Carmen Sandiego’s latest incarnation returns with a new season and a choose-your-own-adventure and it’s improving.
SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free for Season 2)
Carmen Sandiego (Gina Rodriguez) has discovered that her longtime adversarial mentor Shadow-San (Paul Nakauchi) was in fact protecting her and supporting her from the… well, shadows. Together with her helpers Zack and Ivy (Michael Hawley and Abby Trott) as well as tech support hacker Player (Finn Wolfhard), Carmen continues to thwart the efforts of her former organization V.I.L.E. while finally attempting to negotiate peace with ACME and their Chief (Dawnn Lewis). At the same time, Carmen starts to look into her past and find out who she was before she was abandoned on the Isle of V.I.L.E.
In “To Steal or Not to Steal,” Zack and Ivy are kidnapped by V.I.L.E. and Carmen is forced to come up with a plan to rescue them… via you telling her what to do.
I’d pretty much planned on abandoning this show after Season 1, but I figured I’d give it another shot. Season 2 honestly wasn’t much better at the beginning, although I noticed they’d toned down much of the blatant exposition and I had gotten more used to the idea of Carmen being a Simon Templar-esque anti-hero rather than a villain. Because of that, I stopped watching after like 3 episodes and called it moot. Then, a few days ago, a beautiful woman asked if I wanted to do that “To Steal or Not to Steal” choose-your-own-adventure game and it was actually pretty fun. It still had the educational elements, but it also had some decent action sequences and interesting elements that were reminiscent of Telltale games. I appreciate the effort that clearly went into it and that it actually doesn’t let you win unless you make some positive moral choices. Good for kids, basically. Also, if you get the best ending, you get one of the best reward videos I’ve ever seen for these kinds of things.
I still think that it’s wrong to basically reverse a character for a reboot, but I do appreciate that more of this season started to differentiate this Carmen more from her prior incarnations. A lot of the episodes were about exploring her backstory, something that was usually unknown or intentionally obfuscated prior to this. The closest we ever got, to my knowledge, was the series finale of Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego where she might possibly have found her father, but the show leaves it ambiguous. Since this was the first version of Carmen Sandiego who we got to see the backstory of, it makes since that this was also the first embodiment that gives a more concrete explanation of how she became an orphan. Not a total one, to be sure, since they want to keep the show going, but it is actually a half-decent origin story for a character who previously had the trait of “not having an origin.”
Overall, I don’t know that I recommend the second season, because I’m still not happy with the show, but I do recommend playing the interactive episode. Seriously, get the good ending, and if you have loved this franchise for as long as I have, you will be very happy.
Futurama returns in a film that literally breaks the world.
The summary for this movie is so damned long I am just going to put it at the end. If you need a refresher, just skip down the page and come back.
This was the first of the four movies designed to reinvigorate Futurama to try and get it back on the air after its cancellation. Much like Family Guy, Futurama had been doing really well on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup, and since Family Guy got brought back, why not Futurama? This ended up being a good plan, not just because it gave us a few more seasons of a great show that includes some great episodes, but also because the used these movies to try and deal with a few of the hanging plotlines that the show hadn’t fully resolved. Mostly we got some apology to Seymour the dog, who first debuted in “Jurassic Bark” and was, by this point, famous for being the saddest thing ever animated. In this movie, it’s revealed that Seymour didn’t die waiting for Fry to come home, he lived for 12 years with the Fry duplicate that would eventually become Lars. This may seem like it was pulled from nowhere, but it actually answers the question of how a dog could be fast-fossilized while living in New York, a place not known for sudden volcanic eruptions.
A lot of the plot elements in this film were apparently just the ideas left on the table when the original show got cancelled, including the concept of a nude beach planet. The idea of scammers being able to convince literally everyone to give them their property was probably also left from the original run because it seems like internet scams of the types featured were more on the rise in 2004 than 2007. I think that the plotline with Lars was likely not written for the original series, because that’s not the kind of plot that really can be shown within a single half-hour of television and the writers didn’t like multi-episode arcs. However, the idea of Leela falling for an older, more grizzled, more mature Fry is something that I absolutely loved. It proves what we knew the whole time: Fry might not be the guy for Leela, but eventually he can be. He just has to work on himself. I also believe that this is what kicks off some actual character development in Fry that culminates in the fourth movie and continues into the finale of the series.
