Compare & Contrast: Selma & Her Famous Husbands

“Cigarette, Mrs. McClure?” – Waiter
“You bet!  From now on, she’s smoking for two.” – Troy McClure

Once upon a time, Selma married a famous guy for all the wrong reasons and it didn’t work out.  Fifteen years later, Zombie Simpsons decided they hadn’t regurgitated that plot line recently, and did it again.  I am speaking, of course, of “A Fish Called Selma” and “The Real Housewives of Fat Tony”.  There are three specific scenes I want to compare:

1.) Meeting Mr. Wrong at the DMV

2.) Getting Hitched

3.) The Big Reveal (wherein it is revealed that this marriage isn’t going to work out)

Obviously more than that goes on, especially in “A Fish Called Selma”, which uses Troy McClure’s resurgent career to mock celebrity, Broadway, and the movie business.  But both episodes contain all three of those scenes, and they match up extraordinarily well (or poorly, depending on your point of view).

1. Meeting the Husband

Selma initially meets both Troy McClure and Fat Tony in the course of her work as one of the desk lords at the department of motor vehicles.  Right away, the radically different quality standards of The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons are apparent.  Both Troy and Tony are famous, and neither is very likely to walk into some gray government office and hit it off with one of the most homely employees.  The Simpsons took the time to show us why McClure was there, as well as why he’d be interested in Selma; Zombie Simpsons couldn’t be bothered, and had Fat Tony (along with the rest of Springfield) be there just because.

In “A Fish Called Selma”, Troy McClure gets pulled over (in his dented DeLorean, no less) and told to head down to the DMV to get his license changed if he wants to drive without his glasses.  This one scene means he’s not only got a reason to go to that drab office, but to make nice with whomever he finds behind the counter.  We also know that he’s no longer a big enough star to have some lackey do this kind of thing for him.

A Fish Called Selma4

They do kinda make him look like a nerd.

Tony, on the other hand, is a connected and powerful mob boss.  What the hell is he doing at the DMV in line with citizens?  He seems like he’d have underlings to go fetch dinky forms for him (which, by the way, he does in “A Fish Called Selma”).  Setting that aside, the show could still give us a reason why he’d be there.  And, let’s face it, if you can’t think of several funny reasons for a mob boss to need to go to the DMV, you probably shouldn’t be working as a comedy writer.  This is how low the give-a-shit level is for Zombie Simpsons, they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a reason – even a jokey one – for the two main characters to meet.

It’s so transparently lazy that you can almost see them working backwards: deciding they want to do something with Jersey Shore, realizing they could use Fat Tony, casting about for a way to involve the Simpsons, hitting on marrying him to Selma, and then barfing up a poorly contrived way for them to meet (which is unrelated to everything else in the episode).  There’s nothing wrong with working backwards, but do the audience the courtesy of at least trying to cover your tracks.

2.  The Weddings

Having provided no reason for Selma and Tony to meet, the show doesn’t feel the need give their marriage any type of story, meaning or conflict.  Their actual wedding ceremony is just that, a wedding ceremony.  There’s a throwaway joke from Homer, but that’s it.  Even Zombie Simpsons can’t let things proceed with nothing going on at all, however, so they manufacture a spat between Marge and Selma.

The Most Boring Mob Wedding in History

Oh crap, we forget the plot.  Think . . . think . . .

The very brief disagreement between the sisters is ostensibly about Marge and Homer getting a bad table at the reception, but it’s really about the whole Fat Tony-Selma story not having any conflict whatsoever.  Consider that there’s no foreshadowing about the Marge-Selma feud, it crops up completely out of nowhere, and is then resolved just a couple of scenes later as the two of them sit on deck chairs and decide to let bygones be bygones.  Literally nothing happens except that Marge and Selma spontaneously decide “meh, I guess we’re not mad at each other anymore”.

Now consider the (much briefer) wedding in “A Fish Called Selma”.  Obviously, there’s a ceremony and Troy and Selma take their vows (albeit with some comedic twists, “take the fabulous Troy McClure”, etcetera).  But running through the entire scene are two plot threads.  First, Homer has just found out something the audience has known for a while: Troy is only marrying Selma to help his career.  So when Lovejoy asks if anyone has any reason why these two should not be wed, the camera pans to Homer, who has exactly such a reason.  Homer’s reaction?  Silently singing himself Gary Glitter’s stadium rock ballad “Rock and Roll”.  Unlike Homer’s throwaway joke in “The Real Housewives of Fat Tony”, this one has something to do with what’s going on, and requires Homer to be emotionally ignorant rather than knuckle draggingly stupid.

