Calculon is back from the dead just in time to ruin all of acting.
It’s been a year since Calculon (Maurice LaMarche) killed himself trying to win an acting contest in “The Thief of Baghead.” Fry (Billy West) and Bender (John DiMaggio) hate his replacement on the show All My Circuits, so they decide to bring Calculon back from the dead. Bender exhumes his body and the pair get Calculon’s soul back from the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta), who has been driven nuts by Calculon’s presence. The Professor (West) and the cast bring him back successfully, but Calculon finds that he has not been missed. In fact, the network doesn’t want him back on television. He tries to win the audiences back by performing a one-man show, but it fails horribly. Depressed, Calculon decides to give up acting.
As he starts his new life of normality, he reflects humbly upon his mistakes and his delivery actually moves Leela (Katey Sagal), who hates his acting normally, to tears. She realizes that Calculon is showing real emotion for the first time, rather than his hammy overacting, and she tells him that if he could keep this going, he could actually be a great actor. He auditions for a bit part on the show, which turns out to be his old role. On set, Calculon quickly goes back to his old hammy ways, sabotaging a scene in which he is supposed to kill himself. Leela, enraged, yells at him and, depressed again, Calculon gives a moving and sincere performance, revealing his identity, before the roof collapses and kills him again. He is remembered now as a great actor, but is now torturing the robot damned with his ego again.
This episode mostly feels unnecessary. Calculon had a funny send-off that highlighted the character’s ironic inability to act and this episode just kind of does that again. However, it also undoes the previous joke that Calculon was actually a respected actor and a success despite his complete lack of talent. Apparently now that he’s dead almost everyone just decides immediately that he was a crappy actor. It just kind of feels forced.
The thing that this episode does well, though, is the first act when they’re resurrecting Calculon. The Professor’s “process” for bringing Calculon back is hilariously depicted as a clear Satanic ritual, including sacrificing a goat, playing a recording backwards (which says “rise in the name of Satan”), and forming a pentagram. Despite this, the Professor constantly defends that it is purely scientific, even as the evidence that it’s basically insane mysticism mounts.
Overall, aside from a few moments, it’s just not a great episode.
Calculon’s one-man show is called HAL 9000 and is a clear parody of the play Mark Twain Tonight. It combines the life of Mark Twain with the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, including a hilarious emotional breakdown to the tune of “Bicycle Built for Two.” The reason I really love this joke is because the author of Mark Twain Tonight, and the person who performed it for 60 years, was the great Hal Holbrook, meaning this is HAL Holbrook 9000.
Bender dies and his spirit seeks revenge. Also, Ghostbusters.
On Parade Day (the day with all the parades), Fry (Billy West) dives in front of a runaway float and saves a human, letting a robot die in the process. Bender (John DiMaggio) yells at him because this act indicates that Fry values human life more than robot life, something Fry admits is true. Bender threatens to kill himself, but the crew point out that he regularly says that and never does it. When he goes to the suicide booth, it turns out that the booth is Lynn (Tress MacNeille), one of Bender’s exes. Lynn kills Bender, leading the crew to believe that he really did commit suicide.
Unbeknownst to them, Bender is now a ghost. He doesn’t realize it at first, until the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta) tells him he’s dead and haunting the computational cloud. The Robot Devil offers Bender a deal: scare Fry to death and Bender gets to live again. If he fails, then he spends eternity in hell. Bender discovers that, although Fry can’t see him, he can possess technology and use it to scare Fry. The crew don’t believe Fry until Bender takes control of Leela’s (Katey Sagal) wristlojackimator. They call in the robot Gypsy (MacNeille), who tells them that a robot ghost is haunting them. The Reverend Preacherbot (Phil LaMarr) is called in to banish the ghost, which ends up working by providing Fry with a “sacramental firewall” that keeps Bender 20 feet away. Bender pushes through the firewall and possesses it, using the software to project horrifying images onto Fry, causing him to have a heart attack.
