Welcome to the only episode of Futurama that I have repeatedly used to teach a math lesson.
Fry (Billy West) is sick of being broke after he can’t afford a nice pair of underwear. At the same time, Bender (John DiMaggio) gets arrested. To pay his bail, Fry decides to see if his bank account is still open, remembering that he had almost a dollar in it. After entering his PIN, Fry finds out that, over the last millennium, his $0.93 has grown to $4.3 Billion. Now that he’s rich, Fry goes on a spending spree trying to acquire as much nostalgia from his home millennium as possible, but ends up driving his friends away.
During an auction, Fry buys the last known container of anchovies on Earth, something that angers evil industrialist Mom (Tress MacNeille) because she believes it to be part of a clever plan to corner the robot oil industry. She sends her three Stooge sons Walt, Larry, and Igner (Maurice LaMarche, David Herman, DiMaggio) to steal either the anchovies or his money. They convince Fry he’s still in 1999, causing him to reveal his PIN. Now broke again, Fry reveals he still has the anchovies. However, he refuses Mom’s offer to buy them, instead choosing to share them with his friends. Naturally, everyone hates them except Zoidberg (West).
Okay, this is another example of Futurama taking a traditional premise and messing around with it within their unique setting. This is the rags-to-riches-to-rags story where the nouveau riche character suddenly loses interest in everything in their prior life, realizes how terrible it would be to lose their past friends, then loses their money to reset the status quo. It’s a sitcom standard. Hell, I remember a Gilligan’s Island episode that has that same arc, except with imagined wealth. But, kudos to the math-loving writers of Futurama (something that will come up again), they found a semi-practical way to give Fry the money and a completely ridiculous way for him to lose it.
Fry even makes the lesson explicit when he says that he finally found what he needs to be happy and “it’s not friends, it’s things.” Bender even humorously points out that he IS a thing. But, rather than it being the loss of his money that makes Fry realize he was wrong, it’s actually thinking he’s back in the 20th Century and that Leela (Katey Sagal) and Bender were never real in the first place. It’s a nice twist, because it means that Fry probably would have learned the lesson even if he’d kept the money. If it was just that he was forced back into his old life and learned it, then it’d feel disingenuous, because he didn’t have other options.
The idea that a renewable resource could threaten an industrialist’s monopoly is also not exactly new, but this one is pretty damned funny. I love that Mom already has figured out that the easiest way to harvest anchovy oil isn’t by recreating anchovies, but by putting the oil-making gene in a bunch of third-world kids. However, she doesn’t intend to do that, because it would stop her from being able to constantly sell her own oil. It’s like the argument people give for why there’s not a cure for diabetes: It’s not that it can’t be made, it’s that companies don’t want to cure something they can sell tons of treatments for. This idea is actually stupid, of course, since the first company to come up with the cure could patent it and make insurmountable profits selling the cure, which they would do because, otherwise, someone else could develop it and do the same. However, since Mom is the only robot oil manufacturer, the plan actually makes sense for her.
Mom and her Stooge sons
For the record, I’m not criticizing them for re-using old ideas, I’m giving them credit for making old ideas work in original ways.
Btw, if you care about doing the math on Fry’s money using the compound interest equation, you find out that the numbers actually do work out if Fry’s account compounded annually. In fact, when I’ve taught compound interest, this is my go-to example to work through, since people tend to like pop-culture-based lessons more. I’ve also had to watch a lot of students get disappointed when I inform them that banks have safeguards in place to prevent people or businesses from doing this kind of thing. As if a lot of them were going to be cryogenically frozen. In any case, I appreciate that they at least made the numbers work. However, I cruelly have made students calculate the purchasing power of that $4.3 Billion if inflation is 3%, something that makes it worth much less than a penny, because inflation ruins everything.
It’s pretty easy in this one. It’s the Petridge Farm ad. It’s short, and it’s a play on Pepperidge Farm, and I think this joke was just the right amount of ahead of its time. It’s not shown, but you hear the ad as:
Do you remember a time when chocolate chip cookies came fresh from the oven? Petridge Farm remembers.
Do you remember a time when women couldn’t vote and certain folk weren’t allowed on golf courses? Petridge Farm remembers.
At the time this aired, there wasn’t as much of a cultural recognition of how much we whitewash our past, because it was the ‘90s and it felt like everything was going up. But, in the last few years, we’ve really had a lot of discussion about how much the US, and people in general, tend to romanticize the past or forget about all the people that were getting the short-end of the stick back then, instead idealizing it as a time where everything was just magical and people were better, despite all of the statistics. Well, this joke just cuts out all the pretense and reminds us that what people who want the past really want is a time when other people were suppressed. It’s not that life was easier, it’s that life was easier for some people, because it was harder for others. And the companies that market to that nostalgia are contributing to that. South Park would later do this idea in a more complex way with their Memberberries in Season 20.
Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.
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NEXT – Episode 7: My Three Suns
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