The second way the main story is interwoven into the wedding is through Troy’s behavior.  At the altar, he mugs for the cameras rather than kissing Selma back.  When they reach the car, she talks about how this is the best day of her life but it’s only a “good day” for him.  They kiss right after that, but his eyes are always looking up, making sure that he will indeed be “on every newsstand in the country”.

A Fish Called Selma5

Matching pink outfits.  Who says tradition’s on the wane? 

3. The Endings

Since Marge and Selma mutually decide that they don’t care enough about their little disagreement to continue it all the way to the end of the episode, Zombie Simpsons needed to pull something directly out of its ass to reach the sweet relief of twenty minutes runtime.  That something was an infidelity plot which they introduced – with no warning – at the seventeen minute mark.  At that point they’d all but exhausted their supply of the Jersey Shore jokes that were the reason this whole episode got approved in the first place, and they headed for the nearest exit they could find.

The Dukes of Hazzard Think This Is a Bit Much

The ending is forced to (literally) break into the episode.

“A Fish Called Selma” has a twist at the end too.  But instead of a panicked swerve into oncoming traffic that results in the “real wife” driving a convertible through a fence, it’s one of those tightly controlled 180s where the hero throws the car into reverse and shoots all the bad guys while driving backwards.  From the very first time Troy and Selma meet, when he exchanges dinner for a wink and a nod on his driver’s license, it’s been plainly obvious to the audience that Troy is using their relationship to restore his career.  Selma’s mounting levels of denial about this set the episode up for the ending the audience has been conditioned to expect through years of phony romance in television and film: the big confrontation where she realizes that he’s using her and dumps him.

But The Simpsons is far too clever to just go through the motions like that.  Instead, we get this:

Selma: You’re asking me to live a lie, I don’t know if I can do that.
Troy: It’s remarkably easy.  Just smile for the cameras and enjoy Mr. Troy’s Wild Ride.  You’ll go to the right parties, meet the right people.  Sure, you’ll be a sham wife, but you’ll be the envy of every other sham wife in town!  So, what do you say, baby?
Selma: Tell me again about Mr. Troy’s Wild Ride.

No anger.  No outrage.  No yelling about betrayal.  Just two people coming to an agreement.  And even this isn’t totally unexpected.  Way back at the beginning of the episode, when Troy took Selma out for the dinner that started it all, she says, “Thanks for holding up your end of the bargain.  I had a pretty good time.”  Selma isn’t stupid, she knew the dinner was quid pro quo, so it’s not a bolt from the blue when she decides that the marriage can be too.  All the little pieces fit so snugly together that Swiss watchmakers could take lessons.

When the inevitable break up does come, there’s no need for shock or tears or the retcon induced hair pulling that drags “The Real Housewives of Fat Tony” over the finish line.  Selma realizes that Troy is willing to take the sham further than she’s willing to go, and decides to stop things.  It ends on the comically bittersweet note of them going their separate ways, with microwaved roaches for Jub Jub, and an a lunatic vanity project for Professor Horatio Hufnagel.

[Updated because I can’t tell one sporting staple song from another.  Originally I had Homer’s wedding song as this.]

19 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Selma & Her Famous Husbands”

  1. 1 Joe C.
    5 May 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Actually, the song that Homer sings in his head is called “Rock and Roll” (AKA “The Hey Song”) by Gary Glitter.

    Good Compare/Contrast once again. I was hoping ZS would flesh out Fat Tony a little more like what “A Fish Called Selma” did for Troy McClure. But once again, I’ve been tricked by ZS into hoping for too much.

  2. 3 Cassidy
    5 May 2011 at 7:53 pm

    “When they reach the car, she talks about how this is the best day of her life but it’s only a “good day” for him.”

    If you look at Selma’s face when Troy says this you see her eyes drop and a pained look cross her face. It happens quickly and it’s something that’s perfectly easy to miss. It’s not over-emphasized, the “camera” doesn’t draw attention to it and obviously Troy doesn’t even notice. It’s a wonderfully subtle character moment though. As you said, Selma isn’t stupid and she can see even early on what’s really driving Troy’s interest – even if she manages to convince herself otherwise for a short time.

