So it’s come to this, a show within a show. Again.
Leela (Katey Sagal) visits her old Orphanarium to read a story to the orphans, but finds out they have eaten the books due to budget cuts. Leela tries to improvise a story, but it’s terrible and the children make their displeasure clear. She tries to write a better children’s tale and, unable to concentrate at work, heads into space to work on it. When she returns, she reveals that she’s invented a happy fantasy world called Rumbledy-Hump inhabited by singing creatures called the Humplings. The children love it and Leela is approached by Abner Doubledeal (Tom Kenny) to create a show based on the characters. She hesitates, but the children encourage her.
Leela and the rest of the crew work on the show together, with Leela writing in her “special place.” Despite her not thinking much of the series, it becomes a sensation and she soon becomes arrogant. When she has to come up with a script quickly, she heads off to write, only for Bender (John DiMaggio), who was getting a massage on the ship, to stumble out and discover that Leela actually isn’t writing the show. Instead, she found a planet populated by cute little singing creatures and just copies what she sees them do. Bender blackmails her with this information, but the show goes on as normal. When the orphans visit and tell Leela that they were inspired by her, however, she comes clean. She takes the kids and the crew to the real Rumbledy-Hump and they meet the Humplings. Doubledeal, realizing that the Humplings are real, just decides to film the creatures rather than make a show. He adopts all of the orphans to work on the set. Leela is horrified by the corruption of the innocent, but it’s revealed that literally everyone is happy with the arrangement except for her.
This episode is yet another story about a member of the crew becoming a celebrity, but this time it’s Leela that lets the fame go to her head. Unfortunately, the episode suffers because it hits a lot of the same general beats as “Bender Should Not Be Allowed On Television,” “Bendin’ in the Wind,” and even “A Leela of Her Own.” Leela becomes famous, then she becomes arrogant, then she’s revealed to largely be a fraud. The only difference in this is that, after Leela is shown to be faking, nobody really gets upset with her. However, that ending, combined with some of the fun satire of the nature of children’s television, does still make this a fairly enjoyable episode.
Rumbledy-Hump being real is probably the most predictable “twist” in the series, but the revelation that the Humplings actually prefer the convenience of modern “future” society was a solid subversion. It turns out that all of the innocence in the world is secondary to indoor plumbing. The creatures themselves were well-made, containing a nice sampling of all of the characters that kids shows usually like to feature: The moral center (Lady Buggle), the big eater (Doingg), the sweet girl (Princess Num Num), the coward (Feffernoose), and the one with the strange speech pattern (Garbly). I have nieces that are extremely young and I can confirm that this lineup seems pretty standard.
Overall, kind of a middle of the road episode.
Most of the insane songs that the Humplings sing are pretty amusing, but my favorite is still the implied song that gets cut off by the ad break. After Leela says “Oh, Hell” when Bender finds out that she’s just been copying what the Humplings say, they say that she said a Rumbledy-Hump “no-no!” In response, they sing the song about words that you shouldn’t say, which apparently is 98 words long. The words include “poo-poo” and “pee-pee” and “penis” and “gay,” which leads to a tremendous amount of speculation as to exactly what the other 94 words must have been. Did the creatures say “f*ck” and “sh*t” and “craptacular” in the process of describing all of the things they can’t say? That’s like using George Carlin to actually explain what words can’t be said on Network TV. Also, one of the words is “gay,” which apparently is an allusion to the then-recent bill in Tennessee that banned any teacher from even saying the word “gay.” That part makes me sad.
How you start is important to getting popular, but how you finish is the key to being a legend. After all, who wants to sit through 75 hours of a show for a giant letdown? Here are ten series that managed to really stick the landing.
Runner-Up: My Finale (Scrubs)
The Show: John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff) is a doctor at Sacred Heart Hospital with his best friend Chris Turk (Donald Faison), Turk’s wife Carla (Judy Reyes), his girlfriend and fellow doctor Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), his mentor Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), the head of the hospital Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), and his nemesis the Janitor (Neil Flynn).
The Finale: Okay, this is only a runner-up because I am not willing to deal with people sending me messages that say “technically, the show had another season,” followed by me slapping my face in frustration and saying “Then why did they call it Scrubs: Med School? How come it changes location, most of the cast, and central character?” But, the DVD release still says Season 9, so… fine. It’s not the “finale.” That’s particularly sad because I think it would be a strong contender for the number one spot here if it was. Unlike many great finales, this one didn’t rely on any kind of subversion or loss. Instead, this episode gives its main character, J.D., the exact send-off that we probably hoped he’d get.
It probably stands out because of the last 5 minutes of the episode, when J.D. starts to walk out of the building, and the show, and is suddenly surrounded by every guest from the show’s run that they could manage to fit and afford. As he walks down a literal memory lane, he finally stands at the exit, and we see a projection of the future he’s headed for, filled with love, happiness, and friendship. It’s a happy ending that never feels too cheesy or overdone.
