147. A Fish Called Selma

(originally aired March 24, 1996)
Troy McClure is pretty much a gag character, a washed-up actor from another era trying to keep himself relevant (and get paid) doing crummy infomercials and instructional videos. This episode is extremely fascinating as we see a more human side to the character, or at least whatever humanity he has left in him. Reported to pass an eye test at the DMV, he crosses paths with Selma, whom he sweet talks into getting his license OK’d in exchange for a date. Right off we establish Troy as a man desperately clinging to his past fame: his slight disappointment that Chief Wiggum doesn’t recognize him almost comes through his phony smiling facade. He clearly has no interest in Selma during their date, at least until paparazzi take notice; Troy quickly finds that having a healthy relationship is just the thing to kick start his career. It isn’t long before he pushes the train forward into marriage, and a starstruck, man-crazy Selma gleefully accepts.

This show is just so surprising, it’s one of the more serious the series has ever done. The pacing is pretty leisurely, with a lot of scenes of characters talking through situations that are really emotional. A drunken Troy confides with Homer about the phony marriage, which quickly gets to Marge, leading to confront Selma about it. Troy is quick to admit to his new wife that their marriage is a sham, but doesn’t see the harm in it: his career is on an upswing, and she’s living the glamorous life she’s always wished for. Seeing how their situation is mutually beneficial, Selma decides to just go along for the ride. It’s just very interesting watching these two opposite characters interact: for all her gruffness, Selma’s actually quiet gentle and genuine, while every word out of Troy’s mouth are empty, self-congratulatory pleasantries. There’s no real big laughs in this episode, and aside from the Planet of the Apes musical (one of the best bits of the entire series), no real classic scenes; it’s an odd breed of episode, where you’re not really laughing that much but extremely engaged in this adult story.

Troy finds that he can boost his image even further by having a baby, an idea Selma is lukewarm about, but having always wanted a child, agrees to. The scene where the two attempt to get in the mood is so very bizarre. Selma attempts to be beguiling, and Troy… I have no idea what the hell he’s doing. There’s the ongoing gag about his bizarre fish fetish (what that is exactly, I’m not even going to think about), but really, what is his sexuality? He doesn’t even seem to fathom how sex operates; he exists in this vacuum of fame where anything coming close to an actual emotion doesn’t even permeate. Coming off this, Selma concludes that while their loveless marriage may be fine for them, but she couldn’t bring a child into this world in this situation, and with that, bids Troy adieu. Even in its climax and conclusion, the show is so low-key and subdued, but very powerful; two adults coming to a realization, and going their separate ways. It’s an episode we haven’t seen much of, and probably won’t ever again. The show doesn’t have to be a laugh riot; sometimes we can have more intimate shows with our minor characters, with the Simpsons peeking in every once and a while. The series is a rich universe, of different characters and emotions, waiting to be explored. Or we can have Homer take up another job. That’ll be funny.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Watching this episode makes me all the more sad that Phil Hartman is dead. There were apparently talks that he was interested in starring in a live-action Troy McClure movie, and honestly, doesn’t that sound like the most amazingly bizarre idea ever? It would have been great.
– Though it seems to be displaying the contrary, we open with Troy somewhat in his prime starring in “The Muppets Go Medieval”; big stars were scrambling to be on the Muppet Show, so this is McClure at his finest. As a Muppet fan it’s fun to see; I love whoever’s doing Piggy’s voice’s (Castellaneta?) take on her low serious voice, and Homer’s explanation to the kids on what a Muppet is (“Well, it’s not quite a mop, and it’s not quite a puppet, but man… Hee, hee, hee! …so to answer your question I don’t know.”)
– Great naive Marge line; in response to Homer mentioning McClure’s alleged fetish, Marge asserts he’s a perfect gentleman, “like Bing Crosby or JFK.”
– I don’t know why, but it’s somewhat fitting that Troy drives a DeLorean. Also great when Wiggum gets knocked in the face by its gull wing doors.
– Really… the constant references to the fish fetish (“Hot damn! I’m going to Sea World!”) We see his house has a giant aquarium too. It’s so strange… like what is it? Then I think back to a horrifying, horrifying drawing I saw online and I stop thinking of it. I’m not going to say what it is, and certainly not going to try and find it and post it, but it involves Troy doing unnatural things to poor three-eyed Blinky.
– The Pimento Grove is freeze frame central, with all the celebrity portraits on the wall, both real and Springfieldian celebrities we’ve seen on the show before. McClure’s portrait is on the doggie door.
– McClure kissing Selma ends up on Page Ten, above a column “Look Who’s Drunk” with a very inebriated Rainier Wolfcastle.
– There are a fair share of great funny lines in this show despite its seriousness, like “Troy’s back from the gutter, and he’s brought someone with him!”
– Perfect how the upscale restaurant crowd turns on Selma like a rabid animal when she attempts to light a cigaratte (“Excuse me, I ordered a Zima, not emphysema.” “Please, don’t smoke in our restaurant; we don’t serve contemporary Californian cuisine in your lungs.”) And great how it turns into a romantic moment when Troy puffs up with Selma outside.
– “Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!” is brilliant. And I think it should be turned into an actual musical. And why not? They made Spider-Man a musical, why not this? I could totally see it, and I would love it. And if no one else is gonna do it, then I’ll write it. One of these days. “You’ve Finally Made a Monkey Out Of Me” rivals “A Stranger’s Just a Friend You Haven’t Met” for best song of the series; it’s the perfect finale and grand outro for a musical version of the film. The “I love you, Dr. Zaius!” at the end seals the deal.
– I love Selma’s fashionable outfits throughout the show; a non-verbal indicator of how she’s enjoying the good life.
– Classic bit when Lovejoy asks those to speak now or forever hold their peace at Troy and Selma’s wedding. Close-in on Homer… “Na na na na na, hey!” I only know the song by that, but it’s actually “Rock ‘N’ Roll Part Two” by Gary Glitter.
– I love how blaze Troy is at his wedding; their nuptial photo is him mugging for the camera, and when they go to their ride and Selma says it’s the best day of her life, he proclaims, “It’s a good day for me too, baby!”
– Love the name of the new McBain movie: Part IV – Fatal Discharge.
– Haven’t mentioned Jeff Goldblum as Troy’s agent MacArthur Parker; he does a swell job. He’s almost more cold and disconnected than Troy (“You and your, er, wife have gotta have a baby.”) When Troy asks how, he says he’ll send him a pamphlet. I’m still confused about this, is it like Troy’s so disconnected from reality in being a big star in his mind he literally cannot function without being told what to do? I’ve never pondered this much about a cartoon character’s sex life before… He starred in “The Erotic Adventures of Hercules” for God’s sakes, he must know something!
– I guess I’ll end with this: The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel. I’d watch it right after the live-action Troy McClure movie; the perfect double bill.

