[8.5/10 on a classic Simpsons scale] If you’d asked me what “Selma’s Choice” was about without my rewatching the episode, I’d probably have simply referred to it as “The Duff Gardens episode.” The Simpsons’s parodies of the vicissitudes of theme parks are still relevant and amusing today. (I was, incidentally, spurred to revisit this one after seeing clips from it at Universal Orlando’s “Springfield USA” land, among many other amusing theme park-related scenes from the show.) Everything from the mishap at the rollercoaster to the longest line in the park being for the complaint desk to the enjoyably prickly Surly of the “Seven Duffs” takes the stuffing out of amusement park in the way that only The Simpsons can.
And yet, Duff Gardens is really incidental to the larger story being told in “Selma’s Choice,” one about Selma confronting her own biological clock and struggling to find love and family at a time when she feels like her options are dwindling. Not very long ago, I watched an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore show which, like The Simpsons, was produced by James L. Brooks, and it deals with much the same theme for that series’s protagonist. The notion of a single woman starting to feel her age and wonder how much longer she has to find a partner and start a family is a venerable one, and both shows plumb the depths of it here.
There’s a great deal of pathos in Selma’s struggle here. She’s mostly presented as an object of scorn for Homer, but “Selma’s Choice” explores her loneliness and hopes in a way that add’s another dimension to the character. The grandfather clock received from a deceased Aunt who implored her to start a family is pretty heavy in its symbolism, but it drives home the point well. It adds shading to Selma’s initial attempts to find a man (culminating in her giving up after imagining a future with Hans Moleman, a gag that’s a bit mean-spirited but you know, understandable) and her follow up notion of artificial insemination. Her line about “all she has now” and her conversation with Marge underscore the sadness and desperation of all this.
That, of course, leads to the memorable third act where she chaperones Bart and Lisa around Duff Gardens and sees that kids, especially those with Simpson DNA, can be a handful. Bart’s usual menace, and Lisa’s log flume-water-fueled mania are more than she can handle. Her asking Homer, of all people, how he manages to do it, is the strangest but surest sign of defeat, that she admits this guy who she thinks might be “missing a chromosome” can handle something she just can’t. The resolution of her adopting Jub Jub (and we’re years away from her adopting Ling) is a nice one, that gives Selma a half-victory and a bit of happiness, without undercutting the amusing but affecting melancholy that permeates the rest of her story.
And of course, there’s plenty of great laughs throughout. Only The Simpsons could turn a funeral for a heretofore unseen character into something so funny, whether it comes in the form of the kids passively accepting the trip to Duff Gardens having to be postponed while Homer throws a fit (“I’m not pouting, I’m mourning”), or Bart scaring Lisa by pretending to be the dearly departed Aunt Gladys, or everyone voting in favor of fast-forwarding through the poem. The aforementioned riffs on theme parks are perfectly pitched, and the saga of Homer and his rotting sandwich is an absolute classic, with great physical humor to boot. Even the little things in the episode, like Selma seeing Homer’s arm around Marge in the car as a reminder of what she envies, or the superb psychedelic animation after Lisa goes nuts, add to the emotion and stakes of the episode.
On the whole, “Selma’s Choice” is the best kind of episode to revisit – the kind that draws you in with memories of hilarious gags and bits of well-deployed humor, but that reveals a depth of feeling and character that may have escaped your recollection. Selma’s trials are sad and even dark in their own way, with a Charlie Kaufman-esque bleakness to them, but they’re balanced by the episode’s stellar jokes and the small victory she gets in the end. This one, like nearly all of the show’s classic episodes, is a keeper.