Episode 13 - Selma's Choice
27 June 2011
Synopsis: Homer and the kids want to go to Duff Gardens but Great Aunt Gladys passes away and they have to attend the funeral. In her video will Gladys encourages Patty and Selma to have children and the words hit Selma hard. After failing to find a man she looks for a sperm donor. Meanwhile Homer gets too ill to go to Duff Gardens and so Selma takes Bart and Lisa.
The Good: When you think about this plot in the wider context of TV you begin to consider what a strange and bold choice it is. Selma is a middle aged, overweight, unattractive woman. She is lonely and wishes she could have a child. It's a story which for some could be quite hurtful or just depressing to watch. It's certainly not the plot any show runner would use to pitch their show to a network. And though the ending is positive it isn't patronising. Selma showers Jub-Jub the Iguana with the affection she wishes she could give to a child. The moral of the story is about finding happiness where you can even if it isn't what you might have hoped for.
It's ruthlessly realistic and the writers won't allow Selma to find the kind of TV happiness reserved for similar characters. In that story is the genius of The Simpsons as a show. Springfield always returns to its original state at the end of each episode. That is more than a convenience, it ends up being a commentary on the lives of ordinary people. The people of Springfield are ordinary and they conform to a wide range of stereotypes. Selma represents real people, many of whom do grow to be old and lonely. By portraying a world as potentially sad and real as that the writers create a platform from which they can get away with satirising anything. They are not choosing sides or picking on only certain targets. Stories like this make it clear that it's a cruel world out there and the writers aren't afraid to show it.
The story itself achieved its aims with ease. Gladys death provided a few laughs as Homer and Bart clown around at the funeral. The video will gives Selma the push she needs to pursue her desire for a family. She tries dating, she looks at sperm donors and she ends up taking a day trip with Bart and Lisa to see what the practical reality it like. The dating scenes show us Hans Moleman, one of the smaller characters whose life is even more depressing than Selma's (and here at least pretty funny). The sperm bank is sent up immediately with its welcoming slogan "Put Your Sperm in Our Hands" and then revealing Barney as the chief donor. The Duff Gardens then get to parody Disneyworld and other corporate theme parks and allow Bart and Lisa to run wild. The disastrous trip puts serious doubt into Selma's mind about how she would cope with children and so she turns to Gladys' Iguana Jub-Jub who is far easier to take care of. It's a sweet if downbeat ending to an episode which somehow managed to make cartoon spinsterhood funny, touching and real.
The Bad: At the Gardens Bart puts on beer goggles and suddenly Selma's words get distorted. How is that possible exactly?
Best Joke: Lionel Hutz is thrilled at how easy is job is when he presses play on Gladys' video will. When we reach the distribution of her money Gladys' voice is suddenly replaced by Hutz' announcing "To my executor Lionel Hutz, I leave fifty thousand dollars." Marge is outraged but the upbeat Hutz says "You'd be surprised how often that works. You really would!"
The Bottom Line: If you are looking for laughs and entertainment there are many better episodes. But if you are looking for one of the key reasons why the show's worldview is so effective then this is the place to look.
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