Bender returns to the Robot Devil to collect, but it turns out Fry is still alive. Fry is sent to the Amish Homeworld, where electronics are forbidden, so that he won’t get shocked again. As Bender tries to kill him one last time, Fry laments that he misses Bender and that he now respects robot life. So, Bender stops trying to kill Fry and follows him to the Amish Homeworld to watch over him. When the rest of the crew comes to visit Fry, the Robot Devil also comes to visit. He tricks Bender into scaring some oxen, which causes a giant dome to roll towards Fry. Bender possesses the Robot Devil and uses his body to save Fry. This leads Fry to head home and Bender to head to Robot Heaven. However, Bender annoys Robot God into kicking him back into his body.
I love almost any episode with the Robot Devil and this is no exception, despite how little he actually appears in this one. The idea that the Robot Devil bears a grudge against Fry for taking his hands in “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” is amusing because it’s so petty. He’s literally got an entire underworld to run, but he also still complains about how his hands smell like candy corn because of Fry. The episode also takes a bunch of shots at some of his previous appearances, mostly his tendency to punctuate everything with a song. This time he does make it much more clear that the songs themselves are actually a big part of the torment of Robot Hell, including the fact that he’s rehearsing the exact song that he played for Bender in his debut episode. Admittedly, he does manage to rhyme pyrrhic later when improvising, so he clearly has a lot of talent.
The concept of a robot afterlife has long been played with in the show, but this is the first time that we consider the ramifications of Artificial Intelligence existing as data outside of a physical body. I think this is a fun reflection of how much technology developed during the run of this show, because when the show started cloud computing had only been in its infancy, and wasn’t really commercially viable until after the show was cancelled the first time. However, by the time this episode was produced in 2010, Amazon and Google had both started to offer cloud computing services. If computer science were to advance to a certain point, then it is possible that the cloud could eventually process, transmit, and store an amount of data that is greater than the sum total of a human, or artificial, consciousness. Maybe it is inevitable that, like Bender in this episode, we’ll find out that we can create afterlives for our own consciousness. Am I saying this episode is a prequel to Black Mirror’s “San Junipero?” Yes, yes I am.
There are a number of other fun future touches in this episode that round it out. I think it’s hilarious that the Amish eventually move off-planet in order to maintain their lifestyle, but that, due to the passage of time, they still end up advancing technologically. Rather than just barns, they now live in geodesic domes. There’s a day dedicated solely to parades because there are too many holidays, which makes sense when you consider that Earth has been unified for hundreds of years. Also, this episode only makes sense because we learned in “Lethal Inspection” that Bender is mortal.
Overall, I think this is one of the better episodes of Season 6.
This one is going to hurt a bit. I think my favorite joke is when Hermes is going to call someone to “bust” the ghost of Bender. When asked “who you gonna call,” he starts to say Ghostbusters, but is interrupted by a voice that tells him that the number he is dialing has been lame since 1989. Why 1989? Well, I think there are three reasons: First, that’s the year that Ghostbusters II came out and, let’s be fair, that movie is not as good as the first. While I don’t think it’s a bad movie, it still represents a controversial sequel to an amazing film. Second, in 1989, Ghostbusters was supposed to release a game on the Atari 2600. This ended up being so late in the Atari cycle that it was never actually put out, a sign that the franchise was behind the times. Last, Arsenio Hall stopped voicing Winston on The Real Ghostbusters in 1988, so I think we can agree that was when the cool started to leave that show and therefore the franchise. Still, I do love the hell out of the original.
Turns out there’s life outside the universe and it is horny.
I admit this movie isn’t my favorite, but I do love David Cross as Yivo. The idea of another dimension occupied by only a single sentient lifeform isn’t unique to Futurama, but I think the idea of that life-form being super-horny for our universe is. You usually don’t associate galaxy-sized lifeforms from other dimensions with being attracted to normal life forms. It’s like if Cthulhu was featured in a porno… it’s weird on a lot of levels. That’s from a guy who reviewed Call Girl of Cthulhu, too.
The plotline of Fry and Colleen is really odd to me. First, why would she not tell Fry she was poly before asking him to move in? Second, she’s still dating new people, but none of her boyfriends appear to be. Are they open or is it just open for her? Third, she’s the Police Chief, but in New York the head of the police is the Commissioner who is appointed by the mayor. The chief of any department is the senior sworn member. Am I being pedantic on that one? Yes, but it still bothered me.
Overall, I do still think the movie has funny moments, but not a ton of them.
