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Main Street

World of Springfield
by yo go re

Finally, it's the review you've been waiting for - the king of Simpsons playsets, Main Street.

Springfield is a bustling town, and while the streets may not be paved with gold (any more), it's still home to a fairly happening downtown area, despite the proximity of several malls and the revitalized South Street Squidport. There are music stores, costume shops, internet cafes and electronics retailers. Anything you want can be found downtown.

Bringing a sampling of Springfield's businesses to life is the task that Playmates set out to tackle when releasing the Main Street playset. Comprising four storefronts, a sidewalk, and other various amenities one would find on a busy corner (if the street signs are to be believed, this is the corner of Main and Main, which would be a wonderfully incongruous bit of city planning that I wouldn't put past Springfield's civic fathers) the playset is 23" wide by 15" deep and 8¼" tall. The sidewalk is cracked and worn. In one block, wet cement is protected by a police barricade. There are streetlights, stop signs, trashcans, mailboxes and the like scattered about, and even a bit of trash lying in the gutters. Quite a bit of attention has been paid to Main Street's detail.

Since Main Street is flanked by four storefronts, we'll be reviewing them individually. Each looks to be about 75% the size of one of the "actual" playsets, but that's just a price/space saving conceit; the street is still intended for the full-size figures. There are six plugs on the sidewalk to allow figures to talk and interact, and some figures will say different phrases on different pegs.

The first building is the Jazz Hole, semi-seedy nightclub whose refuge Lisa briefly seeks when she thinks she's going through a process of dumbening. The facade is a light blue, evidence of The Simpsons' sometimes subtle humor. There are ropes outside the door to keep the crowd in line, a sandwich board announcing the Art Ensemble, a sign for the Bleeding Gums Jazzfest, and a surly pair of eyes glaring out through the slide above a "No Minors Allowed" sign on the door.

Moe's Tavern sits on the corner, its familiar purple gables and pinkish exterior framing orange and green leaded windows. Through the window one can see Sam, one of the mostly amiable drunks that never seem to leave. Moe's is the only store on Main St. that doesn't sport a large sign on its roof, perhaps so there's room to assemble the B-Sharps up there when they're all released. This dive bar is one of the major sets for the show, meriting even its own playset (with Duffman! Oh yeah!). While the writers and animators have never been afraid to play fast and loose with Springfield's geography (sometimes Moe's is next to a vacant lot, sometimes the factory district, sometimes in the middle of the street), there has always been one constant - Moe's next-door neighbor was King Toot's music. The original version of this playset was to include the shop, but that was long ago, before the idea got scrapped, reworked and picked up again. More on that later. I don't mind the other location changes, but I miss King Toot.

In the musical mummy's place, we instead have Captain MacAllister's venture, The Frying Dutchman, home of the all-you-can-eat fish dinner. Above the door is the neon sign depicting a fisherman chucking his catch into a fat man's maw, which would be redundant after Homer was hired to sit by the window and sate his pescy appetite as Bottomless Pete. As the Cap'n says when on the peg in front of his restaurant, "Come for the freak, stay for the food." The sidewalk in front of the Dutchman is adorned with the type of pseudo-nautical effluvium that one might expect of a low-rent Red Lobster; wooden posts with thick rope wrapped about, blue-painted planks serving as a distinct entryway, fake fish in the windows and captain's wheels on the door.

Our final storefront is that haven of sweet, sweet pastries known as Lard Lad, "Home of the Colossal Donut." On the roof stands Lard Lad himself, holding his doughnut high above head. This is apparently a franchise location, since it lacks the two-story tall Lad that resides outside the "main" branch, where Homer once instructed his helper monkey Mojo to scamper through the ductwork and steal doughnuts. The same giant advertising icon that came to life one Halloween and went on a rampage. You can see the shop's patrons silhouetted against the windows, and the business hours are posted on the door. A mailbox on the street out front conceals the set's speaker, and it does more to amplify the sound than mute it.

Main Street is built from four main pieces: two sidewalks and two walls. The set is assembled by first plugging the stores into their respective sections of sidewalk, then joining the two pieces at the corner. The On/Off switch is located beneath Lard Lad, and electrical contacts meet when the two halves are assembled. The buildings alternate between pink and blue, with various other colors breaking up the monotony (or, in this case, duotony). In Demo mode, it plays clips of the Crazy Old Man. Push a button with no figure attached, and you'll hear the honking of cars.

