An episode of television about people being obsessed with episodes of television. How meta.
Back in the 90s (I was in a very famous TV show… wait, different series), Fry (Billy West) delivered a pizza to a Fox Network affiliate but spilled beer over the controls, disrupting Fox’s broadcast of Single Female Lawyer. One thousand-ish years later on the planet Omicron Persei 8, the Ruler of the planet, Lrr (Maurice LaMarche), is watching the broadcast when it gets interrupted, enraging him. He proceeds to bring a fleet of flying saucers to destroy many of Earth’s monuments (which are conveniently now located on a beach in New New York, courtesy of a supervillain Governor).
When he demands “McNeal,” the lead character from Single Female Lawyer, Earth President McNeal (West) misunderstands and believes they want him. As such, he orders an army to be drafted into the Earth defense force led by Zapp Brannigan (West). Fry, Leela (Katey Sagal), and a forcibly-reprogrammed Bender (John DiMaggio) all join the defense force; unfortunately, they are immediately overwhelmed (after they waste their efforts destroying the Hubble telescope). After Zapp kidnaps and delivers President McNeal, Lrr reveals that he means the TV character and threatens to destroy the Earth.
It’s revealed that there are no surviving copies of the series. Fry, being the only person who knows anything about the show, tries to create an ending to the episode he destroyed, using the Planet Express crew as the cast. Unfortunately, Fry only wrote two pages, forcing Leela to improvise by proposing marriage to the “Judge” Professor Farnsworth (West), something that angers Lrrr. Fry correctly tells her that TV audiences just want the same crap they’ve seen a thousand times before, resulting in her finishing the episode with a contrived monologue that puts the series back at its status quo. Lrrr agrees not to destroy the Earth and Fry tells everyone that the key to television is that the show always ends with everything back to normal. The show then pans out to show global destruction… which will be undone before the next episode.
Futurama decided to spend an episode mocking people who make and watch formulaic and unchallenging television, like a certain show that was on Fox for 5 years and managed to win 2 Golden Globes and an Emmy for best series. Not that I have anything against formulaic television (I liked House), but Ally McBeal had a lot of problems without even getting into the part where the lead character was an attorney who was terrible at lawyering. Still, it got awards and had a solid audience share, even if a lot of the viewers didn’t seem to remember much about the show but “short skirts” and “Robert Downey, Jr. getting arrested.”
I have to admit I think it’s pretty ballsy for the show to take shots at other shows for being repetitive and unchallenging this early in the run but, for the most part, I think Futurama did at least try not to be overly formulaic or predictable, even if a lot of their material came from loosely parodying other properties.
Lrrr and his wife, Nd-Nd (Tress MacNeille), are among the most frequently recurring aliens, usually representing a stereotypical dysfunctional sitcom marriage combined with the traditional alien invaders. It’s a weird combination that somehow always seems to work, since Lrrr being an overaggressive and insensitive husband always makes it seem more natural that he’s also the kind of being whose first response to a problem is to invade the planet.
Overall, I like this episode okay, even if it didn’t age super well after nearly 20 years of Ally McBeal being off the air. While it’s more common nowadays to lampoon sitcom structure (BoJack Horseman literally runs on it), this episode was a little bit ahead of that particular trend, so… bonus points of that.
There aren’t any jokes in this episode that really stand out, although I do like the end of the fake episode of Single Female Lawyer. Hermes (Phil LaMarr) is playing the foreman of the jury in Jenny McNeal’s trial for jury tampering by having an affair with the judge and previous jury. As a cap for the episode, he gives the verdict:
We find the Defendant… vulnerable yet spunky!
That’s probably exactly what the producers wrote as character motivation for Callista Flockheart at the beginning of every episode of Ally McBeal. Because characterization was not a strength on that show.
Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.
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