Bender goes to see the Robot Devil and asks for an army of the damned. The Robot Devil agrees, but only if Bender is willing to give the Devil Bender’s first-born son. Bender immediately goes to see his child. His son is so excited to see him and clearly just wants a hug. This puts him in Bender’s arms, which allows him to throw his son into a pit in Robot Hell. The Robot Devil responds with:
Wow! That was pretty brutal even by my standards.
A close second is the reveal that Kif’s planet’s term for wife, “fonfon ru” translates to “one who does not sleep with my superior officer.” That’s just so bizarrely specific.
Bender (John DiMaggio) wrecked the universe in the last movie, but apparently there’s just a hole in time and space now. It’s theorized that it’s a hole to another dimension, but no one is sure, so life moves on. Fry (Billy West) has met a new girl named Colleen (Britanny Murphy (R.I.P.)) who Leela (Katey Sagal) surprisingly gets along with. Bender, however, becomes upset when Fry announces he’s moving in with her. Amy (Lauren Tom) has agreed to marry Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche) and the ceremony ends up going okay.
The Professor (West), who has been monitoring the “anomaly,” proposes a team go to explore it, but his rival, Dr. Wernstrom (David Herman), wants to spend his team. They settle this in the top way of scientists: Deathball. Planet Express wins, but it’s revealed that one of the other team members is also dating Colleen, who has five boyfriends. Fry still moves in with her and her other four boyfriends, but quickly breaks up with her over the awkward situation. The crew goes to check the anomaly and Bender is sent to make contact, resulting in him touching the space-time hole with his ass. This causes a massive energy discharge that injures Bender.
Bender gets a visit from Calculon (LaMarche) at the hospital and becomes his stalker. Farnsworth and Wernstrom combine their minds to discover what the anomaly is made of, determining it to have a field that prevents any electrical devices from entering but not living matter. They are about to head to the anomaly again, but President Nixon (West) sends Zapp Brannigan (West) instead. Wernstrom and Farnsworth protest and are arrested by Colleen, the chief of police. Upon seeing her again, Fry becomes depressed and stows away on Zapp’s ship to find a place to be alone. Meanwhile, Bender becomes a member of the League of Robots, a secret organization that mostly drinks while complaining about Robot suffering. Kif is killed by Zapp trying to blow up the anomaly while Fry walks through it. Wernstrom and Farnsworth confirm that the anomaly is a portal to another dimension as Fry encounters a giant tentacled being.
Tentacles begin to cross through the anomaly and attack every living thing in the universe. Once the tentacle-mass reaches Earth it quickly gets through all of the defenses. Fry appears, connected to the tentacle, and announces that he discovered the meaning of life: To love the Tentacle. The crew members flee and try to protect themselves from being connected to the tentacle, but eventually only Amy, Leela, and Zapp are unaffected. They appeal to Bender (as robots are unaffected by the tentacle) for help. Bender ends up helping them, but it reveals him as a human sympathizer to other robots. Meanwhile, Fry establishes a church to worship the tentacle and free love. After Zapp convinces a grieving Amy to sleep with him, they get caught by the tentacle, leaving only Leela free.
Fry reveals that the tentacled creature is named Yivo (David Cross) and that shkle (the preferred gender pronoun because Yivo is all genders) loves the universe. Leela then breaks into the church and reveals that the tentacles are “gentacles,” and that Yivo is having sex with everyone in the universe at once. Everyone turns on Yivo and rejects the tentacles, even Fry. Yivo admits that shkle just wanted to bang the universe, but now shkle wants to love everyone truly. To show shkler power, Yivo resurrects Kif, who promptly dumps Amy for sleeping with Zapp. Yivo asks out everyone in the universe and they all go on a date at the same time. The universe is about to dump Yivo, but Yivo asks the universe to move in with shkler. Bender wants to go, but can’t, since robots can’t touch Yivo. Bender instead decides to take over Earth and sells his first-born son to the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta) for an army. However, as he approaches, everyone in the universe leaves for Yivo. Bender now feels lonely without his friends.
Yivo makes everyone promise not to talk to Earth, but Fry sends a letter anyway. Bender receives it and uses it as a justification to attack Yivo. Bender’s army drags Yivo into their universe and attacks him with Fry’s letter, which, being made of Yivo, can hurt Yivo. Yivo realizes Fry betrayed shkler and dumps the universe… except for Colleen. Life returns to normal as the anomaly disappears.