I also love the idea of “paradox-correcting time travel,” a version of time-travel that the universe fixes by murdering any paradox. Even funnier, the Globetrotters determine that the cause of the destruction is a “doom field.” Yes, in the future, doom is actually a measurable quantity, with the average person apparently having a background amount of 10 millidooms and a time-paradox clone having over 10 times the amount. We later see it spike all the way up to almost 1000, which would be when a person is actually “doomed.” This seems to be evocative of the Larry Niven “Known Space” series, where luck is actually a measurable quantity that can not only be utilized but can be carried down through breeding. Was this a direct reference? Probably not, but I still think the concept is similar.
Overall, this was a great movie to bring the show back and I think it’s the 2nd best of the films, despite a convoluted plot.
It’s the running gag of LaBarbara repeatedly leaving Hermes for Barbados Slim. She barely waits a second to leave him the first time, even though she’s told he’ll be normal in a few weeks. When Hermes returns with a new body, even though it’s on backwards, she returns, only to leave again a few moments later. At last, she ends up coming back to him only after he manages to save the entire Earth. It’s a huge exaggeration of the idea of a fickle spouse who won’t stay with a disabled partner, but since it’s really only a temporary inconvenience, it becomes more comic than tragic.
Planet Express discovers that they have been cancelled for the last 2 years, but that the executives that cancelled them have themselves been cancelled… in the form of being turned into executive powder. The crew throws a party and Hermes (Phil LaMarr) accidentally gets decapitated. Hermes’s head is placed in a jar until it can be reattached by Lars Fillmore (Billy West), who flirts with Leela (Katey Sagal) to Fry’s (West) annoyance. When Hermes’s wife LaBarbara (Dawnn Lewis) finds out about Hermes, she leaves him.
The crew goes on a delivery run to the Nude planet where it’s revealed that Fry has Bender’s (John DiMaggio) face tattooed on his ass. The members of the crew are approached by Nude Scammers, led by Nudar (David Herman), who all con them into giving their personal information, resulting in them getting overwhelmed by spam. Bender downloads a virus from spam, resulting in him being taken over by the Scammers. The Scammers then reveal they’ve stolen all of the property from the crew, including the business. Lars asks Leela out which upsets Fry, since he always thought they’d end up together.
While the Scammers search Planet Express for personal information, they determine that Fry’s tattoo is a binary code that allows for paradox-correcting time travel. Nibbler (Frank Welker) reveals himself and advises everyone that using the code would potentially destroy the universe. The Scammers use it anyway, but discover that there’s no way to return without waiting. Around this time, LaBarbara hooks up with Barbados Slim (DiMaggio). The Scammers send Bender back in time to steal valuable historical items and wait underneath the building until the time he left to come out. Bender also steals a new body for Hermes, but Zoidberg puts his head on backwards.
Farnsworth and the Globetrotters work together to dissect the tattoo version of time travel, discovering that any time duplicate is doomed to be killed by the universe. Bender finishes stealing a ton of stuff from history, but now the Scammers want to avoid destroying the universe, so they delete the code from Bender’s memory and order him to kill Fry. Fry escapes by reading the code in a mirror, sending himself back to January 1, 2000, 30 minutes after he was frozen. Bender is sent back to kill him, meeting a version of Bender from the end of the movie who puts the tattoo on Fry’s ass. Fry manages to elude him for 12 years, but Bender ends up blowing up Panucci’s pizza, killing Fry and fossilizing Seymour the dog. He returns to the year 3007 and tells the Scammers of his success. At Fry’s funeral, Fry appears and tells them that Bender actually killed a time duplicate from when he went into the past a second time to get free pizza, but ended up getting frozen again. He re-froze himself a second time for 7.95 years and reemerged in 3007. Fry wonders what life was like for his duplicate before Bender kills him.
In a flashback for the viewer, the duplicate rents a room above Panucci’s pizza and starts to spend time living with his family and Seymour while trying to move on from Leela. He ends up becoming attached to a purple haired narwhal named Leelu and becoming her caretaker. Eventually Leelu gets released into the wild, so Fry2 gets on a boat and tracks her down over 2 years to capture her and take her back. He manages to find her, but it turns out that she now has a family with an orange-colored narwhal, so he is forced to let her go and be happy.