This set includes two figures: Crazy Old Man and the Pimply-faced Teen. When originally announced, Main Street was going to include the Teen and Hans Moleman. After its cancellation, Hans made his way into Series 6, and the Teen turned up working at Krusty Burger. I'm glad that they gave us at least one new figure, but why not replace the teen as well?

The Crazy Old Man (inexplicably dubbed "Grumpy" on the package) is that confused older gentleman who lives at the Springfield Retirement Castle with Abe Simpson and Jasper. He can alternately be seen dropping his pants on the street corner, swallowing his wedding ring for fear of pirates, or dropping his pants on network TV. He's just a lonely old man, willing to pass himself off as anyone's Grandpa for a few moments' worth of precious attention.

The sculpt of Crazy Old Man is great. His face and arms are just as wrinkled as the cartoon version, and he comes with a cane that fits perfectly in his expertly-designed hand. Push a button, and he'll sing "The Old Grey Mare," just like on the show.

PFT is the same basic figure that was available previously. He's the skinny, greasy, squeaky-voiced lifeblood of Springfield's working world. He's the one that carries drums of mayonnaise into the sun to be secret sauce, he's the one that fishes tacos out of the deep-fryer, and he's the one that grinds keys for hours on end. Of course, he's also been released before. Or has he?

Watching the series, you'll find that Springfield has not one, but many of these put-upon pubescents. There isn't one all-purpose Pimply-Faced Teen, there's an entire army of them working behind the counter of any number of stores. True, it might be better if the Teen wasn't a carbon copy of the one already available, but such is life.

For a bit of fun, here are all the figures that work with the set:

Moe, Barney, Lenny and Carl, Mayor Quimby, Reverend Lovejoy, Chief Wiggum, Officers Lou and Eddie, Fat Tony, Snake, Lionel Hutz, Superintendent Chalmers, Principal Skinner, Mrs. Krabappel, Lunchlady Doris, Otto, Nelson, Dolph, Kearny, Jimbo, Milhouse, Ralph Wiggum, Martin Prince, Uter, Sherri and Terri, Rod and Todd Flanders, Wendell, Patty and Selma, Herb Powell, Sideshow Mel, Bumblebee Man, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Itchy and Scratchy, Troy McClure, Kent Brockman, Captain MacAllister, Professor Frink, Dr. Hibbert, Dr. Marvin Monroe, Dr. Nick Riviera, Cletus, Hans Moleman, Jasper, Crazy Old Man, Disco Stu, Brad Goodman, Cooder, Hank Scorpio and Llewellyn Sinclair, plus two Smithers, three Burnses, two Maggies, seven Marges, fifteen Homers, seven Barts, four Lisas, two Grampa Simpsons, two Krusties, two Sideshow Bobs, two Ned Flanderseses, two Apu Nahasapeemapetilons, two Pimply-Faced Teens, three Groundskeeper Willies and two Comicbook Guys.

Bold figures change lines based on which peg the occupy. The only incompatible figures are all from special exclusive sets: the THoH's BartFly, Devil Flanders, Dracula Burns and King Homer; Kang and Kodos; THoH3's Hugo, Witch Marge, and Donuthead Homer; Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy; Maggie w/ Santa's Little Helper (from the Christmas set); Lurleen Lumpkin; Homer and Marge's high school versions; radio personalities Bill and Marty; and Jacques the bowling instructor.

The original idea for Main Street would have included four separate storefronts that could be repositioned however you liked. It was intended to interact with over 50 figures available at that time. There was little interest at 2001's Toy Fair, however, and the street was scrapped. Then, inexplicably, Main Street popped back up. It would be a TЯU exclusive, and the price had gone up by 10 dollars, but at least it would be released. The box advertises that the set is compatible with 95 figures, and says more than 100 phrases; yes, for those paying attention, that means that most figures only get one phrase. And a lot of those 95 are repeats (Playmates considers all seven Barts to be different figures, even though they all have the same electronics), but you'll still get a great deal of conversation.

As more figures get released with reused electronics (such as Series 11's Plow King Barney or any future Homers), those figures will also work with the set, though they certainly won't have any new lines.

Main Street retails for $60. That may seem expensive, but let's break down the costs: each regular set sells for about $20. Since the figures cost about $5, we can determine that the environments cost $15. Main Street comes with two figures ($10) and has four buildings ($60), so this set isn't as outrageously priced as it might have been. Still, I can't imagine being willing to buy something this large and expensive more than once every two or three years.

-- 12/09/02

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