuss what to do with the money.

While Marge pleads to put it to good use — namely fixing up Main Street — a mysterious stranger shows up and wows the townspeople with a kitschy song-and-dance routine, winning over the town and turning the gullible masses into a herd of sheep. What makes it a classic, though, are its endless pop-culture homages, rapid-fire one-liners, and one notable celebrity cameo.

Wanna dig a little deeper? We’re going to, but first, we need to get this out of the way…

It got its inspiration from a well-known musical

One of the show’s many loving homage’s to classics, the notion of a con artist duping an entire town into buying a massive mass-transit system is inspired from 1962’s The Music Man. Just as shifty gadabout Lyle Lanley was modeled after Robert Preston’s character Harold Hill, the monorail song itself was an homage to his character’s signature tune ‘Ya Got Trouble.’

Inspiration came from seeing the word ‘monorail’ on a billboard

Having pitched ideas that eventually became such beloved episodes as “Lisa’s Rival” and “The Last Temptation of Homer,” Conan O’Brien came up with the idea for this episode after seeing the word “monorail” written on a billboard, and production was given the go-ahead immediately. The episode has had such a lasting legacy through the years that O’Brien himself performed The Monorail Song at the Hollywood Bowl in 2014 as part of the epic debut performance of The Simpsons Live.

Sci-Fi Easter Eggs

Along with the guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy during the solar eclipse that temporarily stops the runaway monorail, a few bars from the Star Trek theme song can be heard. Clearly not wanting to play favorites, Homer’s conductor uniform is modeled after the Imperial officer uniform from the classic Star Wars trilogy.

Leonard Nimoy was not the show’s first (or second) choice as guest star

Producers originally wanted George Takei to guest star in the episode as himself, having previously voiced the character Akira in season two’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.” However, he felt as a member of the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, he didn’t want to appear in an episode that made fun of public transportation and declined their offer. William Shatner was also considered but not approached, as he had already turned them down once before. Proving that the third time’s the charm, Nimoy’s presence resonated throughout the episode, and he would show up twice more in the show’s later years.

Lurleen Lumpkin sounded different but strangely familiar 

Originally voiced by Beverly D’Angelo in her season three debut “Colonel Homer,” Lurleen Lumpkin has popped up over a dozen times as a background character. Her speaking role reprieved for a third time in the show’s nineteenth season. For her appearance on the star-studded maiden voyage of the monorail, her voice was provided by veteran voice actor Doris Grau, better known as Lunchlady Doris.

It has one of Matt Groening’s favorite lines

After Marge discovers that there’s a family of possums living in the cockpit where the fire extinguisher should be, Homer ignores her alarm and tells her happily “I call the big one Bitey,” which was one of Matt Groening’s all-time favorite lines. Personally, I’d have gone with “The kids could call you HOJU!,” but that’s just me.

It’s one of the top-ranked episodes in the show’s history 

Not only the favorite of it’s own writer Conan O’Brien, numerous critics repeatedly rank “Marge vs. The Monorail” at or near the top of their lists. Entertainment Weekly has said that “the episode has arguably the highest throwaway-gag-per-minute ratio of any Simpsons, and all of them are laugh-out-loud funny.” and Slate Magazine stated that “It’s the one you think of when you think of a Simpsons episode.” IGN went so far as to declare it “one of the most loved episodes of The Simpsons and can safely be called a classic by any fan.” However…

It was not well received by the cast at first

It may seem surprising in retrospect, but as the show had begun to move away from the grounded, conventional sitcom that had defined it early on, the cast wasn’t happy with the over-the-top, zany antics their animated counterparts were involved in. In fact, two years after the episode aired, Yeardley Smith said in her biography, “My Life As Lisa” that it was “truly one of our worst – we [the entire cast] all agree.” Twenty years later, it seems she’s changed her mind, as she was quoted last year saying “The monorail episode was great,” then adding she hadn’t “seen the episode in forever.”

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