Back in 3007, the Scammers have taken almost everything from everyone on Earth, as well as Robot Santa (DiMaggio), but Lars proposes to Leela. At their wedding, Hermes wins LaBarbara back, only for his body to be destroyed by a chandelier. Farnsworth mentions that all time-duplicates are doomed, leading Lars to say he’s calling off the wedding. Leela is heartbroken. After President Nixon (West) loses the Earth itself to the scammers, the population has to leave. The crew goes to Neptune where Robot Santa is too depressed to attack them. Leela convinces the citizens of Earth to fight back. The Scammers build a fleet of gold Death Stars, but Robot Santa has his elves produce weapons, along with help from Kwanzaa-bot (Coolio) and the Chanukah Zombie (Mark Hamill “Applause”). Zapp Brannigan (West) is put in charge of the attack and fortunately gets shot down quickly. Leela takes over, but she too cannot win. Instead, Hermes gets wired into the entire fleet and uses his vast knowledge of coordinated actions to destroy the Death Stars. Nudar reveals he has a doomsday device stolen from Farnsworth by Bender and tells the citizens of Earth to submit or die. Bender reveals that he actually double-crossed them and kept the bomb, despite being under their control at the time. They blow up the Scammers using the device.
Lars brings Hermes his body back and Fry uses the opportunity to set him back up with Leela, believing that it’s better to see Leela happy than being with her himself. However, the Scammers reappear, having worn doomproof vests, claiming that Lars has the same Bender tattoo as Fry. Lars uses a Bender duplicate to kill Nudar and himself. It turns out that Lars was actually the duplicate of Fry that Bender thought he killed. The explosion from Bender’s weapon just changed his voice and burned off all of his hair. Lars broke up with Leela because he realized that, as a duplicate, he was doomed to die and leave her alone. Leela admits that Lars is the only man she’ll ever love, admitting that Fry could be the love of her life someday. Bender goes back in time to put the tattoo on Fry when he gets frozen, creating a time loop, but then tells all of his duplicates to come up now instead of when they logically should have, creating hundreds of copies of himself. The Benders start exploding and a giant rift in time and space appears. Bender mutters “Well, we’re boned.”
Bender gets a sex change to cheat at the Olympics and then to date a celebrity.
The crew goes to attend the 3004 Olympic games where Hermes (Phil LaMarr) has been pulled out of retirement to compete in the Limbo. The rest of the Jamaican team has been detained at the airport for being stereotypes. Since Hermes is out of shape, the Professor (Billy West), gives him a special bodysuit designed to make him super limbo-y. He hopes to finally defeat his bitter rival Barbados Slim (John DiMaggio), the only man to win Gold Medals at both Limbo and Sex. He’s also Hermes’s wife LaBarbara’s (Dawnn Lewis) first husband. Unfortunately, the suit bursts from Hermes’s gut right before the finish line, costing Hermes the race.
Bender (DiMaggio) insists that he could win a medal at the bending competition, only to realize that he has no chance when he sees the other competitors. He then sees that the female bending robots have much easier competition, so he decides to disguise himself as a fembot. He wins the gold, but finds out that, much like the real Olympics, there is gender testing. He has the Professor make him into a fembot (something that even the professor admits is ill-defined), collects her medals as “Coilette from Robonia,” and remains a woman for the celebrity. While on a talk show, she meets Calculon (Maurice LaMarche), who falls for her. She dates him for the gifts and the celebrity, which offends Leela (Katey Sagal) and Amy (Lauren Tom). Eventually, Calculon asks her to marry him, which she accepts.
Bender/Coilette just wants to scam Calculon for his money, but eventually realizes that Calculon’s feelings are real. She can’t just leave him, so she decides to come up with a thing that he can believe: A Soap Opera death. So, at the wedding, she has the crew act out a contrived death which Calculon accepts and uses to try and win an Emmy. At the end of the episode, Bender is made male again, but he still pines for Calculon a little.