Futurama’s original finale involves Fry making a deal with the Robot Devil.
Fry (Billy West) has been learning to play the holophonor since he found out Leela (Katey Sagal) finds musicians irresistible. Bender (John DiMaggio) attends his recital only for Fry to fail miserably. Fry insists that he has beautiful music in his head, but his teacher says he has “stupid fingers.” Fry and Bender head to Robot Hell to make a deal with the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta). The Robot Devil offers to replace Fry’s human hands with a random robot’s hands so he can play the holophonor. He spins the wheel which lands on Bender… before clicking one more and landing on the Robot Devil himself. Unable to back out of a deal, the Robot Devil switches hands with Fry.
With his new hands, Fry quickly masters the holophonor and becomes a hit musician complete with records and live performances. Leela is successfully impressed by his music. The Robot Devil tries to convince him to give his hands back, but Fry refuses. The Hedonismbot (Maurice LaMarche) commissions Fry to write an opera, which he agrees to do if he can write it about Leela. As Fry works on it, he insists that Leela not listen to it until he’s done. The Robot Devil enacts his “ridiculously circuitous plan” to get his hands back and trades Bender an airhorn in exchange for his crotch-plate, which leads Bender to accidentally deafen Leela the day before the Opera premieres.
Fry’s Opera opens, but Leela refuses to let Fry know that she can’t hear. The First Act of the Opera deals with Leela’s past and is heralded as a triumph. At intermission, Leela says she would do anything to hear the rest of the Opera, so the Robot Devil offers to trade her robotic ears for her hands. She refuses, so he asks for just one hand. She agrees and he gives her robot ears. He tells her that he will take her hand later, allowing her to hear the rest of the Opera. During the Second Act, Fry is portraying the Robot Devil’s deal from the beginning of the episode, which offends the Robot Devil. He jumps onstage and demands his hands back or else he’ll take Leela’s hand… in marriage. Fry agrees and gives the Devil back his hands, but is unable to complete the Opera with his old hands. As the audience leaves, Leela stays and asks Fry to keep playing, saying that she wants to hear how it ends. Fry manages to play an image of Fry and Leela kissing and walking away together.
Futurama has an unusual affinity for doing solid finales. They were essentially “cancelled” on 4 occasions and on each of them they managed to deliver a touching finale that focused on the primary relationship of the show: Fry and Leela. This was the first and, in many ways, the least concrete, but it still gave us a beautiful send-off.
The idea of Fry becoming a musician was set up in the episode in which he got brain worms from a sandwich, something that is referenced in this episode. Leela has repeatedly mentioned her affinity for musicians, such as her ex-boyfriend Sean, so this was a great way for Fry to finally impress her. However, unlike the brain worm episode where Leela was only impressed by Fry when he could play an instrument well, here, Leela finally realizes that what she loved was the beauty in Fry’s soul that came out through his music. Even though he can’t play properly with normal hands, she still sees that beauty.
This also is one of the funnier episodes in the series run and contains several of its most memorable lines, including starting the “Your XXX is bad and you should feel bad” meme featuring Zoidberg. I’ve also seen the occasional meme of Bender reciting the definition of irony. I’m surprised that Bender’s line “If you don’t take this offer right now I will lose all respect for you and punch you” didn’t get similarly meme’d. I guess it’s too long, but I use it frequently when dealing with people. Unrelated, I have a law degree.
Overall, just a fantastic episode and a great way to end the show. Of course, next week I’ll have to start on the four Futurama movies that ended up reviving the franchise for essentially the same number of episodes as already aired. Meaning I only just got past halfway with this.
WHY COULDN’T YOU GUYS HAVE VOTED FOR WESTWORLD???
I really do quote this episode frequently so it’s hard for me to pick. Here’s the top three:
3. The Devil’s objection to the opera.
Upon seeing his character call himself “stupider” onstage, the Robot Devil interrupts the Opera by saying “Your lyrics lack subtlety. You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel. That makes me feel angry.” Aside from showing a hilarious lack of self-awareness, this is the opposite of how most operas work. Usually characters not only tell you how they’re feeling, they sing a solo about their rage or affection.
