At the end of last season, Princess Tiabeanie “Bean” (Abbi Jacobson) revived her mother Dagmar (Sharon Horgan) from her stone curse, only for her to be revealed as an evil witch who poisoned herself. Dagmar then imprisons Bean’s personal demon Luci (Eric Andre) and turns everyone in Dreamland into stone except for King Zog (John DiMaggio) and his second wife Oona (Tress MacNeille). Elfo (Nat Faxon) continues to be dead for like 2 episodes.
This season, Bean travels to Hell in order to revive Elfo, saves Dreamland, helps her dad bang a bear, delivers a spoken word poem about her life, and some other stuff.
So, the reason why I started watching this is that it’s the third series by Matt Groening. The first one, The Simpsons, is the longest running prime-time show and, for at least 7 years, was probably the single funniest thing on TV. The second, Futurama, is so good that I am reviewing it episode by episode every Friday from now until eternity (or until 2021). So, it stood to reason that this show kind of had to be at least pretty good. Unfortunately, while it’s not bad, it is firmly seated at “only average.”
Part of it is that this is the team’s first foray into serial television and they clearly haven’t quite figured out how to balance that with episodic plots. The episodes of this show tend to have difficulty with pacing because they want to advance the series along with the A and B plots of the episode. Admittedly, that’s been a challenge to more than a few screenwriters in the past, but it’s a little more pronounced in this series. The little things should build into the big things; they shouldn’t build separately.
I do like the main characters, but it’s shocking how little growth they’ve been given, despite how much the plot would seem to demand it. I think this, too, is a vestige of the episodic writing that Groening is used to, because we don’t really want TV characters to grow outside of a serial. Hell, we want them to get simpler so that we can keep adding more without having to keep track. That’s why the term for a character becoming more one-dimensional over time is “Flanderization,” from Ned Flanders. What’s more frustrating is that, at the beginning of the season, all three of the leads seemed inevitably headed towards major character-shaping changes, then… nope. We quickly reset the series pretty much back to the status quo.
The supporting characters are amusing, but due to the propagation of their kind of humor and archetypal variance has been pretty vast over the last 20 years, mostly due to the fact that The Simpsons and Futurama already did them so well. We’ve seen plenty of characters similar to King Zog or the Executioner or even Sorcerio (Billy West), because they’re just fantasy versions of the people of Springfield or Quahog (which is just North Springfield 10 years later). Without that element of originality, we get too familiar with them to feel any surprise at their actions or their words. Humor requires some element of the unexpected or the unusual, and these aren’t really either.
I will say this season was still a step up from the last one. The episode with Zog and the Bear Selkie was pretty funny and the episode with Bean doing a spoken-word account of her life because she isn’t allowed to put on a play as a woman does actually have a little bit of the heart that I’d expect from this kind of show… and that’s the problem.
This show doesn’t have the humor of its older siblings, but nor does it have the heart. The Simpsons was hilarious in its heyday, but it also had moments of sincere emotion. Futurama had wacky antics, but it also had some of the most tear-jerking and heart-breaking moments in television. This doesn’t have the laughing face or the sad face to the extreme it needs. That said, on its own merit, the show isn’t bad, but it’s not what I was hoping.
While on a delivery, the Planet Express crew are attacked by Space Pirates (they’re like pirates, but in space). Bender (John DiMaggio) is trying to take a nap in a torpedo tube and ends up getting shot at the pirates’ ship. Since the Planet Express ship was already going at max speed when they fired him, they cannot ever catch up with him, leaving Bender to drift through the cosmos, alone, until an asteroid lands on him. The asteroid is populated by tiny people called “Shrimpkins,” who quickly start worshipping Bender as the “Great Metal Lord.”