This episode both doesn’t age well and is also strangely prescient. The idea of someone undergoing a sex change solely for the point of winning contests is something that seems to have come up more in recent years, but this episode plays the idea for a laugh. The episode is able to sidestep the fact that it would be insane to undergo massive surgeries and hormone therapies to win a medal by having robot genders be so ill-defined that it basically amounts to an oil change. The thing that most seems ridiculous, though, is that Bender, who is not a competitive athlete, could actually beat female athletes. The overall world record holders for weightlifting events are all men, but the female Clean-and-Jerk record is still over 400lbs and the Bench Press record is over 600lbs. That’s way more than even most casual bodybuilders can lift, let alone a guy who mostly drinks beer and slacks off like Bender.
The subplot about Hermes, too, predicts something that would later become an issue. Farnsworth designs him a suit which essentially grants him an unnaturally limbo adept figure, allowing him to almost defeat a much better athlete. This resembles the LZR Racer, a swimsuit designed by Speedo in 2008 which supposedly made swimmers more aerodynamic. The suit not only worked, but worked so well that 93 World Records were broken while wearing them and 98% of all the swim medals at Beijing in 2008 involving the suits. They were so devastating to the competition that they were called equivalent to doping and banned. I’d like to think the people designing it watched this episode.
The subplot about dating Calculon is surprisingly sweet and, while Bender acts like a jerk, Calculon’s sincerity makes it heartwarming. I also love how they play out the Soap Opera death, particularly the random intrusion of Fry as Congo Jack, who spears Coilette.
Overall, the episode’s still funny, even if some parts of it aren’t the best in the show.
It’s the list of all the fake countries in the future. There’s a country that has a population of one person called the “Nation of Joe.” There’s a bunch of fur-clad robots from “Cyberia.” Devil’s Island, a prison island off of French Guiana which was used as a prison by France until 1946, is shown to now be its own country… whose entire population are clad as criminals. The Republic of French Stereotypes appears to be the most hated nation in the world, because its athletes are shown being snooty, wearing berets, and carrying bagets. I’d also like to add that Bender’s fake country, Robonia, has my vote for best anthem:
Turanga Leela decides to pursue a career in the Majors based entirely on her utter lack of talent.
Fry (Billy West) notices that a new pizza place is opening across the street from Planet Express. Its owners are revealed to be Cygnoids, cockroach-like aliens that are mostly stereotypes of European Immigrants from the 1910s. The crew go to meet the new neighbors, but it turns out that their restaurant is terrible. Fry tries to help them learn to be Earthicans, including advising them to learn Blernsball, the Earthican pastime. The Planet Express crew agree to play against them and Leela (Katey Sagal) takes the mound. It’s quickly revealed that due to her eye, Leela can only throw a fastball into the head of the batter, much to the amusement of passers-by. She is approached by the owner of the New New York Mets, Abner Doubledeal (Tom Kenny) who signs her as the first professional female Blernsball player. She agrees, though he makes it clear it is just a publicity stunt.
Bender (John DiMaggio) becomes Leela’s agent and her “bean balls” quickly make her popular, despite the fact that she has never struck a single person out. During a signing, she is confronted by Jackie Anderson (Dawnn Lewis), a college Blernsball player, who was set to be the first female professional Blernsball player. Jackie rails at Leela for making female athletes a joke. Leela, realizing the effect her career is having on people, vows to become “not the worst” Blernsball player. They go to visit the Blernsball hall of fame and meet with Hank Aaron XXIV (Hank Aaron), the worst Blernsball player ever, who agrees to help her train to actually throw strikes. He somehow succeeds and Leela learns how to not hit the batter with the ball.
At the big game, Leela manages to convince the coach to put her in, but she is shocked to find that the batter is none other than Jackie Anderson. Leela throws two strikes, but Anderson hits the third pitch so hard that the elastic on the ball snaps and the ball goes in the “Hit it here and win the game” slot in the wall. Leela retires in disgrace, but Anderson consoles her by telling her that she’s inspired women everywhere to prove that they’re not as terrible or pathetic as Leela was.
So, this episode had a long-standing position as the lowest-rated episode by Futurama fans. It’s still the lowest of the original run and the third-lowest rated in the entire series. There have been multiple discussions on Futurama fan boards about why this episode is so lowly rated, ranging from lack of funny jokes, failure to capitalize on the premise, a lousy B-plot about trying to make the Cygnoids successful, and, of course, several saying that the episode sucks because it focuses on Leela (ignoring that several of the Highest-rated episodes focus on her). I will say the following: This episode is definitely not one of the highlights of the show’s run, but I don’t think I can clearly say it’s the nadir of the original series. Hell, I actually remember laughing more at this episode than I did at “That’s Lobstertainment!” which is from the same season.