2. Bender defines irony
At multiple points during the episode the Robot Devil misuses the term ironic only for Bender to correct him. Then, when the Robot Devil points out that he bargained for Leela’s hand but is using it as an expression of “hand in marriage,” Bender reads from the dictionary: “The use of words expressing something other than their literal intention… Now that is ‘irony’.” Admittedly, Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette had been out for a while, so everyone had already had a fight about the definition of ironic, but I still find this a fun gag.
Look, just because it’s popular doesn’t mean I don’t find it hilarious. After Fry loses his hands, he says that he can’t continue the Opera. Zoidberg responds with “Yes you can! The beauty was in your heart, not your hands.” Fry then attempts to play, poorly, and Zoidberg immediately turns on him, shouting “The music’s bad and you should feel bad.” It’s probably the best representation of an audience at any open-mic night I’ve ever been to. They’ll encourage you to try, then destroy your self-esteem.
Rick and Morty deal with an infestation of memory-altering parasites that take the form of wacky sitcom characters.
Rick (Justin Roiland) returns home to the family to find Jerry’s (Chris Parnell) goofy older brother “Uncle Steve” (Tony Barbieri) at the table. Rick then shoots Steve, who is revealed to be an alien parasite that manipulates people’s memories. Rick warns that there are probably more of them and that they take on the role of wacky, zany characters. He’s supported by Mr. Poopybutthole (Roiland), a wacky, zany character who is now in the opening credits.
Rick locks the house down, writes down that there are only 6 people in the apartment, and puts the note on the wall, but soon a number of characters start appearing, including a Mr. Belvedere-style butler named Mr. Beauregard (Barbieri), Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin Michael Richardson), and Summer’s (Spencer Grammer) magical ballerina lamb friend Tinkles (Tara Strong). All of the characters are introduced through “flashbacks” that resemble Family Guy cutaway gags. Rick and the Smith family soon are uncertain who is real, because, although the new characters are wacky and zany, so are the actual members of the Sanchez-Smith family.
Eventually, Rick is threatening to shoot everyone and the parasites convince Morty (Roiland), Beth (Sarah Chalke), and Summer that Rick is a parasite… while also convincing Jerry that he’s a parasite and in a secret gay relationship with another parasite named Sleepy Gary (Matt Walsh). Morty is selected to execute Rick, but Morty realizes that the parasites cannot implant bad memories into people’s heads and shoots several of the parasites. Together, Rick, Morty, and the family go through the house, killing all of the parasites until only the family and Mr. Poopybutthole are left. Back at dinner, Beth shoots Mr. Poopybutthole who is revealed to not be a parasite. She tries to apologize at the hospital, but he declines to talk to her, saying only that he’s sorry that she doesn’t have any bad memories of him.
This episode is basically a hilarious parody of so many sitcom tropes at the same time that it almost matches the number of wacky characters. The idea that failing shows add off-kilter new characters to try and bring back some energy to the series is so old that The Simpsons did an episode about it featuring Homer (Dan Castellaneta) playing a new Itchy-and-Scratchy character called Poochie while also having a new “rad teen” character living in their house. That was in 1997. For the most part, this trope has been declining quite a bit in the past twenty years specifically because people started mocking it so ruthlessly. Still, this episode takes it and combines it with the “family member that has not previously been referenced” trope, but makes it into a sadistic infiltration plot by these shapeshifting, memory-altering parasites.
It presents each of the parasites in a cutaway style much like Family Guy tends to use, which may be a shot at how modern shows always tend to play loose with continuity for the sake of making gags. Or maybe it was just funnier that way. Also, the characters get progressively more unconventional as the show goes on, following the typical trend on television writing that each character introduced tends to be incrementally crazier or more abnormal than the previous one, similar to “Flanderization.” We start off with the “goofy brother,” move to the stereotype cousin, and slowly continue until we have a Baby Wizard, a photography Raptor, and a Ghost in a Jar. The idea that the only way to find the “real” people is by finding terrible memories might be a shot at other shows for trying to keep sanitized backstories as opposed to Rick and Morty‘s gritty humor.
