"A Fish Called Selma" is the nineteenth episode of The Simpsons' seventh season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 24, 1996. The episode features Troy McClure, who attempts to resurrect his acting career by marrying Selma Bouvier. Show runners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were fans of Phil Hartman and wished to produce an episode that focused on his character McClure. Freelance writer Jack Barth wrote the episode, and Mark Kirkland directed it.
Barth's script underwent a substantial rewrite in the show's writing room, including the expansion of the Planet of the Apes musical and addition of the song "Dr. Zaius". The episode ran too long because of the slow pace of Troy and Selma's speech. Consequently, guest star Jeff Goldblum rerecorded his dialogue as MacArthur Parker at a faster speed. The episode received generally positive reviews, with particular praise given to Hartman and the musical. Entertainment Weekly placed the episode eighth on their list of the top 25 The Simpsons episodes.
Chief Wiggum pulls Troy McClure over for dangerous driving. Not wishing to be required to wear his glasses while driving, Troy goes to the DMV to get his license changed to remove the requirement. He offers to take DMV employee Selma Bouvier to dinner if she lets him pass the eye test, to which she agrees. After dinner, photographers notice Troy leaving with Selma and the story hits the news. The next day, Troy's agent, MacArthur Parker, calls and says that he can get work again if he continues seeing Selma. Troy continues to date her and his career begins to recover. On his agent's advice, Troy asks Selma to marry him; she agrees.
The night before the wedding, a drunk Troy tells Homer the reason for his marriage: he doesn't really love Selma, and he just plans to use her as a sham wife to help further his career. Although Homer fails to act, Marge and Patty try to explain it to Selma, who accuses them of just being envious. She confronts Troy, who shamelessly admits that their marriage is a sham. Troy explains to Selma that even though their marriage is a sham, she has everything she could want and will be "the envy of every other sham wife in town". Selma has doubts, but accepts the situation because she fears being alone. Parker thinks he can get Troy the part of McBain's sidekick in McBain IV: Fatal Discharge, but concludes he will have a better chance if he has a family. Troy and Selma try to conceive a child, but neither feels comfortable with their situation, and Selma finally leaves after deciding that bringing a child into a loveless family is wrong. Troy turns down the role of McBain's sidekick to direct and star in his own film, The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel.
Show runners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were fans of actor Phil Hartman, who had been a recurring guest star since the second season. They decided to produce an episode entirely about his character Troy McClure to give Hartman as much to do as possible. Oakley wanted to explore Troy's character because he had never interacted with the show's other characters before, only appearing on television. The writers chose the plot idea of Troy's marriage to Selma Bouvier because she was "always marrying people". The episode's first draft was written by freelance writer Jack Barth, although the rest of the writing staff rewrote it. One aspect of the rewrite was the song "Dr. Zaius" from the Planet of the Apes musical, which the staff consider to be one of the greatest musical numbers ever written for The Simpsons. Weinstein pitched it in the writer's room as "Rock Me Dr. Zaius", in parody of the 1985 song "Rock Me Amadeus" by Falco. It expanded into a full song primarily concocted by George Meyer, who included "corny" aspects of vaudeville. The line "From chimpan-A to chimpan-Z" in the final song of the musical was written by David Cohen. Oakley commented that he has heard the line "all over the world".
Director Mark Kirkland was pleased that Troy was the star of the episode; he enjoyed interpreting Hartman's voice performance because it allowed him and the other animators to "open [McClure] up visually as a character". Due to the slow talking speed of Troy and Selma, the episode's audio track was 28 minutes long which meant that multiple scenes had to be cut, including Troy's bachelor party. After the cast had completed their original recording, guest star Jeff Goldblum rerecorded his dialogue as MacArthur Parker at a faster speed to further shorten it. His character's design was loosely modeled on him, as well as a real-life "sleazy Hollywood agent". The animators watched several of Goldblum's films, including The Tall Guy, in order to get a better representation of his performance.
Throughout "A Fish Called Selma", it is hinted that Troy engages in strange sexual activity. The writers initially did not know what the "unsavory" sexual preference would be, but eventually decided on a fish fetish, a suggestion from executive producer James L. Brooks, since it was "so perverted and strange, that it was over the top". At the episode's table reading, a female staff member demanded the line, "from now on she's smoking for two", be removed from the script; however, her request was denied. On the walls of the Pimento Grove restaurant, the animators placed caricatures of every single guest star who had appeared on the show up to that point, as well as pictures of the fictional celebrities of the show.
In its original broadcast, "A Fish Called Selma" finished tied for 66th place in the ratings for the week of March 18–March 24, 1996, with a Nielsen rating of 7.8. It was the sixth-highest rated show on the Fox network that week. Entertainment Weekly placed the episode eighth on their list of the top 25 The Simpsons episodes. IGN named the episode the best of the seventh season, stating that it seemed the "obvious pick". They called the musical the best moment of the episode and "maybe even the whole show". In a later review, IGN's Robert Canning praised Phil Hartman's performance as "simply the best of any guest appearance on The Simpsons". He concluded by saying: "Sure, [the episode's] writing is smart and the jokes are funny, but without Phil Hartman as Troy McClure, 'A Fish Called Selma' would only be good. With Hartman, it's fantastic!" Michael Moran of The Times ranked the episode as the best in the show's history. In 2012, Johnny Dee of The Guardian listed it as one of his five favorite episodes in the history of The Simpsons, writing: "Key to The Simpsons longevity is the minor characters who only crop up every season or so. And none more so than Troy McClure."
Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, were pleased that "Troy McClure gets a starring role at last". Empire called the episode the "high point" of the show's "long-standing love affair with The Planet of the Apes", and cited it as McClure's "finest hour". Kimberly Potts of AOL Television named the episode the 14th best episode of the series. Dave Foster of DVD Times praised the episode, as well as Jeff Goldblum's participation on the audio commentary. He stated: "for those yet to witness Troy McClure's musical take on Planet of the Apes, well, you might say you haven't lived! Musical parody at its very best, the visuals and aural delights in this one brief sequence guarantee this season a recommendation being one of the most inspired moments of The Simpsons many seasons."