10) The Last Show (The Mary Tyler Moore Show)
The Show: Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is a single woman who is an Associate Producer for WJM’s 6 o’clock news, starring Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). She works alongside Executive Producer Lou Grant (Ed Asner), and head writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod). Mary’s best friend is Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Rhoda’s nemesis who is also Mary’s friend is Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Mary’s friend who works at WJM is Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). The other main character, introduced later, is Georgette Baxter (Georgia Engel), Ted Baxter’s girlfriend.
The Finale: For a show that contains what I consider to be the single best episode of all time, it’s pretty impressive that it managed to end with what was, for a while, considered the “gold standard” of finales. It was a regular exhibit in screenwriting courses. The creators of Friends said it was a major influence in how they wrapped their show. The key is that it really is an ending for the characters as well as the show. When a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) takes over WJM, he decides he wants to fix the 6 O’clock News ratings. Unfortunately, he determines that the only person worth keeping is Ted, the person who repeatedly causes the show to tank. Everyone else is fired, devastating Mary. To cheer Mary up, Lou Grant arranges for Rhoda and Phyllis to visit her (both now had spin-offs), with both offering vastly different methods of support for Mary (and hatred for each other). Ultimately, Ted tries to do a sincere send-off, but instead quotes the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Everyone says goodbye, resulting in a group hug that no one wants to break, giving rise to the hilarious image of the entire team moving together in order to get tissues. Mary ends up smiling at the good times and turning off the lights on the set.
The key to this ending is that everything goes wrong for all the right people. Everyone who has spent years cleaning up Ted’s mistakes gets fired because of Ted, but because they kept making him look good, Ted keeps his job. He tries to protest the firings, but ultimately backs down when threatened, leading to Murray saying “When a donkey flies, you don’t blame him for not staying up that long.” When Lou tries to cheer Mary up, she calls in two of her friends… who hate each other and fight viciously. When Ted tries to be sincere, he just quotes a completely unrelated song. That’s what made the show great, watching people deal with all of life’s crap and unfairness with a laugh and a joke. It was the best way to end the show.
9) Come Along With Me (Adventure Time)
The Show: Adventure Time follows the journeys of Finn, the last human (Jeremy Shada), and his adopted brother Jake the dog (John DiMaggio), through the land of Ooo. They usually are accompanied by Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marcelline, the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), and sometimes the Ice King (Tom Kenny).
The Finale: The last episode of this show takes place far in the future from the normal timeline and the show now apparently stars two new characters named Shermy (Sean Giambrone) and Beth (Willow Smith), who appear to have a similar relationship to Finn and Jake. They go to meet with the King of Ooo, who is revealed to be BMO (Niki Yang), Finn and Jake’s AI game system. BMO tells them the story of the “Great Gum War,” what the show had been building to for a season, then tells them of the coming of GOLB, the anti-God of that universe. Ultimately, the war is averted and the world is saved, and Shermy and Beth take up the mantle of Finn and Jake.
The reason this is on this list is mostly because it contains three great elements. First, the Great Gum War is literally averted, rather than fought. Finn ends up convincing both sides of the war to stand down, and does so by forcing each side to view the situation from the other’s point of view. This represents the culmination of Finn’s growth from a boy to a man, finally realizing that violent solutions propagate violence, but that forgiveness can bring true peace. Afterwards, Shermy, now representing young Finn, complains that he thought the War would be more important, like the end of the world, only for BMO to casually say “no, that’s what happened next.” Second, after the apocalypse is averted, Shermy and Beth, acting as audience surrogates, ask BMO what happened next, only for BMO to respond with “Eh, y’know. They kept living their lives.” I think this may be one of the most perfect summaries to end a show. It’s not a bland “happily ever after,” but it is a way to tell everyone that, even though life goes on, this story has hit the end. However, the true ending is Shermy and Beth taking the pose that Finn and Jake take in the title screen, meaning that the adventure will always continue. Lastly, we see Marceline and Princess Bubblegum finally become a couple. Given how much crap the show had gotten in the past for even hinting at this, I love that they decided “we’re at the end, let’s go for it.” This finale summed up everything that was good about this show.
8) One Last Ride (Parks and Recreation)
The Show: The series follows the lives of all of the people who work for or are associated with the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana: Idealist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), her husband Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), her Libertarian boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), her coworkers Tom (Aziz Ansari), April (Aubrey Plaza), Garry (Jim O’Heir), Craig (Billy Eichner), and Donna (Retta), as well as April’s husband Andy (Chris Pratt), and Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) and her husband Chris (Rob Lowe).