Mr. Poopybutthole being real is one of the best set-ups in television. It’s not the reveal itself. It’s HOW they decided to reveal it. It’s such a perfectly Rick and Morty tone shift that works so well because it’s a subversion of a subversion. The basic joke throughout the whole thing was that Mr. Poopybutthole was clearly an alien shapeshifter that had entered the show, while the twist is that he actually isn’t. This is even foreshadowed by the fact that he’s in the opening sequence, many of which are “bad memories” which the parasites can’t generate or alter. But the show then decides to take the shooting seriously, rather than as a comical error. They blow past any attempt to make a joke out of it and treat it like a REAL SHOOTING, despite the fact that, not 2 minutes beforehand, we’d been laughing at the ways that the Smith-Sanchez family was eliminating all of the wacky shapeshifters. So, even if you saw the twist coming, you almost certainly didn’t see how it would play out. It’s something many shows would never even consider, let alone pull off this well.
Also, can we just acknowledge that so many of the parasites are just inherently funny? Pencilvestyr? Reverse giraffe (voiced by Keith Freakin’ David)? Hamurai? Amish Cyborg? These are such great puns and sight gags. Their quips are also hilarious, including Frankenstein’s Monster’s line “I was on the wrong side of the pitchfork on this one.” The subplot where the Sleepy Gary parasite not only makes himself Beth’s husband and the parents of Morty and Summer but also makes himself Jerry’s secret lover is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Well, I was going to do a theory about what Mr. Poopybutthole is, but unfortunately Dan Harmon has already addressed that issue, saying that Mr. Poopybutthole is just a higher form of the memory parasites, so evolved that he can break the fourth wall and put himself directly into the show’s history when he wants.
I already declined to address the popular theory that this episode, as well as the majority of “Mortynight Run,” follow a different Rick and Morty, since Dan Harmon also confirmed that the rocks in this episode are the same as the ones seen in that one and that they’re what carried the parasites.
Instead, I’m going to ask: Were the parasites the point?
So, we know that Rick has dealt with these parasites before, because he immediately recognizes what they are. He shoots “Uncle Steve” after only a few seconds, based on Jerry’s claim that he had been living there, but why was “shapeshifting memory-altering parasite” the first thing that Rick thought of? Because Rick had wanted the parasites. Think about it, Rick had brought that specific rock in from the garage, looking disappointed at it as he throws it away. When we first see him in Mortynight Run loading the car with rocks, he has a huge number, but he only throws away the one that had the parasites.
I think that Rick had brought the rock back not to harness the rocks (though that might have been a bonus), but because the rocks potentially were going to breed the parasites which he could then use to his advantage. After all, we know from the previous episode that Rick regularly captures and imprisons aliens for the purpose of exploiting them, and the ability to freely manipulate memories would be useful to anyone, particularly Rick. While in the garage, clearly, one or two of them hatched and escaped, with the first becoming “Uncle Steve.” Meanwhile, Rick determines that the rock is defective and throws it away, only to discover that the parasite inside it has escaped.
Am I saying that the only evidence I have for this is that Rick knows what the shapeshifting parasites are and that he looks disappointed when he chucks out the rock? No, it’s that he doesn’t wing Uncle Steve. When Rick shoots Cousin Nicky, the second parasite, he shoots him in the shoulder because he’s unsure he’s a parasite, but when Rick shoots Steve, it’s straight through the temple. Rick is absolutely sure that Steve is a parasite. Could it be that Rick just knows that Jerry doesn’t have a brother? Unlikely, as A) this isn’t Rick’s original Jerry so it could be a possibility even if the original didn’t and B) Rick routinely proves he knows almost nothing about Jerry’s life, including not knowing what decade Jerry was born in (despite him being roughly Beth’s age). Is it that Jerry says Steve has been staying there for a year? Well, that’s likely to be what clinched it, but do you really think that’s enough to make Rick risk executing a potential family member? It’s Rick, so it’s not impossible, but I still think it’s likely that something made him think that parasites were the likely source of the new brother.
LEAVING THE CORNER
Since most of Rick and Morty is based on humor within the framework of nihilism and existential dread, I shouldn’t be surprised that this episode about how memory is the only way to really define our existence that involves wacky characters is one of my favorites.