That said, I’ll fully admit that a lot of the failure of the humor and the plot arise from similar problems to “That’s Lobstertainment” or “I Dated a Robot,” in that the premise can’t hold up as genuine under the circumstances and they don’t go far enough into the parody for us to ignore that. The plot is a Futurama take on a familiar trope, the first person to break into a new society/sport/industry. The episode tries to play parts of that straight in order to give some kind of gravitas, but it’s pretty much shot down from moment one when Leela is told that she’s only being allowed in so that she can be terrible. Like, they’re telling her that she’s essentially going to be a clown, proceeds to become popular for losing the game for her team, and we’re supposed to believe she’s surprised when someone points it out? They try to gloss over it by having her somewhat ignore Doubleday pointing it out, but man, that’s a stretch. Moreover, the idea that Blernsball, a sport which has dozens of species playing it has never allowed female players before now is a somewhat excessive suspension of disbelief.
The gags in the episode are also pretty lame. I even remember groaning audibly the first time I heard Hank Aaron say “I think there’s a rash goin’ around” when Leela says she wasn’t just belly-itching. Seriously, that’s a joke that someone would write in a movie as an example of a failed joke. The Cygnoid jokes all fall flat, because they’re just the same hackneyed “immigrant” jokes shows had done since the 60s, but with alien customs instead of whatever country Balki is from. Hell, the overarching humor focus, Blernsball, had to have multiple edits during the writing because the writers thought that this episode was coming too close to actually explaining it, and the joke is that it’s too confusing to be explained. I agree that showing us only clips of this incomprehensible game was a nice running gag, so why ruin it by spending an episode on it? It’s not that this is bad television, but for Futurama, it’s pretty damned unfunny.
Overall, I don’t think it’s the worst episode, but it’s pretty bad. Fortunately, we’re about to start a sequence of mostly awesome episodes.
Everything involving Bob Uecker.
Bob Uecker had one of the most recognizable voices out there to any baseball fan and his humor and delivery were always amazing. Johnny Carson even called him “Mr. Baseball” and had him guest star on the Tonight Show over 100 times. He played the father on the show Mr. Belvedere, something the episode even references, and was the voice of the Cleveland Indians in the Major League films. He is famous for his self-deprecating humor and despite how bad the lines he’s given in this episode are, he still makes them work.
One of the greatest fictional thieves is given a new origin in a new series, but it aims way too low.
Carmen Sandiego (Gina Rodriguez) is a white-hat thief… in a red fedora and matching badass longcoat. Together with her hacker associate Player (Finn Wolfhard) and sidekick siblings Zack and Ivy (Michael Hawley and Abby Trott), Carmen travels all around the world to steal back treasures stolen by the evil organization V.I.L.E. (Villain’s International League of Evil) and return them to their rightful places.
So, if you read this regularly, you might think that I’m not a big fan of reboots, but that’s really not true. Lots of reboots manage to take characters and put them in new and interesting situations that provide something new and important for the series. The 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series provided a darker and more serious take than the 1987 version, but they both were still true to the core of the characters. The Ducktales reboot took what was great about the original series (The interplay of the main characters and the “anything is possible” world) while fixing what wasn’t so good about it (weak female main characters, repetitive plots, not having Don Cheadle). The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina took beloved characters and put them in a world where they are inherently doing more morally questionable things, but didn’t change what was fun and interesting about them. The key is that you don’t change what was awesome about the character, because otherwise why wouldn’t you just make a new one?
The creators of this show clearly disagree with me.