    I didn’t see the Zombie Simpsons episode but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that it had no scene that even came close to conveying that much character and emotion at all, much less with that type of subtlety.

  3. 4 Frank S.
    5 May 2011 at 11:58 pm

    I argue that rather than two there are three Simpsons: early (season 1-2), classic (3-7), and zombie (season 8 on). At their extremes the difference between early and classic is fairy stark, even though – as with classic and zombie – some seasons and even episodes are a mix of both.

    The early episodes are more openly sentimental, less packed full of gags and cultural references, and were not that far away from being animated versions of Roseanne or, in broader moments, Married With Children. Springfield could almost (but not quite) exist in the real world. There is an emphasis on characters and Homer is an everyman trying to be a good dad, not an out-of-control oaf. There’s sometimes even a preachy non-ironic moral, just like in 80s sitcoms.

    In contrast, the classic episodes are much more packed with gags (including cutaway fantasies) and cultural references both low and high, situations become more surreal (Marge vs the Monorail is a landmark – the writers firmly taking the show out anything approaching the real world), guest stars become prominent (Michael Jackson’s was another seminal episode), Homer, now the star, starts becoming a caricature. But there is still plenty of earned sentiment and character consistency and narrative logic are honored.

    My probably controversial thesis: Zombie Simpsons has the tendencies of classic Simpsons that make it distinct from early Simpsons, but exaggerated to the point of breaking with naturalism altogether and often without character consistency, earned sentiment, and story logic. It’s the gag-driven, unreal elements of classic unmoored from the affection and ‘rationalism’ of the early seasons. Yes, and the gags are generally less funny and situations are heavily recycled.

    Part of the reason classic was classic is because it established and for maintained a balance between heart and gags, naturalism and zaniness.

    But I wouldn’t want to live in world without “stupid, sexy Flanders.” And that is definitely from the zombie era.

    • 6 May 2011 at 4:26 am

      “Stupid sexy Flanders” came from season 11 and, according to the DHS manifesto, isn’t ZS (which doesn’t officially start until season 12). I agree with this – there’s a definite decline throughout seasons 8-11, but still some worthwhile episodes and moments – that particular quote included. I also wouldn’t deny that the odd ZS moment has been amusing, but they’re always a far cry from the classic episodes, which are jam packed with so many jokes that you can’t even take them all in on the first viewing. In ZS, the occasional good joke is usually completely isolated, and run into the ground, just in case you didn’t quite catch it the first time round.

      I don’t think you’re alone in separating out seasons 1 and 2, but for me, their flaws are forgivable because the show was still establishing itself at the time.

      • 6 Frank S.
        6 May 2011 at 4:47 am

        I have an unusual experience of viewing Simpsons episodes: I watched a lot of one and two (and before that, the Tracy Ullman shorts) but not many from three and four (though the Sara Gilbert one stands out) when they were first aired. And then, from my mid-twenties to early thirties, I didn’t live in a place with a television. During most of that period I was in grad school. In 2002-03 I moved and got caught up on the Simpsons, all at once and out of order. The Simpsons seemed like a very different show than the slower-paced, fairly realistic sweetness (star character Bart’s brattiness notwithstanding) of the one I remembered.

        I lump 8-11 with ZS because the humor is getting very self-referential and gimmicky, a hallmark of later seasons, even if it’s widely agreed that they are of higher quality than 12 on.

        I like I Am Furious Yellow a lot (“Dirty diapers!”), and that is definitely zombie era. And that’s not the only ZS I liked. But it’s definitely a different show than the earlier or classic era.

  4. 7 Sam
    6 May 2011 at 2:34 am

    although I cant back it up with as much explanation as you (simply because I’m being lazy), I wouldn’t consider Simpsons seasons 8+ Zombie.

    I was watching lisa’s sax the other day, and it holds up as a solid episode of classic simpsons.

    Infact, I would go as far to say, that although it has its many faults (and detractors on here), Bart Carny, is the last episode that I don’t mind watching “it’s a ring-toss game”

    After that though, everything changed. I would go as far to say that if something like ‘Bart Carny’ or ‘Lisa’s Sax’ were produced now, then they would be considered a return to the golden age..