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
This episode introduces us to the intricacies of Robot religion, one of the funniest aspects of this show. Given that Robots should never have any of the issues of wondering about who created them or why, you’d think they wouldn’t need to create a religion, but they not only create it, they make an afterlife that is designed to resemble only the most artistic interpretations of hell.
*Note: I don’t have anything against Christianity. I do have things against certain interpretations of Christianity that this episode satirizes without naming. If you belong to one of these sects and don’t have a sense of humor about it, you might want to wait a week and read the review of the Titanic parody.
Fry (Billy West), Bender (John DiMaggio), and Leela (Katey Sagal) attend a concert of the disembodied Beastie Boys. Bender goes backstage and tries “jacking on,” which is something robots do to get high by giving themselves huge shots of electricity. Bender becomes addicted to this, hurting his friends and co-workers, until he ends up trying to get high on top of the Temple of the Church of Robotology, then falls through a skylight and ends up seeking salvation from the Preacherbot (Phil LaMarr).
Bender takes up Robotology, but becomes nearly insufferable to all of his friends. They decide that they prefer him as he was, rather than the ultra-pious person he has become, so they take him to Atlantic City and tempt him repeatedly with hookers, booze, gambling, and theft. He asks them to stop because he has inner peace, but Fry keeps encouraging him until he gives in and returns to his old ways. Unfortunately, it turns out that Robotology is more direct than many religions and, for sinning, Bender is abducted by the Robot Devil (Dan “I’m Homer F*cking Simpson” Castellaneta) and sent to be punished in Robot Hell to a musical number.
Fry and Leela make their way to New Jersey, where Robot Hell is located, and descend to rescue Bender. They find out that due to the “Fairness in Hell Act of 2275” anyone can challenge the Robot Devil to a fiddle contest and win back Bender’s soul as well as a golden fiddle. However, if they lose, they only win a silver fiddle and the Robot Devil will kill Fry. The Devil plays excellently, however, rather than play against him, Leela just beats him over the head and the trio escapes.
This is truly a textbook three-act structure. The first act is Bender’s addiction which could be a stand-alone story, the second is the rise and fall of his faith, and the last is his escape from perdition. A lot manages to happen in just 22 minutes through the use of a lot of quick dialogue and imagery shortcuts. I know I’ve said that having the “Most Plot” is not the equivalent of having the “Best Plot,” but managing to fit an entire Opera format into a half-hour is damned impressive, particularly since it also has musical numbers.
Robotology is one of the better digs at some specific churches that I’ve seen in fiction. The church doesn’t actually reflect upon the positive reward aspects promised by the Gospel in Christianity or helping their members aspire to be better people. Instead, it just threatens damnation upon anyone who commits a sin. It’s all stick, no carrot. They even adopt “resistor” as their symbol. Granted, with Robotology, this is actually pretty justified, since many robots can’t actually die (they just download into back-up units or drift around as programs). This means they don’t need a concept of a rewarding afterlife, only a punishment for transgression (though one episode suggests a robot heaven might exist); hence, the Robot Devil doesn’t need to wait for that pesky “dying” thing to collect his victims.
Bender’s addiction tale is so comically exaggerated, the episode makes a joke about it being over-the-top, then takes it up a notch. However, it doesn’t come off as too disrespectful of addiction, since Bender does seem to recognize that he has a problem. He sees all the trouble it causes himself and others, but he can’t stop jacking on. The fact that he eventually overcomes it by converting to religion is a nod both to the nature of most recovery programs in the US which stress finding a higher power to believe in and also a nod to the fact that Bender’s new obsession with his faith is less a genuine change of belief than just substituting one addiction for another.
The Robot Devil is amazing. He’s one of my favorite characters. He’s so melodramatic solely for the love of being melodramatic that you just can’t bring yourself to think he’s really that bad. Granted, part of that is that he is probably less objectively harmful to society than Bender, whose long list of sins are enumerated in song in this episode. I also love that the Robot Devil constantly misuses the word “ironic” in the same way people often misunderstand irony when reading Dante’s Inferno, something that even gets brought up repeatedly in one of his future episodes “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings.” Granted, this was after Alanis Morissette decided to make it even more convoluted with an absurdly catchy song.
This is kind of a repeat from “I, Roommate,” but I have to go with the Church’s sign that is displayed during Bender’s Baptism.