Throughout her history, many things have changed about Carmen Sandiego, largely due to the fact that she was originally an educational video game character who became a game show character and an animated series character. She was originally listed as a former spy, but later was depicted as a former detective who found catching criminals too easy and decided it would be more fun to commit impossibly huge crimes. Regardless of her origin, the central, and awesome, trait of the character was that she was a criminal for the thrill of it. She didn’t want riches or world domination or to spread chaos, she just liked planning the perfect heist and beating the authorities in the chase. She’d even leave clues to make it more sporting for the detectives, and allow them to battle wits with her V.I.L.E. henchmen first, not to prove their worthiness, but to build up their skills. She rarely, if ever, resorted to violence and never allowed any of her henchmen to kill anyone. In short, she was the ultimate gentlewoman thief, but she was still, always, a villain. Just check out the intro to the last series:
In this show, Carmen is still a thief, but she exclusively steals from V.I.L.E. and returns the goods to their rightful owners. The show compares her to a white-hat hacker, someone who commits a crime but for the purpose of helping people. This is probably the main reason why I don’t like this reboot, because you changed the one thing that was most awesome about the character: THAT SHE WAS THE BAD GUY. Look, I’m fully prepared to watch a show where she’s the protagonist, but I still want her to be a criminal. In this, she’s not doing it for the thrill, but because she “rejects evil.” She’s only pursued by authorities because of a series of misunderstandings and the fact that some of the officers are idiots. At one point, the detectives of ACME believe that Carmen actually is the head of V.I.L.E. as she usually is, but, again, it’s only because the detective just plain isn’t smart. Making her a pure hero removes any of the wonderful moral ambiguity of her character. She’s supposed to be a noble thief, but not a Robin Hood. In this, she’s just a hero who happens to use thievery. She might as well be Leslie Charteris’ The Saint. Why not just come up with another character (or use a character that already does that) instead of trying to capitalize solely on nostalgic naming?
I also don’t like the particular way they try to make the show “educational.” Rather than being worked organically into the plot of the episode, most of the information is just given in one single infodump that includes a bunch of awkward facts about the location that the episode is set in. Look, I want kids to be learning during the show the way that I used to learn while playing the games, but that’s not going to happen if your main education is a 30 second exchange of rapid-fire facts in a 22 minute episode. In the original, it was a number of infodumps presented as fun, short, vignettes which made sense because they were being told to the Player, a real person playing the game that made the show, in order to help him win.
For an even more personal gripe: She doesn’t steal the unstealable, for one. In almost every incarnation of Carmen Sandiego, one of her most famous traits is that she intentionally steals things that cannot realistically be stolen, like the Mona Lisa’s smile or the Orient Express. Admittedly, this was tied into her desire to just commit crimes for the challenge, something this version doesn’t share, but that was one of the more consistent elements of the series. In this, she just takes things that would actually be the targets of theft, like coins or paintings, and that just pisses me off. THIS IS THE WOMAN WHO STOLE THE BEANS FROM LIMA, DAMMIT!!!
But, let’s get into some of the things that this show did pretty well on. First, to its credit, while they missed the big picture of what made Carmen Sandiego amazing, they did at least do enough of their homework to include a lot of references from the other media. It does bother me a little that most of their new characters aren’t the same level of punny as the old ones, with the new ones even mocking that idea, but they do still have quite a few of them. Also, they got Rita f*cking Moreno, the voice actress from Where On Earth is Carmen Sandiego to voice Cookie Booker, the evil accountant, who provides this version of Carmen with her signature hat and coat, acting as a covert passing of the torch. The art style is pretty solid and, honestly, though I’m mixed on Carmen so frequently being out of her signature outfit, I think it was a good choice to show that she isn’t always “on the job.” I think it was also clever to make Player, who usually in the media represented a human playing the game that the show took place in, into a hacker who only communicates with Carmen through his computer. It keeps some aspect of their dynamic alive. Carmen is much more of an action girl in this, too, as opposed to her mastermind characterization, but that didn’t bother me much, since it fit the more “Kim Possible” version of the character in the series.
Overall, I didn’t like the fact that this reboot didn’t try to take the core of the character and put it in a different setting as much as it just changed the core of the character to something completely different but called it the same thing. If the writing had been better, maybe I could have gotten into it, but I wouldn’t recommend this show to fans of the original or to their kids.
This is the rare episode that for me has only gotten better over time because the more I deal with bureaucrats, the more I realize this satire is dead-on. It’s time for an episode focused on the Rastafarian Accountant, Hermes Conrad.