    ..or would they?


    …not because they aren’t ‘classic’ simpsons episodes, but I think for people who frequent this blog, the ‘classic’ episodes are so etched into our minds, and to a certain extent are iconic to us, nothing that is newly produced will be able to be viewed in the same way.

    Unless, someone opens up a crate of ‘lost’ simpsons episodes from season 4, and explicitly tells us that they were produced during season 4, but somehow they got lost whilst the staff moved offices (and they completely forgot the storylines so had to start again), then we will never enjoy an episode of the simpsons again, no matter how well written it is.

    It’s mainly to do with nostalgia and familiarity I think. On any given day, I will see something or say something that references classic simpsons, and that nostalgia factor makes me feel warm and fuzzy and yearn for simpler times..

    Something new, (or pretending to be old) can’t do that, because I can’t remember it from 10 years ago. It didn’t exist then

    • 8 Joe C.
      6 May 2011 at 2:44 am

      I also don’t consider season 8 ZS…in fact, I would go as far to say that seasons 9 and 10 are not ZS. However, during that time they became infected with the zombie virus and were turning into zombies at a rapid rate.

      The Simpsons will always be nostalgic because much of my childhood humor revolved around quoting lines. I think that if there were any “lost” episodes they wouldn’t have the same effect on us that the classic episodes did, as Sam just mentioned. Still, I would rather read an unfinished draft of the script from a lost season 1 episodes than watch anything ZS puts out on TV.

      • 9 sam
        6 May 2011 at 7:23 am

        yeah I feel what you saying about “hypothetical newly discovered season” not having the same effect on us as the originals, however, I really enjoyed that oprah simpsons thing posted up on here about a month ago.. because it was season 4 era, it displayed some of those vintage qualities..

      • 10 Lovejoy Fan
        6 May 2011 at 1:40 pm

        I’m with you, Joe C. I honestly don’t consider season 8 ZS (or 9, really); but there was a definite decline in 10. At least, there was in my opinion.

    • 6 May 2011 at 5:17 am

      I would most definitely agree that nostalgia can be like a drug – completing biasing our view of “classic” TV shows, films and music, and I’m usually the first to jump on anyone’s argument that “they just don’t make kids’ TV how they used to” (yeah, because a prerequisite for enjoying them is to be a child yourself – it’s the nostalgic quality of your favourite shows as a child that cause you to remember them so fondly).

      And yes, to a degree, nostalgia almost certainly drives our fondness for Classic Simpsons. It’s the prevalent recognition of the many quotable lines that probably do make us look back with rose-tinted glasses, sighing dreamily – I love dropping a Simpsons quote into everyday conversation and getting a positive and appreciative reaction for doing so. However, there is definitely more than nostalgia driving my liking for the series. There are pure and simple reasons why it was so popular in the first place – because it was, and still is, funny through and through, with great attention to detail, brilliant characters, side jokes, background jokes, timing – I could go on for a long time with this.

      IF an outstanding episode was produced now, i.e. by ticking the boxes above, there is no reason why I, personally, would overlook it. Naturally, I would have to watch the damn thing first – perhaps, for many, they would simply write it off, and I wouldn’t hear by word of mouth that a worthy episode existed (hopefully this blog would pick up on it, though – these guys will give credit where it’s due, it just rarely is). However, it’s very, very unlikely to happen, because many of the factors which drove the classic episodes are now completely absent the show. Firstly, there are no fresh ideas for stories, and by extension, limited inspiration for jokes. Secondly, the characters (Homer being the main example) have deteriorated almost to the point of no return – it would actually be hard to suddenly stand up and say ‘forget the past 10 years, Homer’s back to normal again,’ after being a Jerkass for such a long time. It’s not impossible, but without the inspiration for a story that would make sense for his character to suddenly change, it’s a lot easier to carry on with business as usual. Thirdly, the current animation style renders the cartoon soulless. Yes, pining for hand drawn animation is typically nostalgia-driven (and in this case, it partially is), but the “old style” added a layer to the show that I was barely conscious of, but it really helped to deliver the comedy – particularly the facial expressions of the characters. A computer isn’t able to add that heart to it. It also stands to reason that, when the show was more time-consuming to produce, the writers would’ve been more determined to deliver a worthy script.

