We get a look at three Futuramas that weren’t.
This episode is comprised of three separate vignettes, each in a different animation style, that loosely connect.
The first is animated as a 1920s cartoon a la Betty Boop. Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) discovers a comet made of diamondium, the hardest substance in the universe, and sends the crew to gather a sample. Fry (West), having trouble with his relationship with Leela (Katey Sagal), decides to propose to her by blowing up the comet using one of the Professor’s bombs to create an engagement ring. He miscalculates and the explosion forms a completely new color in a rainbow (depicted in black and white), but also coats the Earth in diamond dust, trapping Fry and Leela in a giant gem.
The second is animated as an Atari game. The Professor uses a piece of the diamondium comet to create a microscope powerful enough to see the fundamental unit of the universe. After getting past all of the other levels, it’s revealed that the core unit of matter is a pixel. The Professor uses this information to create a successful Theory of Everything which explains how all of the fundamental forces interact. Unfortunately, this means he has effectively solved physics, which removes any purpose to studying the field. He is cheered up when Fry asks why the universe works that way, realizing that now he can search for what led to the creation of the universe.
The third is animated as a 1970s anime show. A race of aliens that communicate only through dance worship the diamondium comet and are enraged when the Planet Express crew blows it up. The Planet Express crew, here the Action Delivery Force, try to dissuade the attacking aliens, but cannot get through to them due to the communication barrier. Fry and Bender (John DiMaggio) try to do a dance to convince them of Earth’s intentions for peace, but fail. Zoidberg ultimately succeeds only after losing his shell and giving an extremely powerful dance (visualized as him standing still while the camera moves).
Of the three anthology episodes of Futurama that Comedy Central did, consisting of the Futurama Holiday Spectacular, Naturama, and Reincarnation, this is by far the best one. Each of these segments pays a loving tribute to a particular style of animation, and each of them is among the earliest for their respective styles. The first is done in the form of the earliest Western animations, the second in that of the first fully-animated computer games, and the last in the form of the first distinct Japanese anime. Each one pokes fun at the limitations of their particular genre while also paying tribute to it. The 1920s style sketch pretends to create a new color by working in greyscale, the Atari sketch depicts a fundamental particle by just showing a black pixel, and the anime sketch features a character dancing with subtlety by just moving the camera over a still frame, the same way that such series saved money using that technique.
Even more interesting is that the sketches aren’t truly independent. Even though this kind of episode would usually necessitate unconnected shorts, instead the mission to get the diamondium lens from the first segment and Fry blowing up the comet both set the stage for the second and third short. I know that may seem like a small thing, but I actually think it’s a brilliant way to shorten the amount of set-up needed for the other segments. It’s so seamless that you never really consider that we already saw the comet explosion kill the cast.
Overall, really solid episode.
Okay, so, when the Professor starts to use the diamondium lens in the second segment, he decides to use “a log [he] found in a hole in the bottom of the sea.” This is a reference to the song “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.” He then does the first few parts of that song, up to “there’s a snail on the tail on the frog on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea,” but then the Professor starts saying the smaller elements as “cells, molecules, [and] atoms.” Fry retorts that “those things don’t rhyme,” only for the Professor to say “things only rhyme below 10-5 angstroms.” He then names a bunch of subatomic particles: ions (not really a particle) and pions, muons and gluons, neutrinos and gravitinos. I love this joke because it turns a children’s rhyme into a comment about the absurd naming conventions in subatomic physics.