Futurama Fridays – S2E16 “Anthology of Interest I”

The Planet Express crew participates in a scientific version of “What If?”

SUMMARY

The Professor (Billy West) is demonstrating his new invention the “Fing-longer” which, as the name suggests, is just a glove with a long finger. He uses the device to turn on the What-If Machine, which generates a hypothetical story in response to any “What If” question. The crew tries it out in 3 different stories:

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Behold, the FUTURE!!!!!

First, Bender (John DiMaggio) asks what it would be like if he were 500 feet tall. A giant Bender is built on another planet and proceeds to head to Earth, where he quickly befriends Fry (West). However, their interactions are now more destructive than usual due to Bender being larger than most versions of Godzilla. When Zapp Brannigan (West) is sent to stop him, Fry is injured, resulting in Bender going on a rampage. The Professor decides to enlarge Zoidberg (West) to 500 feet tall to fight Bender, but Zoidberg soon starts destroying stuff as well. The two do end up fighting and Bender appears to win until Fry distracts him with shrinky-dinks and Zoidberg impales Bender on a large building. Bender says that his simple dream was only to kill all humans, then he expires.

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King Kong ain’t got nothing on them.

Second, Leela (Katey Sagal) asks what she would be like if she were slightly more impulsive. This results in her killing the Professor in response to him calling her boring. Hermes (Phil LaMarr) discovers this, but she kills and dismembers him. Bender tries to blackmail her over Hermes’ remains, so she kills Bender with a microwave. Amy (Lauren Tom) insults Leela, so she dies. Cubert (Kath Soucie), Scruffy (David Herman), and Nibbler (Frank Welker) all accuse Leela and are impaled on the same sword. Zoidberg finally figures it out, but Leela eats him. After Fry actually determines the truth, Leela silences him… through wild sex acts, which he really likes.

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This is genuinely impressive. Most people can’t do the triple impale.

Last, Fry asks what would have happened if he never came to the future. Back in the year 1999, Fry fails to fall into the cryogenic freezer, resulting in a space-time rip that shows Planet Express. The next day, Fry sees Stephen Hawking in his pizzeria and tells him about the rip. Later, Fry is abducted by the “Vice Presidential Action Rangers,” a group dedicated to preserving the space-time continuum, with members including Hawking, Al Gore, Nichelle Nichols, Gary Gygax, and Deep Blue (Tress MacNeille) the chess computer. They determine that the rip means that Fry should have died, and try to beat him to death to save the universe. This makes the rip worse, so they realize Fry would have to be frozen, but Fry breaks the tube, resulting in the universe collapsing. In response, the group plays Dungeons and Dragons.

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Weirdly, these characters are together even without Fry.

The entire episode is revealed to be the Professor asking what life would be like with the fing-longer.

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He does eventually make it, though. Because science!!!!

END SUMMARY

This was the Futurama version of the “Treehouse of Horror” from The Simpsons, but these are less directly parodying popular films or movies. Bender’s story is a bit of a parody of The Iron Giant and Godzilla, and the name of Leela’s is a parody of Dial M for Murder, but it never feels like they’re being too direct about the rip-offs. In the DVD commentary, they say that they wanted to do some stories that they just couldn’t work into the normal continuity, similar to Marvel’s “What-if?” comics line.

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Much like that line, some stuff in these became canon.

This episode kind of highlights what I think is a strength behind both this show and The Simpsons as well as the other shows that have sense copied it: They’re willing to play with the medium of sitcom. They know that television is, by default, repetitive and that one of the best ways to keep people from going insane is to occasionally have an episode that bucks that. These episodes also often have the benefit of containing ideas that were generally deemed “good” but not good enough to stretch into a full episode, so most of the quality is condensed into each vignette.

Bender’s segment, “Terror at 500 Feet” is pretty much great from start to finish, including the way that Bender’s lead-in very clearly suggests he was going to ask what it would be like to be human (something that they actually did in the sequel episode to this). It’s surprisingly efficient, with most of the interactions of characters happening in only a line or two, and a lot of it being conveyed through quick cuts of Bender and Fry’s friendship. The ending is one of the best random lines in the series, with Bender saying that he’s not the real 7-billion-ton robot monster… despite the fact that he also was planning genocide.

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Might wanna get that checked out.

Leela’s segment, “Dial L for Leela” actually does a nice exploration of the character that is fairly accurate to her canon portrayal: If Leela were more impulsive, she entirely gives in to murderous rage (and apparently lust in some cases). While in this episode she’s comically over-the-top, if you pay attention to Leela throughout the series, she does have some pretty pronounced issues with violence. She also spontaneously sleeps with people that she regrets a few times, including most famously Zapp Brannigan. Basically, this segment is just telling us that Leela is always about to go on a killing rampage… which we honestly should have known already.