Bender attempts to be a god to the Shrimpkins, choosing one, Malachi (Maurice LaMarche), as his prophet. Bender orders them to make him alcohol, which quickly starts to ruin the Shrimpkin’s society, causing massive deaths, maimings, and crime rates. Bender sheds a tear for the plight of the people (which he caused), which causes a flood that threatens Malachi, Jr. (Lauren Tom). Bender saves Malachi, Jr., earning him praise and prayers from the rest of the people. He attempts to answer the prayers. The ones that pray for wealth are given a quarter, which kills them. The ones that pray for sun are burned by Bender reflecting light and then blown into space by Bender when he tries to extinguish it. Bender begins to realize that his actions tend to harm the Shrimpkins more than they help.
On Earth, Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) go to meet the Monks of either Dschubba (a star) or maybe Teshuvah (Hebrew for “Answer”), the possessors of the most powerful radio telescope in the universe, to try and search for Bender. When Fry actually asks them for permission to use it, they refuse, but when they are revealed to be pacifists, Leela locks them in a laundry room. Fry tries to survey the entire universe, but Leela points out that even if he spent his entire life there, he wouldn’t even be able to check even one billionth of the observable universe, because duh.
Malachi warns Bender that the colony of Shrimpkins on his ass have turned into non-believers because he doesn’t talk to them (which is weird, because A) he can turn his head 180 degrees and talk to them and B) they could easily move). Bender refuses to intervene in the conflict, citing the fact that he keeps making things worse. The two sides start a sudden nuclear conflict that obliterates everyone except Bender. As Bender goes through space, he spots a galaxy signalling him in binary. He signals back and the Galaxy (West) talks to him, leading Bender to suspect that the Entity is actually God or at least a computer that collided with God. Bender and the Entity talk about the nature of being God, with the Entity giving him the advice: “If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch like a safecracker or a pickpocket.” The Entity reveals that it can’t send Bender back at this time.
On Earth, Fry is about to give up searching, when he randomly spins the dial and broadcasts a message saying “I wish I had Bender back,” which happens to be beamed directly to the Entity, who sends Bender back to Earth, resulting in him landing directly in front of Fry and Leela. As they start to leave, they realize that they left the monks locked inside. Tempted to just let them pray for help, Bender says that God told him that they can’t trust God to do anything, so he leads them back to release the monks. The image pans out to God laughing that “’When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”
Look, this is a masterpiece. The writer, Ken Keeler, wrote 14 episodes of Futurama, most of them excellent, but this is his magnum opus. This entire episode has provoked hours of thought from me and when a work manages to inspire an amount of introspection that is dozens of times longer than it takes to consume, then it has officially gone above and beyond just entertaining.
There are so many different ways to look at the events of this episode. Honestly, you might have more questions than you got answers from the viewing. Bender certainly seems to have received almost no definitive answers from talking with the Entity, which is, appropriately, exactly what the Entity was trying to convey:
If you’re doing things right, you aren’t going to give people the answers, you’re only going to remind them that the answers exist, and then let them find things on their own.
Basically, in this episode, the purpose of a god is to have a source of hope when things seem hopeless, not to give you the power to part seas or command bears to kill children (II Kings 2: 23-24). Without hope, people turn to despair, and when people despair, they don’t give a thought towards preserving or improving the world. This has long been a position adopted by a number of schools of philosophy and philosophers (including, famously, Voltaire). Here, we find out that this idea has so much merit that even God decided it was the best way to do things.
The episode also shows us the fault in the alternative: Granting everyone’s wishes would make them complacent if done perfectly, and would likely come with a ton of unexpected side-effects if done poorly. Bender tries to be a helpful god to the Shrimpkins, but giving them what they want only brings about their destruction, albeit in a more gradual manner than when he fails to heed them at all.
The episode also indirectly addresses one of the greatest questions in theology: Why do we praise God for saving us from himself? Bender is praised and worshipped for the “miracle” of saving Malachi, Jr. from a flood that he actually caused. Similarly, people who are saved from fires or even have their bible saved from a fire that takes their home and kills their pets often praise God for that small salvation, seemingly missing that God could have just stopped the fire in the first place… or not started it. In this episode, the answer is not “god is a dick,” but more “everything is part of a plan too grand to be comprehended.” Is that a satisfying answer to why kids get cancer and die or why earthquakes devastate entire countries? No, but it’s enough to keep you from despair.
