"Black Widower" is the 21st episode of The Simpsons' third season, originally airing on the Fox network in the United States on April 9, 1992. It was written by Jon Vitti, directed by David Silverman, and saw Kelsey Grammer guest star as Sideshow Bob for the second time. In the episode, Sideshow Bob—Bart's archenemy—marries Bart's Aunt Selma. Bart believes that Bob is planning something sinister rather than marrying for love. He realizes that Bob is planning to kill Selma; he prevents the attempted murder, and Bob is sent back to prison. "Black Widower" finished 39th in Nielsen ratings for the week that it originally aired. Reviewers generally enjoyed the episode, and gave Grammer's portrayal of Sideshow Bob particular praise.
The Simpsons have dinner with Aunt Selma and her new boyfriend, Sideshow Bob—Bart's archenemy. During dinner, Bob talks about his time in prison: the cells were overcrowded, his ChapStick was co-opted, and his Emmy was confiscated. While there, he spent every waking moment planning his revenge on Bart for exposing his plan to frame Krusty, but after receiving Selma's response to his Prison Pen Pal ad, he was inspired to become a model prisoner, and subsequently earned his release. Bob's tale of turning over a new leaf wins over the family, except Bart, who remains suspicious. However, Bob thanks Bart for putting him on the path which led him to Selma, and surprises the family by proposing to Selma, who eagerly accepts. Later, Sideshow Bob makes an appearance at a Krusty the Clown telethon and makes amends; Lisa encourages Bart to be as forgiving as Krusty, but Bart refuses to believe that Bob has changed. When Selma discovers that Sideshow Bob detests her beloved MacGyver and cannot hide his hatred, the marriage is nearly called off, much to Bart's delight. To save Bob and Selma's relationship, Homer explains to Bob his solution for his and Marge's dissonant tastes in television: when Marge watches TV, Homer goes out for drinks and returns "in the mood for love". Bob then agrees to take a "vigorous constitutional" whenever Selma watches MacGyver, much to Bart's anger.
While planning the wedding, Selma reveals that she is unconcerned about money, as she made a good profit in the stock market; Bob states that he hopes that nobody thinks that he is marrying her for the money. At the wedding, most of Springfield appears to be in attendance, including Krusty the Clown and incompetent Police Chief Wiggum. Selma later sends the Simpsons a videotape of her honeymoon with Bob, which includes his tirade over the absence of a gas fireplace in his hotel room that he had requested. She retires one evening to watch MacGyver in their suite, and while Bob is downstairs having a drink, the hotel room explodes behind him. Bob feigns a frantic phone call to the front desk about the accident. He makes his way back to the room to survey the damage, hoping to see if Selma is already dead, but he actually finds Bart waiting for him. Selma then appears to be unscathed, Bart having saved her life at the very last moment, and Bob is apprehended by the police while Selma angrily calls for a separation from Bob for trying to kill her.
Bob and Wiggum ask Bart how he managed to figure out Bob's scheme. Bart explains that he recalled Selma's promise to cut back her smoking habit to only smoking after meals and after watching MacGyver on Bob's advice during the wedding, as well as Bob's statement that he is intending to inherit Selma's money she made in the stock market. Bart also remembered that Bob insisted on getting a room with a fireplace, which convinced him that Bob was interested in the gas in order to generate an explosion. Bart also recalled that Selma had previously mentioned that she had lost her senses of smell and taste due to a bottle rocket incident as a child, and would therefore never have noticed the gas leak Bob had caused by intentionally leaving the gas valve open. When he realized what Bob's plan was, Bart fruitlessly explained it to Homer four times, before explaining his theory to Marge, Patty, and Lisa, who immediately understood him. It was then the Simpson family and Patty informed the police about Bob's scheme while they raced to the hotel, where Bart saved Selma from lighting her cigarette. After Bart finishes explaining his story, Bob asks why the room exploded if Bart had already foiled his plot. Chief Wiggum reveals that he, Lou, Eddie, and Homer smoked cigars in celebration after saving Selma; Wiggum, forgetting the gas, accidentally threw his match into the room. Bob is taken away by the police, vowing to return as soon as the Democrats are back in power. As Selma calls herself a fool for almost letting this happen, Marge cheers her up that Bob fooled almost everyone except for Bart, thanking him for not losing his mistrust.
"Black Widower" was written by Jon Vitti, and directed by David Silverman. The staff wanted an episode involving a "mystery", so executive producer Sam Simon approached Thomas Chastain, head of the organization Mystery Writers of America, to help construct the mystery. A number of clues leading up to the revelation at the end were inserted into the script so that the viewers would be able to solve the mystery on their own. As the episode was being written, the writers had their eyes towards winning an Edgar Award, which is awarded to the best mystery fiction in television and film published or produced in the past year. Despite their efforts, "Black Widower" did not win an Edgar Award.
In the episode, the writers echoed the premise of Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner from Looney Tunes cartoons by having Bob unexpectedly insert himself into Bart's life and attempt to kill him. Executive producer Al Jean has compared Bob's character to that of Wile E. Coyote, noting that both are intelligent, yet always foiled by what they perceive as an inferior intellect. For "Black Widower", director David Silverman updated the character model of Bob to reflect the animation of director Brad Bird. One of Bob's friends from jail seen in the episode is Snake Jailbird. The character first appeared in the season two episode "The War of the Simpsons" only as "Jailbird", but his full name was first mentioned in "Black Widower". The writers gave him the name Snake because of the snake tattoo on his arm, and the character has gone by that name ever since.
"Black Widower" was the second episode Kelsey Grammer guest starred in as the voice of Sideshow Bob. He had previously appeared in the season one episode "Krusty Gets Busted", in which Bart gets Bob sentenced to jail for framing Krusty for armed robbery. Grammer initially expected Bob to be a one-time role, but it eventually became one of the most popular roles he ever played, as Bob became a recurring character on the show. Grammer bases his Bob voice on theatre actor and director Ellis Rabb. He had once worked for Rabb, whose "lamenting tones became [the] foundation for Sideshow Bob."
The episode begins with the family, except for Marge, watching a parody of the show Dinosaurs on television. The staff thought Dinosaurs was a knock-off of The Simpsons, so at one point Bart exclaims "It's like they saw our lives and put it right on screen," and points at the television screen. Before she reveals to the Simpson family that Selma's new boyfriend is Bob, Patty says there is something "disturbing" about him, which results in Lisa imagining him as being The Elephant Man. As Bob remembers his time in prison, a scene with him picking up road side trash is seen, referencing the film Cool Hand Luke. The music in the scene is a reference to the soundtrack of the film as well. Bob also remembers winning a Daytime Emmy Award in the "Best Supporting Performer in a Children's Program" category. In Selma's letters to Sideshow Bob, she refers to him by his prison number, 24601, which is Jean Valjean's prisoner number in the novel Les Misérables. The reunion between Krusty and Bob at the telethon is a reference to a surprise reunion between former comedy partners Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on a 1970s telethon. The telethon logo features an Al Hirschfeld-style caricature of Krusty.
"Black Widower" was the second episode to show Patty and Selma's obsession with the character Angus MacGyver from the television show MacGyver, which has become a recurring joke on The Simpsons. When Sideshow Bob goes into the room to see Selma's corpse, he turns around the chair, only to see Bart sitting in it. Sideshow Bob turns around and sees Selma in the doorway. These shots, from Bob turning the chair to Selma in the doorway, are a reference to the ending of the film Psycho. The music in the scene, written by composer Alf Clausen, is also a reference to Psycho. In Bart's retelling of the story at the end of the episode, Homer's shouts "To the Simpsonmobile!" as the family rushes to the hotel to save Selma's life. This is a reference to Batman's Batmobile and his recurring catchphrase, "To the Batmobile!"
In its original American broadcast, "Black Widower" finished 39th in Nielsen ratings for the week of April 6–12, 1992, making The Simpsons the third-highest rated television series on the Fox television network that week, after Married... with Children and In Living Color. In I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn wrote that he considered the episode a "terrific show", appreciating Grammer's work in particular, and he also enjoyed the Dinosaurs gag and Bob's reaction to McGyver, which he remarked "make the whole thing great fun". Bill Gibron of DVD Verdict rated the episode 97%, and considered it a "timeless treat" because of Sideshow Bob's appearance, calling it "excellent from beginning to end". Nate Meyers of the website digitallyOBSESSED rated the episode 3 out of 5. He felt that the episode was "not a strong entry to the series", noting that "the love story between Bob and Selma never seems to play as well as it should". Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide remarked that later episodes of The Simpsons seasons were typically of lesser quality than episodes that appeared earlier in a season because of "general tiredness and the pressure of creating so many programs". However, he found that "Black Widower" was an exception, noting that most episodes featuring Sideshow Bob rarely disappoint. Hock Guan Teh of DVD Town applauded Grammer's performance as Sideshow Bob in the episode, saying he could not "get over Sideshow Bob´s evil and conniving tone of voice, all delivered in a pseudo-Anglophile accent".
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- Silverman, David (2003). The Simpsons season 3 DVD commentary for the episode "Black Widower" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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- Grammer, Kelsey (2006). The Simpsons season 8 DVD commentary for the episode "Brother From Another Series" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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- Gibron, Bill (2003-12-15). "The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2009-07-29.
- Meyers, Nate (2004-06-23). "The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season". digitallyOBSESSED. Retrieved 2009-07-29.
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- "Black Widower" at The Simpsons.com
- "Black Widower" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Black Widower" at the Internet Movie Database
- "Black Widower" at TV.com