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She also got new boots with a fun green stripe.

The last segment “The Un-Freeze of a Lifetime” is basically an excuse to say “look how many celebrities we can get.” It’s got Stephen Hawking, Gary Gygax, Nichelle Nichols, and “literally running for President at the time” Al Gore. This was Al Gore’s first appearance on a fictional show and it’s honestly hard to believe that he agreed to this, since, again, he was literally the sitting VP at the time and running for President. I assume it was trying to break up his reputation as being weak or super-serious (super-cereal as South Park would put it) by being a violence-prone caricature in a comedy show, but it’s still a weird event in pop-culture. The fact that he’s paired with Gary Gygax, someone that his wife, Tipper, had repeatedly attacked as corrupting children (because she saw Tom Hanks in Mazes and Monsters, I assume), is even more bizarre, but, again, maybe it was supposed to show that serious Al Gore could lighten up. Hawking was likely there because he repeatedly guest-starred on the Simpsons. Nichelle Nichols was there because she’s awesome. The complete randomness of the assembly really only serves to drive home both the ludicrous nature of the premise as well as the dysfunction of the group. I actually think that this is a premise that, with the right writing, might have carried an entire episode, because it honestly feels a little rushed in this segment. Still, it’s funny and filled with stars.

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And DnD would never look cooler than this.

I also love that “The Un-Freeze of a Lifetime,” written by series creator David X. Cohen is basically a giant ball of foreshadowing. When they duplicate the events of “Space Pilot 3000,” the shadow which prompted Cohen and Groening to shout “secret” in the first season’s director’s commentary is missing. When Fry misses the tube, the universe starts to unravel. However, it’s not that the universe is unraveling just because he missed the tube, but because without Fry being in the future, there’s no one to stop the evil brains. Also, unless he goes to the future, Fry can’t go back in time and become his own grandfather, meaning that his very existence violates the laws of the universe… or at least the ones that are in place until they get broken in “Bender’s Big Score.” Apparently, the “What if?” machine can take into account information that no one knows outside of the Nibblonians. Still, nice work, Cohen.

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Behold, the floor.

FAVORITE JOKE

My favorite gag is that Stephen Hawking steals ideas and claims them as his own. First, he agrees with Fry’s claim that he invented gravity, then he steals the space-time rip by claiming it as a “Hawking Hole” instead of a “Fry Hole.” When Fry calls him out on it, Hawking counters “Who is The Journal of Quantum Physics going to believe?”

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Rest in Peace.

This plays into the longstanding rumors that Hawking had plagiarized or stolen some of his more famous theories, particularly related to space-time. This was even played with in one of his appearances on The Simpsons where he talks to Homer and says he might steal his theory of a donut-shaped universe. It’s been claimed that Hawkings developments, particularly the ones which were later overturned, were not as significant as he claimed and that they were just taking a small step past what was previously discovered by others, but with good press.

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Those thieving glasses…

The truth is that physics, even more so than most other sciences, is developed by expanding upon the theories and research of previous people. Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalence paper (the E=Mc^2 thing, though it wasn’t in the paper) was revolutionary, but most of it was similar to a paper by Hendrik Lorentz. Isaac Newton once said of his accomplishments “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants,” and even that expression was a turn on a statement from the 1100s by Bernard of Chartres which stated that each generation advances only because we are dwarves standing atop of the giants that are our ancestors.

Hawking’s work was not only great because of its scientific advancement, but also because he, like Einstein or Richard Feynman or Neil DeGrasse Tyson, went out of his way to try and put science into the zeitgeist and make scientists look cooler.

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Though none matched Schrodinger for cool.

One of the best things about this was that Hawking rolled with all of the punches (yes, pun intended) and just dealt with it as part of being in the spotlight. So, yeah, I think they gave him a couple of good-natured shots so that he could show that he’s able to handle it.

Well, that’s it for this week.

See you next week, meatbags.

PREVIOUS – Episode 28: The Problem with Popplers

NEXT – Episode 30: War is the H-Word

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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26) The City on the Edge of Forever (Star Trek)

startrekcast.jpgOkay, so, this is Star Trek. You already know it. I don’t know how much I have to say about it, because it’s been such a staple of American, and even just human, culture for the last few decades that I imagine almost every person alive, even if they haven’t seen the show, still knows of its existence. They probably even know some of the names of the crew of the Enterprise, like Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Vulcan Science Officer/X-O Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), and, of course, Scotty (James Doohan). Since most of the people who would read a list of best episodes are nerds, instead of a summary, I’m going to tell you what I think Star Trek is about.