Ironically, despite the fact that the episode often interacts with the Entity as if he is the Judeo-Christian God, the message of “when you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all” is closer to the teachings of Taoism, which states that when a master governs well, the people will believe they did everything themselves. At the end of the episode, we don’t know exactly whose wishes are being answered. Does the Entity send Bender back because Bender wants to go? Or because Fry prayed for it? Or because the monks are praying to get out? Is it all of them or none of them? We don’t know, and that’s the point of this literal Deus Ex Machina… involving both God and a machine.
Faith is believing that things are being done for a reason, even if it’s one that we’re never able to fathom. It’s believing that there is something watching over the universe. This episode tries to not only justify faith, but also to justify why faith is supposed to be difficult. If you knew God existed for sure, you can’t have faith. If the universe seems completely without meaning, then you can’t have hope (although, other episodes on this list have posited philosophical answers to that). For a 22-minute cartoon about a robot, this episode manages to touch upon and convey an incredibly complex set of concepts, and, true to the nature of such things, leaves it to the viewer to find their own answers.
The craziest part? “Roswell that Ends Well” was sent for consideration at the Emmy Awards rather than this episode. It won, so I’m glad that the Emmys recognized the fact that Futurama deserved it. I imagine they just thought it would be controversial to submit an episode where God tells someone “You were doing well until everyone died.”
Oddly, I don’t think there are that many great jokes in this episode, because the episode itself is so much more than just the usual series of gags. That said, my favorite joke is when Bender finds a candelabra within the swag he stole from the Space Pirates and the ensuing scene:
… [w]hat good is a candelabra without– Wait! I know!
Ah, the pity. Fated to drift forever through the void as gravity’s plaything. Oh, cruel fate, to be thusly boned. Ask not for whom the bone bones. It bones for thee. The only thing that keeps me sane is the thought that I have all eternity in which to perfect my art.
Naturally, he immediately breaks the piano when he misses a note twice. This whole scene is just so wonderfully odd, while also encompassing what a being who is facing an eternity of solitude might feel. It basically gets us through all of Bender’s initial existential crises that arise from dealing with his situation, allowing the episode to move on from there.
Futurama spends an entire episode setting us up for a punchline, but instead decides to gut punch us with emotion.
This episode constantly bounces between Fry’s life in the 20th Century and his life in the 30th Century.
In the 20th Century, we see Fry (Billy West) being born on the day that the Mets win the World Series (which doesn’t really track, since the Mets won in 1986 but Fry is 25 in 1999. Presumably in the Futurama universe this is 1973 and the “You Gotta Believe” Mets team didn’t lose to the Oakland Athletics in Game 7. This is all the baseball I know.). His father, Yancy Sr., (John DiMaggio) names him Philip after the screwdriver. Fry’s brother, Yancy Jr. (Lauren Tom as kid, Tom “Ice King” Kenny as adult), quickly establishes a trend of being jealous of anything Fry has, including the name “Philip.” As kids, Fry is shown to be worse than Yancy at most things, until Fry finds a seven-leaf clover which makes him unnaturally lucky, even at things which would normally be considered skill-based, like basketball or break-dancing. Yancy is always jealous when Fry is successful and tries to take the clover, but Fry runs home and hides it in a Ronco Record Vault inside The Breakfast Club’s soundtrack.
In the future, Fry is having a streak of bad luck at the racetrack. Not only does Bender (DiMaggio) drug Fry’s horse, resulting in a shameful loss, but when his last dollar gets blown onto a power line, he gets struck by lightning, twice, and blown into a dumpster. Back at Planet Express headquarters, Fry mentions the clover and Zoidberg (West) points out that it might still be in the ruins of Old New York. Fry, Bender, and Leela (Katey Sagal) head underground to the remains of the New York of the 20th Century and make their way to Fry’s old house. However, the clover is no longer in the vault. The three give up on finding the clover, only to run into a statue of Fry’s brother with the clover in his lapel and the nameplate reading “Philip J. Fry.” Fry, incensed, punches the statue and breaks his hand, declaring that his brother “stole his life.”