Hermes Conrad (Phil Lamarr) is up for a promotion as a bureaucrat. However, the evening before his inspection, Fry (Billy West), Leela (Katey Sagal), and Bender (John DiMaggio) host a poker night with Leela’s coworkers from the pilot and Zoidberg (West). During the game, Bender cheats and gets caught, resulting in the others beating him up in Hermes’ office, wrecking it. When the inspector, Morgan Proctor (Nora Dunn), shows up, Hermes threatens suicide, but his wife LaBarbara (Tress MacNeille in this episode, normally Dawnn Lewis) talks him out of it. He is subsequently fired and despondent. Zoidberg recommends Hermes and LaBarbara go to a Spa planet called Spa 5, which turns out to actually be a forced labor camp. Morgan takes over as Planet Express bureaucrat.
Morgan begins to inspect Planet Express, criticizing for inane things such as not putting a zipper on a jacket alphabetically at the bottom, before she finds Fry’s locker, which is the most disgusting thing she has ever seen. As a lifelong neat-freak, Morgan finds Fry’s slovenly ways arousing and starts a secret affair with him. Morgan antagonizes most of the staff until Bender catches the two in bed together. He threatens blackmail, but Morgan downloads his brain onto a floppy disk and sends it to the Central Bureaucracy.
Fry, Leela, Amy (Lauren Tom), and the Professor (West) fly to the Central Bureaucracy to get Bender’s brain back. They discover that the disk is in the massive “in” pile, something that never gets sorted. However, Hermes appears, having optimized the force labor camp so much they only needed a single worker, and requests a massive file-sort, for which he is given four minutes. He proceeds to sort the entire pile while singing “The Bureaucrat Song” and manages to get Morgan fired by pointing out a minor clerical error she had made years ago. Hermes is rehired and reinstated as a bureaucrat.
This is one of the best episodes of the series. If you’re going to introduce someone to the series, this might be one of the most appropriate episodes to show them. The parody of the Central Bureaucracy is one of the most on-point in the show’s history and it elevated Hermes from mostly background character to one of the most entertainingly wacky members of the Planet Express staff. Yes, it’s clearly inspired by the movie Brazil, but it makes the organization here much less threatening and more comical than in that movie.
The concept of an organization dedicated to perpetuating bureaucracy that literally thrives on tedium and mistreating the masses is just too damned funny to put into words. The Central Bureaucracy is what everyone expects is at the heart of every bureaucratic organization: A giant mess perpetuated by people who just want to avoid accountability and strictly enforce rules by their word rather than intent. Having worked for the government for a decent percentage of my adult life, I can say that this is mostly wrong… except when it is completely right. In any organization of sufficient complexity, there emerge a certain percentage of people that somehow serve almost no real discernible purpose within the productive flow. Often, they become managers, much like Hermes’ position within the company.
Now, Hermes does, apparently, actually know how to increase efficiency, given that he points out all of the flaws in the set-up of the forced labor camp. At the same time, we see that any bureaucrat who does things more efficiently than prescribed is punished, so this episode suggests that there IS merit in having supervisors who point out wasted energy, but that the system which creates them is also the system than hinders them.
This is one of the first episodes which has slight dependence on continuity, since Leela invites the workers from the pilot to the poker game. It doesn’t make much of a difference in the episode or anything, but it’s still more continuity than most of the series.
Morgan’s lust for Fry being based on all of the things that normally would make him repellant to women is a pretty great exaggeration of opposites attract. Fry goes with it for the stated reason that he was “desperate,” which is refreshingly frank.
The best part of the episode, though, is the “Bureaucracy Song.” It’s catchy, it’s clever, it includes the line “pooh-pooh’d my electric frankfurter,” and it comes from an odd stance in that it takes the position that bureaucrats actually love their jobs, something that most humor tends to oppose.
Bureaucrat Song from user4803634 on Vimeo.
Tie. First, the Beholder from Dungeons and Dragons being at the Central Bureaucracy. It’s just sleeping, then it awakens with flashing lights viciously coming out of its many eyes… only for it to ask the crew not to tell its supervisor that it was sleeping. It’s such a great gag that even the Beholder, one of the mightiest monsters in fiction, capable of destroying small armies on its own, is reduced to begging people to let it nap in peace within the Bureaucracy.
Second, one of the most quoted lines in the series is from this episode: “You are technically correct – the best kind of correct.” This is the most concise statement of the nature of bureaucrats within the episode and one of the most absurd ideas the episode conveys: that it’s better to be within the letter than the spirit, particularly when the letter subverts the spirit.