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6 responses to “147. A Fish Called Selma

  1. Speaking of The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel, it was the only thing I thought of when I saw trailers for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

  2. This is one of those Season 7 episodes like “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” or “Bart on the Road” that has such a great concept and so much going on within it that it feels more like a full-length movie than a 22-minute episode. I think the seriousness of the subject matter plays a big part in that, as you mentioned, yet it’s all still hilariously funny at the same time. Phil Hartman is just hysterical – everything Troy says in this episode is brilliant. I still love “And get ready for tennis!…It comes on at ten.” Good call on “Troy’s back from the gutter and he’s brought someone with him!” Just thinking about that line makes me giggle.

    Jeff Goldblum is one of those celebrity voices that I often overlook, because they didn’t make a big deal about it. But he is hilarious as the fast-talking MacArthur Parker. I absolutely love how he refers to Troy and Selma as “you and, uh, wife”.

    Random bit of trivia: As far as I know, this is the only episode in which Joe Mantegna does not do the voice for Fat Tony. (“Hey, I thought you said Troy McClure was dead!” “No, what I said is he sleeps with the fishes.”) Sounds like Hank Azaria to me. This must have been before Mantegna made his famous vow that he’d come in to do Tony’s voice even if he just had to cough or something.

  3. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo

    “I hate every ape I see…from chimpan-A to chimpanzee.” may be one of the greatest lyrics ever written. This is truly one of the great songs in the show (I still have a soft spot for “Talkin’ Softball”), and an tour de force by Hartman as McClure.

  4. The whole fish thing is a reference to rumors of bizarre sexual habits of Richard Gere.

    This episode perfectly demonstrates how great Classics Simpsons was. Here we have two awful people. Troy is a pathetic, egotistical has-been, and Selma is rude, disgusting, and intent on breaking up Marge’s marriage. Yet in this episode, we get such a sad, poignant story that really makes us feel for them. This is not one of my favorite episodes, but reading this blog has reminded how fantastic pretty much everything in those first sevenish years was.

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