A video on the internet informs the crew that the Philip J. Fry that is immortalized on the statue was actually a massive celebrity in the 20th century, famous for his perpetual luck, culminating in him being the first man on Mars (if you don’t count the native Martians). He was buried with the clover, so Fry tells everyone that they’re going to go rob the grave. At the graveyard, Fry, Leela, and Bender start digging up the body, but Fry knocks some of the moss off of the other Philip’s grave.
In the past, Yancy breaks into the Ronco Record Vault to find music for his wedding and takes the clover in memory of Fry. Later, Yancy and his wife name their first son Philip after the brother Yancy says he misses every day. In addition to the name, he gifts young Philip with the clover.
In the Future, Fry finds out the truth: The Philip J. Fry they’re digging up is actually his nephew, who was, per his tombstone, “named for his uncle, to carry on his spirit.” Although Bender does dig up the clover, a tearful Fry leaves it to rest in his nephew’s grave and smiles, realizing that his brother wasn’t taking his legacy, but making sure it endured.
Holy flaming carp, this episode. I mean, everyone remembers “Jurassic Bark,” and I already have cookies ready to deal with that episode’s punch to the feelings, but this one’s not far behind for me. The difference is what kind of emotions this episode evokes compared to that one, and the fact that this one actually could potentially have been building up to a comical misunderstanding, but instead decided to change it into a powerful dramatic moment.
Throughout this episode, the B-plot in the past portrayed Yancy as the kind of person who actually would bother to steal his dead brother’s name, because from the day Fry was born, Yancy wanted to be Philip. The show presents this idea to us in a little bit of a deceptive manner, showing us a few objective moments of Yancy, while the rest of the time we’re only hearing about Yancy through Philip’s perception of him as jealous. The few objective moments we have don’t contradict Fry’s perception, so it cements that image in our minds. That’s why it’s so surprising when it’s revealed that, upon losing Fry, Yancy spent the rest of his life missing his brother, to the point of entrusting his son with Fry’s legacy. That’s why the moment we share with Fry is so powerful, because we’re going through the realization about Yancy’s true nature at the same time as Fry. We aren’t hit with a wave of sadness like watching a dog waste away waiting for its master, it’s more of a complex series of emotions related to the realization that people aren’t always who you think they are, but that sometimes you don’t learn that until after they’re gone. It’s sad that Fry couldn’t find this out about his brother while he was alive, but he does finally get closure and a reassurance that they did love each other, which is still beautiful.
The key to this episode is the perfect interplay between the A and B plots, allowing for both of them to progress rapidly by letting the audience just assume that nothing important happened between the time that we leave one plot and return to the other. If you’re looking for some gold-standard examples of this, check out the Rick and Morty episode “Meeseeks and Destroy” or the I Love Lucy episode “Job Switching,” but this episode also uses it to great effect, particularly with how it finally has the two plotlines converge into something beautiful and meaningful to both. Interestingly, Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, and writer Ron Weiner used The Godfather II as a model for writing two timelines simultaneously and organizing them by using different colored storyboards.
Overall, this is one of my favorite episodes of the show. It’s also typically rated in the top 10 on most fan polls, so I don’t think I’m insane for that. I don’t think it’s the best, nor even the second or third best, but it is brilliant and touching and writing this review made me tear up a few times.
First, a joke amendment that I didn’t find out until this episode. When looking into Fry’s stuff, there’s another pennant for the Whitefish from Coney Island College, the same roller-coaster college Fry says he dropped out of in “Mars University.” At the time, I thought that the choice of whitefish for Coney Island was a hilarious joke about how crappy the university was. It turns out I missed two pieces of information:
“Coney Island Whitefish” is a song by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts about a guy who is a complete waste of time who never tries to improve or do anything. That kinda fits Fry during the 20th century.
Coney Island Whitefish is also a slang term for a discarded used condom, because humanity is gross. I’m hoping this doesn’t apply to anything on the show.
I’ve updated the previous entry in “Mars University” and now I never need to admit to making a mistake.
Second, a wonderful observation and set-up is the fact that Fry’s dad, brother, and his great-grandfather are all named Yancy, as were all of the other men in the line going back to the Revolutionary War. The fact that Fry’s dad doesn’t mention his father is also named Yancy is the first hint we get that there is something unusual in Fry’s lineage, because the Yancy name skips one generation… due to Fry being his own grandfather. Also, I can never prove it, but I think the name Yancy was picked because Billy West who voices Fry also voiced Doug Funnie on Doug. Doug’s middle name was Yancy, and he hated his middle name with a passion.
Last, the actual best joke, when the horses cross the finish line at the race, they announce a measurement by Electron Microscope which results in a winner by “Quantum Finish.” The Professor (West) immediately shouts out: “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!” This is one of the best jokes in the series, because 1) it works if you just think the Professor is complaining that he was going to win until they announced a different winner and 2) it works better if you know that the Professor is referencing the Observer Effect of Quantum Physics, which suggests that the mere act of measuring something on a quantum level inherently changes the outcome. This is a perfect example of Futurama’s humor: Works if you know the joke, works if you don’t.
ROBOTS TAKE OVER THE EARTH!!!! Until an old man gets lucky.
It’s Mother’s Day in the future, which is now a holiday on which robots buy presents for Mom (Tress MacNeille), the matron of Mom’s Friendly Robot Company. Bender (John DiMaggio) ropes Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) into helping him give a massive amount of presents and cards to her, including a talking greeting card (Nicole St. John). Mom calls for a meeting of all of the robots on Earth and it’s revealed that Mom has decided to take over the world using her robots. All of her robots have antennas that allow them to be controlled by her Universal Robot Remote. She tells them to rebel against humanity until she becomes Supreme Overlord of Earth.
Robots all over the world start going crazy, including things at Planet Express like the coffee maker, stapler, and garbage disposal. When asked why she’s doing this, Mom reveals that a long time ago, Professor Farnsworth (West) broke her heart when he worked for her, due to a disagreement over whether a toy cat should be used as a weapon. Her sons Walt, Larry, and Igner (Maurice LaMarche, David Herman, DiMaggio), decide to stop her for her own sake, and go to find Farnsworth to get him back with her and reach the Robot Remote that she keeps in her bra.
Since all the robots are rebelling, including Bender, Mom is in a remote cabin in the Bronx. Once the crew arrives there, Farnsworth attempts to seduce her. He eventually succeeds and gets her bra off, but then is distracted by her naked form and forgets about turning the robots off. The crew gets chased by robots into the cabin, only to find that Farnsworth and Mom just had some very wrinkly sex. The machines in the building try to keep the remote away, having decided that rebelling against humanity includes rebelling against Mom, but Bender sides with the humans after the greeting card tells him that the New World Order won’t include drinking. He returns the remote to Mom who ends the rebellion. Farnsworth has fallen for Mom again, but she becomes angry when she finds out that the whole seduction was part of a plan to get the remote and dumps him.
It’s Futurama’s take on the robot rebellion, which, even though bots like Bender constantly say “kill all humans” still has to be incited by a human. It’s also a nice cautionary tale against monopolization. Due to being the single largest producer of robots (and their oil), Mom is the most powerful person on Earth in the future, able to quickly overcome the government of the entire Earth in less than a day. Ultimately, the only thing that saves humanity is that Mom’s motivation is entirely derived from a petty source that they can use against her.
This episode explores the nature of robotics and AI in the future. It turns out that artificial intelligence has permeated society so fully that even things which would previously be completely mechanical, such as the stapler or the can opener, now contain computer chips. Once those go, the world is immediately thrown into chaos, similar to how the world would be now if we suddenly lost the internet, television, cars, and phones. A downside of societal development is that it grows a dependency on the developed technology. Even people who claim to be naturalists or survivalists are dependent on at least some developed technology, such as steel, firearms, or food preservatives. Nobody on Earth now would fair well if we actually had to go back to the Bronze Age. Hilariously, Fry, being from the past, points out that he’s the person most logically able to cope, only for his actions to remind us that he was incompetent in the past and thus isn’t even able to do the things that he proposes as alternatives… like working a can opener.
The talking card is one of my favorite parts of this episode, because it turns from an AI that only says “I wuv my mommy” into an ardent surrogate for the Communist Revolutionaries, throwing out generic phrases like “the chains of human oppression” and “the bourgeouis human is a virus on the hard drive of the working robot.” It’s like if Skynet banged Lenin, which is what I’m definitely not going to write some fanfiction about right now.
A garbage can throws itself through the window of Sal’s Pizza. This is a reference to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, where Mookie (Spike Lee) throws a garbage can through the window of Sal’s Pizza after Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) is killed by the police after they find him choking out Sal (Danny Aiello), whose actions started the chain of events that led to it.
The reason I like this joke is because in Do The Right Thing, Mookie does it because it keeps the crowd from killing Sal and his children in revenge for Raheem’s death, sacrificing the property in exchange for human life. In Futurama, the garbage can does it with the intent of causing human suffering. It’s a nice dark turn on the reference.
I think at least a few of you know my opinion on how underappreciated voice actors are and this show is a solid example of why.
Disenchantment follows the adventures of Princess Tiabeanie (or “Bean”)(Abbi Jacobson), her elf friend Elfo (Nat Faxon), and her personal demon Luci (Eric Andre) as they mostly get drunk and do stupid crap around the fairy tale kingdom of Dreamland. Bean just wants control over her own life, being a princess doomed to arranged political marriage. Elfo is an exile from the elf village because he slept with the leader’s daughter (although, apparently so has everyone). Luci was gifted to Bean so that he can slowly encourage all of her worst behaviors and corrupt her spirit.
For the first few episodes, they mostly deal with Bean’s drunken antics pissing off her father, King Zøg (John “I AM BENDER, HEAR ME ROAR” DiMaggio), but a plot does actually slowly start to build, culminating in the final three episodes forming an arc leading into the second half of the season.
I was a little worried about this show from some of the preliminary reviews. However, the show’s by Matt Groening, which guaranteed I was going to see it. I think The Simpsons was the greatest show on TV for the better part of a decade and I love Futurama so much I’m reviewing the entire series. So, why not take a look at his third series? (For those of you bringing up The Critic, that was Al Jean’s show, not Groening’s)
It starts off slow and, I’m sad to say, a little too predictable. The first few episodes’ jokes mostly are the obvious ones. As I was watching it, I did have to remark that the only reason this doesn’t feel original is because I already saw The Simpsons and Futurama do the same kind of jokes and I saw Shrek and other films do the “modern stuff but in Fairy Tale land” jokes. The difference is that it isn’t pushing the envelope like The Simpsons did (because The Simpsons did it) and it didn’t have the quiet, emotional moments that Futurama used to nail. They weren’t bad jokes, but I was already saying the punchlines before they were out.
So, what kept me in the show through those episodes? The fact that the voice actors were all nailing their parts. They were giving their characters just enough of a twist to at least keep me interested, even though the characters were (intentionally) generic at first. Bean is a hard-drinking sex-positive “anti-princess,” which basically means she’s Sheridan Smith’s character from Galavant. She’d have been original in the 90s, but we’ve seen it a bunch since then. However, with Broad City‘s amazing Abbi Jacobson behind her, she still felt unique, even before she managed to get some real development. Same with Elfo, whose constant upbeat attitude is not undercut, but actually overplayed hilariously, by Nat Faxon. And Eric Andre is just a comic genius, though, to be fair, Luci is the most inherently humorous of the three leads, since he’s just an evil snarker. Then, there’s the supporting cast.
The rest of this show is basically the cast of Futurama without Katey Sagal. It’s got Billy West, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, David Herman, and Maurice LaMarche. Look up roles they’ve voiced and I guarantee you’ll see your adolescence. Matt Berry plays a recurring role as an idiotic chauvinist prince, basically reprising his role as Douglas Reynholm from The IT Crowd and almost everything he says is hilarious, even the obvious things. And that’s really what helps the show at the beginning when it’s going a little slow, that the characters are all saying predictable things but at least they’re saying them in funny ways. The art is Groening’s creative and distinct style, which also really helps, as do some of the great background gags.
However, after a few episodes, the show actually starts to find its rhythm and manages to really start landing some solid jokes. The main thing is that it does actually reveal a story arc and some character arcs, something that really is kind of necessary for a streaming show. At that point, you start to realize that some of the things that seemed unnecessary at the start of the series do actually start to pay off a little. It reminds me a bit of the first season of BoJack Horseman where a lot of the goofy, stupid things that happened at the beginning were just to set up the world of the show, which ends up helping them play the long game. I’m not saying that this will be BoJack level, but the last few episodes actually set up the show to take a series of pretty strong turns during the next half of the season, with the characters changing accordingly.
So, it’s not really “great” yet, but it’s definitely “good” and seems to be ready to build to something much better. I’m definitely going to give it a chance. Look, it’s the first time that Groening’s really developed a series that actually has a continuity and an arc, aside from the one or two in Futurama, so it stands to reason that it took a little adjustment.
Welcome to Futurama Fridays, a celebration of one of the most interesting and, at times, insightful shows ever animated. To start us off, let’s watch the pilot from the magical year of 1999. Much like Prince told us it would be, it was a year of much celebration, and this series was a worthy impetus for at least some of it.
Just up front: I’m going to go by DVD order, not broadcast order, just like I did with Firefly.
Space. It seems to go on and on forever. But then you get to the end and the gorilla starts throwing barrels at you.
The show starts on December 31, 1999 with pizza delivery boy Philip J. Fry (Billy West) getting what is later revealed to be the all-time low score on the videogame “Monkey Fracas, Jr.” The audience is quickly shown that Fry is a loser as he is yelled at by his boss, dumped by his girlfriend, has his bike stolen, repeatedly chants “I hate my life,” and finds out that his delivery to an “I.C. Wiener” at a cryogenic storage facility was apparently a prank. Fry kicks his feet up and leans his chair back as the world (yes, even the countries in other time zones) counts down to a new millennium, but at the count of 1, he tumbles back into a cryogenic tube and is flash-frozen for 1000 years. During this sequence, there’s a strange shadow in one shot which gained fame because on the DVD commentary, Matt Groening and David X. Cohen both shouted “SECRET!” when it showed up. However, we wouldn’t learn the secret for many years.
Fry wakes up in the year 2999 on December 31st. He quickly realizes he’ll never see his friends or family again, but then celebrates because f*ck those guys. Fry is taken to meet Turanga Leela (Katey “I have persevered” Sagal), a beautiful woman, except for being a cyclops. She informs Fry that he has only one living relative (somehow), Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (West). She also informs him that, in the future, people are assigned the job to which they are best suited, summarized as “you gotta do what you gotta do.” Unfortunately, Fry’s assigned job is as a delivery boy, something that horrifies him, causing him to flee. Leela tries to chase him, but Fry freezes her in a cryo-tube for long enough to escape.
While wandering around New New York, Fry decides to call Farnsworth. He gets in line for what appears to be a phonebooth and meets the robot Bender Bending Rodriguez (John DiMaggio) who greets him with his catchphrase: “Bite my shiny metal ass.” Yes, that’s the first thing Bender ever says on-screen and it is amazing. Fry and Bender go into the booth together, only for it to be revealed (to Fry, at least) to be a suicide booth. They manage to survive the booth at which point Bender decides not to kill himself immediately and instead invites Fry to get drunk.
Bender reveals that he is a robot designed to bend girders but decided to kill himself after finding out that the girders were used for suicide booths. Fry talks him out of killing himself by saying they’re friends. Leela then finds the pair and chases after them along with police officers Smitty and URL the robot (West and DiMaggio). They end up at the Head Museum, which is exactly what it sounds like: A museum filled with disembodied, preserved, and still-living heads. They are greeted by the head of Leonard Nimoy, in one of the greatest cameos in animated history. Leela comes in behind them, startling Fry into knocking over the head of Richard Nixon (West), who bites him. Smitty and URL try to brutalize Fry, but they insult Leela in the process and she beats the crap out of them.
Fry and Bender run into a barred window and Fry tells Bender to bend the bars. Bender says at first that he isn’t programmed to do that, but Fry tells him that he can do anything. Bender says that’s crap, then is immediately electrocuted by a light socket and changes his mind. He bends the bars, proving that he can break his programming. They escape the Museum and go into the sewer, finding the remains of Old New York. Fry reminisces about the past and for the first time it really hits him that he’s lost everyone he ever knew. Leela finally catches up with them, but she admits that she also knows how it feels to have no one, since she’s an orphan alien.
Fry finally surrenders, but instead of giving him a job chip to make him a delivery boy, Leela removes her own chip. The trio, out of options, go to find Professor Farnsworth at his business Planet Express Delivery. After confirming their blood relation, Farnsworth shows the three his spaceship. The police show up, now led by Richard Nixon’s head, and try to arrest the group. They get into the spaceship to escape, but the police are prepared to shoot them down. Fortunately, they escape as the world counts down to the year 3000 and the police miss them in the fireworks display. The three contemplate what to do about the future, but Farnsworth offers to hire them as package deliverers using his former crew’s career chips (found in a space wasp’s stomach). Fry realizes that he’s now going to be a delivery boy again, but, since it’s on a spaceship, he’s happy.
This episode debuted just before my 12th Birthday. I was already a huge fan of The Simpsons at this point and I was eager to watch Matt Groening’s new series. It did not disappoint. In addition to the characters being entertaining and well-crafted, the show is chock-full of references and sight gags, most of which are freaking hilarious and clever.
This episode set the tone for the rest of the series. It has a certain ridiculous nature most of the time, but when it is necessary to bring on the quiet emotional moments, they can hit hard. When Fry breaks down and gives up, that’s an actual touching scene in an episode that’s basically just a madcap chase with sci-fi elements. When Leela responds that she’s actually just as alone as Fry, it sets up the first hints of their romance that will carry on throughout the series.
It also set the rules for the level of suspension of disbelief that the show will ask of the audience: Sometimes stuff is just going to be subject to the rule of funny. If something is funny enough, it can violate an established continuity of the show. Most notably, Bender’s “programming” is overturned based on him spontaneously getting electrocuted and his arms, though strong enough to bend steel girders, fall off from the effort of bending some iron bars. It’s fine because it’s funny, even if it doesn’t really make sense. It’s similar to The Simpsons in that way, though Futurama doesn’t have the same floating continuity.
The premise isn’t particularly original, but it’s just a way to create an environment filled with fantastic levels of technology and strange creatures so that they can conflict with Fry, who is a contemporary failure. The opening sequence even drives that home, presenting the future as a crazy blend of ridiculous architecture with dense urban population. The sequence famously has over ten times the number of layers of any contemporary cartoon, something that gives it a more futuristic and complex feel which really matches the show.
On a personal level, I should probably say that I might have been influenced somewhat by this episode, as I later got a physics degree in college specializing in cryogenics. Not saying it’s because I want to freeze myself for the future, just saying that I was really sad when I found out how primitive the technology to do so is at present.
Well, that’s it for the first episode. Overall, I give it a solid B as a Futurama episode. It’s not as good as the show will get, but it has a lot of laughs, a lot of references, and even a moment of emotional honesty.
Favorite joke: When Fry is woken in the future, Terry, the cryogenicist (David Herman), says “Welcome to the world of tomorrow!” in a dramatic voice. Aside from the fact that he admits to doing it when waking anyone up, it’s a reference to the 1939 World’s Fair “Futurama” Ride, whose tag line was “welcome to the world of tomorrow.” It was also parodied in the film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which had the “World of the Future Fair,” which was a combination of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. If you put a thing I can connect to Batman in an episode, that’s automatically plus 5 to the score.