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No, not hitting on alien women.

Star Trek takes place after WWIII, the Post-Atomic horrors, the Eugenics Wars, and the first contact with an alien race (although exactly when, and in what order, they took place changes by series). But, after all that, humanity finally manages to get its collective sh*t (mostly) together, and stop fighting among themselves. Humanity stops being primarily concerned with beating other people, and instead reaches the point of self-actualization, where instead of having to worry about fighting for food or shelter or prestige, everyone just works towards advancement for the sake of advancement. Despite the fact that it requires three near total global tragedies to come about, this is still probably the most positive prediction for humanity. Because of this, the show had an inherently optimistic attitude behind it at any time, and the writing usually reflected that. Even when the episode contained something morally gray, there still usually was a statement at the end reflecting that it still will contribute to a better future. In the future:

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This episode went the other way.

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Oh, good, I get to re-use this!

“The City on the Edge of Forever” was written by Harlan “seriously, I’m on this list several times, look me up” Ellison, and he basically crafted it as the anti-Star Trek episode, which makes it one of the most memorable. Of course, because it was Ellison, the guy who got fired from Disney after 4 hours because he couldn’t stop talking about making Disney-themed porn, most of his script had to be “adjusted” to get onto the show (i.e. had to remove everything that would have made the fan-base violently ill), but the result still contains his fingerprints.

SUMMARY

StarTrekGuardian.jpgThe episode begins with McCoy accidentally dosing himself with a drug that makes him paranoid and delusional, causing him to beam down to a nearby planet. The team follows, and encounters a giant stone ring that talks and has a portal in it. The rock, called the “Guardian of Forever,” explains that it can take anyone to any time and place with ease. Before they can contemplate the impact of this discovery and the possibilities of all of time and space, McCoy, still insane, runs through the Guardian. Images begin to fly at Kirk and Spock, who records them. At that time, the crew lose contact with the Enterprise, and find out that the Enterprise, and the Federation itself, no longer exist. McCoy has changed history. As the first Act ends, Kirk remarks “We’re totally alone.”

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Kirk and Spock follow McCoy through time into New York in the 1930s, hoping to undo whatever broke time. During their search, they find the proprietress of the 21st Street Mission, Edith Keeler (Joan Collins). Keeler is a kind woman, dedicated to preservation of human life and to peace throughout the world. Essentially, she’s part of the Federation before there was a Federation. As the episode progresses, Kirk and Keeler grow closer, until Spock, having found out that the Guardian’s images are the alternate future playing out, reveals that Keeler is supposed to die soon, but also that, in the alternate timeline, she survives. Looking into it further, Spock finally discovers that, should Keeler live, she will create a peace coalition that will delay FDR from entering into WWII, which will lead the Nazis to develop the atomic bomb first and winning the war. While they don’t know exactly when she’s supposed to die, scans show that McCoy will save her from a car accident. Meanwhile, Kirk has fallen in love with Keeler, even though he knows that her life will destroy the future.

StarTrekKeelerKirkFinally, after finding McCoy, Kirk witnesses Keeler step out in front of a vehicle, and has to stop both himself and McCoy from saving her. She dies, violently, and McCoy, not knowing about the alternate timeline, screams at Kirk “Do you know what you just did?” Spock replies only “He knows.” After the three return, appearing back in the future only a moment after they left, the Guardian of Forever offers them access to any part of space and time, allowing them to answer almost any of the questions that humanity could ever ask. Uhura, finally being able to contact the Enterprise again, asks if the crew is ready to beam up. Despite the fact that they’ve literally just been given access to all of time and space, Kirk instead ends the episode with the famous line: “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

END SUMMARY

As I said before, this is the anti-Star Trek episode. It ends not with wonder or optimism, but with a firm rejection of it due to the emotional toll laid upon Kirk through the episode. That’s part of the reason that this episode resonates so firmly, because that’s a more natural response than the typical Star Trek ending. But also, this episode stands as a reminder that sometimes we cannot move forward without a cost. In this case, the cost was a woman dedicated to a peaceful world. In the case of the future of Star Trek, it’s that humanity has to suffer so much that it decides to transcend natural instinct.

PREVIOUS – 27: M*A*S*H

NEXT – 26a: Rick and Morty

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Here it is on CBS:

http://www.cbs.com/shows/star_trek/video/620094838/star-trek-the-original-series-the-city-on-the-edge-of-forever/

Here it is on HULU: