I think this is the first episode that doesn’t introduce a major recurring character. However, it does give us Earth’s favorite pastime, Blernsball!
Changing up the format. Synopsis here, then analysis, then if you want the annotated summary, click on the link at the bottom.
Bender, Fry, and Leela (John DiMaggio, Billy West, Katey Sagal) are sent to make a delivery on Chapek 9, a planet populated entirely by human-hating robots. Bender is captured by locals for knowing humans, so Fry and Leela go to rescue him. However, Bender has lied to the population and become a hero to the other robots. Fry and Leela are then captured, tried for being human, and sentenced, but it is revealed that their trial was just a show for the people and that the planet is actually controlled by Robot Elders, who use humans as scapegoats for their terrible leadership. The trio escape and complete their delivery, giving precious lug nuts to the robots, presumably ending all of their hatred of humans… until the next time we see the planet.
This episode is about discrimination. Isn’t that cheerful? I mean, the title is even a parody of Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy, an album that was created to address a very specific version of race theory, involving white supremacy and its potential counterpart black supremacy.
It’s a pretty clear theme, however, the message is a little more… let’s go with palatably relayed… by having it be human and robot relations. Granted, much like in Zootopia, the analogy starts to fall apart under scrutiny, but at least, within this episode, that’s what they’re going for. From Bender talking about “Robot League Blernsball” to his quoting “Ol’ Man River” to his complaints about robot exploitation, he’s evoking themes of a past discrimination in the real world.
Of course, Bender doesn’t actually care about any of those things. He’s literally just using them as an excuse to avoid doing work under the guise of protest. He even comes up with the holiday of “Robanukah” to take two weeks off, which is, apparently, the third holiday he’s made up since coming to work with Planet Express.
However, once they get to Chapek 9, the situation is reversed, with robots now being the ones who are discriminating against humans. The difference is that, while there is actually a justification for why humans might not let robots play Blernsball (like, the part where the pitcher is just a modified howitzer), the robots actually have to come up with completely illogical reasons to hate humans, like having propaganda films where humans eat robots or suck their oil out and turn them into humans. It’s like the insane claims that the Nazis made about the Jews or those made about black people by white supremacists. You’d have to be an idiot to believe them, but, unfortunately, a lot of people believed them.
Probably the best part of the episode, and the point they were actually trying to make, comes from the revelation that the robotic discrimination isn’t actually based on robot-human relations, but instead has been cultivated by a ruling class as a way to avoid ever having to be held accountable for their terrible leadership. Which, lets be honest, has been the history of a lot of racism/nationalism/whateverism. It’s really easy to get away with being a shitty leader if you can just tell everyone else it’s the fault of the Jews or the Swiss or Ted Nugent fans. Sure, it’s going to require you to make some stuff up, like that they hoard gold causing inflation or that they eat lug nuts causing a shortage. Sure, you have to suffer, but, in exchange, they’re protecting you from those monstrous humans.
By having humans be the cause of dread and anguish for Chapek 9, the episode also drives home the truth that discrimination is derived from fear. Anyone who interacts with humans for an extended period knows that, while some of them are crappy, most of them are harmless. Well, Mostly Harmless. However, since the Robot Elders control all of the media within the planet and eliminate contact with outsiders, there’s almost no way for the robots to understand how foolish their misconceptions sound.
So, it’s not perfect, but its an entertaining way of pointing out that most discrimination is actually used as a deflection by the powerful so that people don’t notice that they usually have a much more immediate cause of their problems.
Come on, you laughed. Admit it.
Is it complicated? No. Is it dated? Oh yeah. But if you sat through the two decades of those ads being everywhere, then you know this was kind of the response you always wanted. Btw, the first got milk ad, featuring the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton museum curator, was directed by Michael “I’m not going to try harder if you keep paying me not to” Bay. Not every joke I love in this show requires a long explanation.
But, since it was short, back-up joke: When Fry and Leela are identified, we hear two robots say “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” and “Get the Humanoid! Get the Intruder!” These are from the game Berzerk. This game is famous for three reasons: First for having speech, all the way back in 1980, despite each word costing developers $1000. Second is Evil Otto, the villain who took the form of a smiley face, famous for being literally unkillable. Third is that in October 1982, Peter Burkowski played Berzerk for 15 minutes, made the high score list twice, then dropped dead of a heart attack at 18 years old. This is one of the only games to have ever been claimed as a cause of death to a human. Thus, it’s perfect for dialogue on a planet filled with human-killing robots.
See you next week, Meatbags.
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The cold open features Fry (Billy West) remarking to Leela (Katey Sagal) that while you’re in space, entire planets can seem insignificant, only for the planet to be fly-sized and hit the windshield. Leela uses the wipers to get rid of it.
At Madison Cube Garden, most of the Planet Express staff is watching a game of Blernsball, a jazzed-up version of baseball. To be fair, the rules for the game are ludicrous and indecipherable, but I’d watch the hell out of it if it were real. During the game, Bender (John DiMaggio) complains about the fact that there are no robot players or managers. Hermes (Phil LaMarr) calls the Professor (West) via hologram, informing them that they have a delivery to make. At the office, Bender complains that humans think of robots just as machines built to make their lives easier (Fry: Well, aren’t they?). He’s interrupted by the Professor telling them that they have to make a delivery to Chapek 9 (named after Karel Čapek, the man who coined the term “robot”) a planet that is filled with human-hating robots. Bender complains that it’s Robanukah (which, along with Robanza and Robamadan, makes it obvious that Bender doesn’t make up fake Christian holidays for some reason) and thus he can’t work, but Hermes forces him anyway.
When Bender leaves for the delivery, Fry and Leela set up a fake Robanukah celebration to make him feel appreciated, but they receive a call from him telling them that the other robots have found out he works with humans and he is then pulled off the line. Fry and Leela put on terrible costumes to infiltrate the planet. At the gates of the robot city, they are given the test of humanity: Which do you prefer: A) A puppy? B) A pretty flower from your sweetie or C) A large properly formatted data file? It turns out the answer is anything that isn’t a puppy because it is the “bad kind” of puppy. They pass.
They start searching for Bender but are identified as humans when Leela sneezes (after Fry managed to cover-up taking a leak). They hide in a movie theater playing a horror film (“It Came From Planet Earth!”) about humans eating robots. Afterwards, they sneak out in the crowd and finally find Bender, who has told everyone he is a mass-murderer of humans and become a local hero. After the daily human hunt, they meet up with Bender but are caught by the Mayor (David Herman). They’re put on trial and sentenced to doing repetitive tasks and calculations. However, they’re then dropped into a pit and they meet the Robot Elders (West, Maurice LaMarche, Herman, DiMaggio). The Elders are a group of older robots who secretly run the society. They bring in Bender to execute the pair, but he refuses.
Bender tells the Elders that most humans are no threat to robots. Surprisingly, they respond that they already know that, they just use humans as scapegoats for their incompetent leadership and corruption. Fry then tells them that he’s going to breathe fire, something he saw in the human horror film, which buys them enough time to escape while the Elders try to remember if fire-breathing is real or propaganda. They are pursued onto the ship, but deliver the package, which, apparently, consists of lug nuts, ending the planet’s shortage and causing the population to praise humans.