      • 12 sam
        6 May 2011 at 7:31 am

        “Thirdly, the current animation style
        renders the cartoon soulless.”

        ….and the voices.

        I completely agree, regardless of how amazing a new episode of the simpsons might be, it won’t be given a chance by me because I can’t see past those differences.. ..I know its the wrong attitude..

        I’ll wait until a new ep gets a decent write up on here, then maybe I’ll check it out.

        haha ^_^

      • 13 Matthew
        6 May 2011 at 3:55 pm

        So glad you mentioned the animation style of todays episodes. Every little detail is so perfect now. Every cloud, every building, every street. I miss the days when they’re was more focus on writing and less on the animation. My biggest beef, is that the more realistic the cities, background characters, and landscapes become, the more out of place the actual Simpson family become.

  5. 6 May 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I don’t think, at least for me, nostalgia has that strong of a effect.

    I’ve tried watching old cartoons from the mid 80’s just for the sake of nostalgia and I turn them off because it’s so damn cheesy. On the other hand, I can watch any Simpsons episode from Season 2* up to about Season 9 again and because they were that well put together. I’m not watching these older episodes to reflect on my youth, I watch them because I want to be entertained.

    For what it’s worth, the only Simpsons I watch for the warm, fuzzy feeling of Nostalgia were “Do the Bartman” and “Deep Deep Trouble” videos. Those were just dopey fun.

    *=I have nothing against Season 1, but back in the 90s, I watched the episodes so many times I had to take a break.

  6. 15 Matthew
    6 May 2011 at 4:05 pm

    While we’re on the subject of Troy McClure aka Phil Hartman, here’s something for everyone to think about. Has anyone ever given any thought to the idea that Phil Hartman’s death played a major role in the end of the classic Simpsons we once knew?

    Everyone seems to think that the Simpsons became Zombie Simpsons somewhere around season 10, which was the first season not to feature Phil Hartman due to his untimely death. I know there are a lot of factors that contributed to the deterioration of The Simpsons, everything from one too many seasons, new writers, change to computer animation, etc, but let’s not forget the lack of Phil Hartman and all the beloved characters he played. He always played the perfect high-status idiot, whether its Lionel Hutz, Troy McClure, or the narrator of one of Springfield Elementary School’s many filmstrips.

    • 9 May 2011 at 3:40 am

      I reckon it was a contributing factor – you could argue that when Hartman was brought in to do one-off characters, it represented a time when the show was less inclined to bring in pointless celebrities to do the job and, by extension, celebrate ‘proper’ comedy voice acting. What’s more, Hutz and McClure were concrete members of The Simpsons cast… it’s hard to believe all the others live on, 12 years later. But I guess, as some form of consolation, these guys never had a bad moment in the entire history of the programme. You can’t say that for the others.

      • 17 Matthew
        9 May 2011 at 11:36 am

        His voice is so synonymous with the classic episodes. I always know I’m watching the real Simpsons whenever I hear Phil’s voice acting. It’s how I’ve always seperated the classics from the zombies.

        Phil played such an intricate role in any scene that involved satire of tv infomercials, bad sitcoms, politics, lawyers, b movies, how shallow and phony Hollywood is, or those lame school film strips we had to watch when we were kids. The show lost so much of it’s satirical edge when Phil passed. In the years since his death, whenever they try to do a satrical bit on any of those aforementioned topics, I always think to myself this scene would be so much better if Phil Hartman was in it.

  7. 18 sam
    7 May 2011 at 12:46 pm

    absolutely.. phil hartmans characters (albeit largely secondary or incidental) were such an important part of the show.

    I really wish that the show ended when he died, and I have expressed that in a previous post

    As for the nostalgia thing, I think maybe I explained it in a poor way, my nostalgia for the classic simpsons is different to the nostalgia I have for other memories for the past – its kind of like a ‘niche’ nostalgia borne out of familiarity..

  8. 19 Izzy
    7 May 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Just compare the titles and you can see the difference in quality. “The Real Housewives of Fat Tony” is just a stupid reference to a stupid show. “A Fish called Selma” is a superb title when you consider Troy McClure’s unhealthy “relationship” with fish that is alluded to throughout the episode.

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