This is a reference to the BASIC computer language and the command “Goto” which performs a one-way transfer to another line and never returns. The joke here isn’t just that the rules are written in BASIC or that it’s a one-way transfer to hell, but also that there is literally nothing else to their religion. You sin, you go to hell. You don’t sin… you get nothing. There’s no conditional function that says “find salvation” or “find peace” or “get everlasting reward.” Again, it makes some form of sense in the robot religion, but it’s also an occurrence in some human churches.
Close runner-up, though, is the title of the episode, “Hell is Other Robots.” This is a play on the most common translation of a line from No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” In No Exit, the true torture of hell is being stuck in a room with other terrible people and being unable to stop valuing yourself through the opinions of others. In Futurama, hell is just other robots torturing you for eternity. Neither version actually requires the demons of traditional Christianity. However, Robot Hell is actually designed to resemble it, making it a subversion of the title’s reference. Whatever, I think it’s funny.
Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.
Okay, this is probably still my favorite Simpsons episode to re-watch. It’s also the episode that best defines the city of Springfield and the exact level of blind idiocy that permeates the town. It was written by Conan O’Brien, who knows something about comedy, I’m told.
Quick Recap: The main characters of the show are the fat, lazy, idiot father Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his wife who definitely could have done better Marge (Julie Kavner); his prankster (and later sociopath) son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); brainy daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); baby Maggie; and the city of Springfield (hundreds of characters at this point).
If you haven’t seen The Music Man, you should. If you don’t like musicals then just see this episode, because it’s almost as good and over 2 hours shorter. The setup for the episode is that Mr. Burns, the town’s leading plutocrat, is found dumping toxic waste into the Springfield children’s park (he had to stop dumping at the playground because of the bald children). For this, he is fined 3 million dollars. He pays with his pocket change, and also buys a statue of justice on the way out, because subtlety is for the weak. Because of this, Springfield suddenly has a surplus of funding, despite the mayor’s attempt to steal $1 million and hope no one noticed. At a town meeting, Marge rationally proposes fixing up Main Street, which has been destroyed by people leaving on their snow chains and carrying too much weight. Mostly Homer “Look at that pavement fly” Simpson. The crowd is about to be swayed when a man who sounds remarkably like Phil Hartman whistles from the corner. That man’s name is Lanley, Lyle Lanley, and he manages to convince the citizens of Springfield to spend the money on another project: a Monorail. Lanley convinces everyone in town that the monorail is a good idea, either through flim-flams, flattery or falsification. Best of all, he does it in a peppy song that includes lyrics so funny that I have 2 different people who randomly text them to me sometimes.
Homer hears about the opportunity to become a monorail conductor and goes to an intense three-week course (The total lessons: Mono = 1, Rail = Rail). At the end, he is randomly picked by Lanley to run the monorail, while Lanley takes most of the town’s money and runs. At the same time, Marge, who was angry at Lanley and the town for ignoring her idea, is now convinced that Lanley is up to something and investigates. Upon going to one of Lanley’s former marks, the town of North Haverbrook, she learns Lanley’s entire plan from Sebastian Cobb (Harry Shearer), the man who built the last monorail. Lanley’s cost cutting on the monorail is so devastating that the monorail is doomed to fail and kill everyone onboard, which, sadly, includes celebrity guest Leonard Nimoy (whom the mayor thinks was one of the little rascals). Marge and Cobb arrive too late, because Cobb stopped for a haircut, and the town citizens are stuck on an out of control monorail. At the last minute, Homer constructs an anchor which stops the monorail, saving the town. Marge ends the episode by saying that it was the only folly of the city of Springfield… except for the Popsicle stick skyscraper, the giant magnifying glass (which sets the stick skyscraper on fire), and the escalator to nowhere (which appears to kill about 1 person per second).
The key to this episode is that, just like the Music Man’s River City, Springfield represents America. Even though we are usually rational, sometimes we can get caught up in a scam or a bad idea. We follow it until eventually it collapses on us, then we say we’re going to learn better and not get fooled again… until we are, just by a slightly different bad idea. We can even have memorials of our own bad ideas featured around us, and we fail to really learn from them. Because of this, Springfield itself comes off as just another character in the show, and almost 20 years later, it may be the best-developed one.