This is where some network stuff kind of starts to screw up the ordering. On the original DVD sets I had, this was part of Season 1. However, on Amazon, this is part of Season 2. This is because this episode was produced as an episode of Season 1, but it was broadcast later. Since going by the broadcast seasons would mean there are 10 seasons of Futurama, I’m just going to stick with the production seasons. At least it’s not Firefly.
As a reward for not calling the authorities over all of his horrible business practices, Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) takes the entire Planet Express staff on a trip aboard The Titanic, a space cruise ship. Leela (Katey Sagal) is dismayed to find out that the captain of The Titanic is Zapp Brannigan (West) and decides to pretend that Fry (West, again) is her fiancé so that Zapp won’t try to sleep with her.
Bender (John DiMaggio) meets a wealthy fembot, the Countess De La Roca (Tress MacNeille), and pretends to be a rich bachelor in order to rob her. However, he ends up confessing the truth after falling for her. She reciprocates and they do a parody of Jack and Rose in Titanic. Amy (Lauren Tom) runs into her parents, Leo and Inez Wong (West and Tom), who want to set her up with a random stranger, so she pretends Fry is her boyfriend. Now burdened with two fake girlfriends, hi-jinks ensue for Fry. Leela gets jealous of Fry pretending to date Amy, leading to Leela and Fry having a romantic moment that leads to them almost kissing.
Meanwhile, Zapp has decided, for no real reason, to change the cruise route, resulting in The Titanic getting too close to a black hole and being caught in its pull and entering the event horizon. This interrupts Fry and Leela’s moment. The crew starts to evacuate, while Bender heads back to save the countess. The crew gets caught by a bulkhead door which Zoidberg (West) barely keeps from closing. However, Hermes (Phil LaMarr) is revealed to be a professional limbo champion and, with the help of his wife, LaBarbara (Dawnn Lewis), makes it under the door and frees them. Bender and the Countess make it back to the escape pod, but it’s too heavy. The Countess sacrifices herself to save them… and she’ll never be mentioned again.
Well, much like “A Big Piece of Garbage,” this was a parody of a then-recent movie. Take a guess which one. It’s mostly a set-up for the first real romantic tension we get between Fry and Leela, but the other character interactions are also pretty fulfilling. Everyone has at least some small side-story.
Bender’s romance is pretty much in-character for him. He believes it’s real love but, ten seconds after she’s dead, he tries to pawn the Countess’s necklace. Hermes’ tragic past as a limbo champion is one of the funniest gags in the show that keeps going. The idea that a small child killed himself trying to limbo out of adulation for Hermes is so ridiculous and yet it works perfectly within the episode and for the character. Zapp’s capricious piloting and rampant idiocy is also in character, reminding me why I love him so much and why he would be the first person I would kill if I was on a ship with him. Not that I kill people on boats, but it’s good to have an order just in case. The Professor gets some action from Hattie McDoogal (MacNeille) which will come up a few more times. Zoidberg… well, he’s there and he’s hilarious.
This episode sets up a few nice character moments that continue through the series. Kif (Maurice LaMarche) and Amy meet, which eventually leads to their romance. Amy’s parents and their constant meddling are introduced. Fry and Leela’s romance starts, albeit roughly. Hermes’ limbo past comes up. Overall, I like the fact that, aside from a few throwaway gags with Bender and the Countess, this episode didn’t really rely on the movie Titanic that much.
The episode’s lighter on complicated gags, since it’s more a series of vignettes about the characters intertwining. So, here are my top three:
“All You Can Eat Plus A Whole Chicken.” I mean, I love a buffet, so this one kind of hit home. You can’t beat just dropping an extra chicken on the plate, particularly on a cruise.
2. Bender’s Drawing
They replicate the famous drawing scene in Titanic, but with Bender’s finger operating as a Dot Matrix printer. When it’s revealed, it turns out Bender sees her nudity as a circuit diagram. It’s a nice double-joke inside of five seconds.
3. iZac (Phil LaMarr)
iZac is a great character gag. It’s Isaac Washington from The Love Boat played by Ted Lange, except that this one doesn’t take any crap. When Bender tries to steal drinks, he has him beaten for being a deadbeat. Also, yes, it’s a pun on iMac which only became more relevant as time went on and iPods and iPads came out.
Well, that’s it for this week.
See you next week, meatbags.