The Finale: By the end of the series, everyone is leaving and no one works for the Parks Department anymore. However, Leslie asks everyone to help her when a man asks them to fix a swing near his house. As they work together to navigate the bureaucracy to repair the swing, the show flashes forward and shows how almost every characters’ life progresses. We see Garry get a happy ending after being the sad sack for most of the series, Donna turn her success into helping children with her husband (Keegan-Michael Key), and Tom become a celebrity through writing a bestseller. Ron is shown to retire from his business to run a major park with Leslie’s help. April and Andy start a family and Leslie and Ben both become successful politicians, with one of them implied to eventually be president.
This episode should be terrible. It’s saccharin beyond anything else the series had done up to this point and it’s little more than an extremely elaborate “and they all lived happily ever after.” However, the way in which their flash-forwards are told give us a real picture of how all of these people, despite drifting apart, are always bonded by the events of the show. Even though they live in different parts of the world, they’re still a family and they always will be. Moreover, the world we see in the future is a hopeful and just one, with Leslie, who has always been thwarted by the stupidity of Pawnee, becoming governor of Indiana. We see a world where, despite still having problems, we find a group of people who are fighting for the right thing, even if they all disagree on what that is. To drive it home, Leslie even quotes Teddy Roosevelt’s line “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.” We see a future where that kind of dedication is celebrated, and that’s what really makes this episode work.
7) Basil the Rat (Fawlty Towers)
The Show: Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) run a hotel in England. Basil is an angry jerk obsessed with class mobility, always trying to become one of the elite, but his own incompetence usually dooms him. His staff includes the sensible Polly (Connie Booth) and the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs).
The Finale: A health inspector (John Quarmby) informs Basil that the state of Fawlty Towers’ kitchen is below standard. If they don’t fix the problems in 24 hours, the hotel will be closed. At the same time, Basil discovers Manuel is keeping a pet rat, named Basil, in the kitchen, having been sold it as a “Siberian Hamster.” Basil tries to get rid of it, but Manuel protests and he and Polly hide it in the shed. After Manuel foolishly lets the rat back into the hotel, Basil the human poisons a veal shank in an attempt to kill the rat, but the shank gets cooked by accident. After every customer, including the returning health inspector, orders the veal, hilarity ensues. Eventually, the health inspector is handed the rat, but the cast attempts to cover for it as the episode ends.
The key to Fawlty Towers was the incredible combination of tight writing and amazing physical performances. Each episode typically took Cleese and Booth six weeks to write, which is probably why there are only twelve of them in two seasons over five years. This episode is the pinnacle of that, because all of the beats in the episode have to be precisely timed in order to keep the tension building. In the meantime, all of the characters have to keep scrambling and covering for their actions as they keep trying to find Basil the Rat. It also helps that this episode is the opposite of what Basil Fawlty had been hoping for. Rather than becoming an elite establishment, his hotel is almost closed down for being a dump, and at the end of the episode, it seems extremely likely that it will be shut down. Rather than a happy ending, we get a shot of Basil, having passed out from stress, being dragged unceremoniously from the room.
6) Weirdmageddon (Gravity Falls)
The Show: Gravity Falls is a town filled with strange happenings and mysteries. When two kids, Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), come to stay with their Great Uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) for the Summer at his Mystery Shack, they get caught up in the town’s weirdness, along with Stan’s two employees Wendy (Linda Cardellini) and Soos (Hirsch). Their greatest enemy is a dream demon named Bill Cipher (Hirsch).
The Finale: The final episode begins with Bill winning. He has finally figured out a way to enter the real world in his true form and he immediately reveals himself to be one of the most horrifying villains ever to be featured in a show for kids. He and his gang start to wreak havoc upon the town, until Dipper, Mabel, and the surviving cast fight back. Ultimately, they’re able to trick Bill into entering Stan’s mind, which they then wipe, destroying him as Stan’s dream self punches the demon out of reality. Then, finally, the Summer ends and the kids have to go home in a tearful goodbye.
The greatest strength of Gravity Falls was that it always focused on how the characters felt and what they were going through internally more than externally and this finale is no exception. The strength of the episode isn’t just in finally showing us the power of Bill Cipher and having the team overcome him, it’s that the last 20 minutes is just having a slow, sad, emotional goodbye from all of the characters to the two kids that changed the town so much. We see some nice flash-forwards explaining that most of the characters will be okay, and still be the eccentric oddities that we came to love, but also that everyone will be separated in their own lives. Maybe they’ll be together again one day, but it seems likely that this is the end of this story. It ends with a cryptogram that deciphers to: FADED PICTURES BLEACHED BY SUN. THE TALE’S TOLD, THE SUMMER’S DONE. IN MEMORIES THE PINES STILL PLAY. ON A SUNNY SUMMER’S DAY. I’ll admit that I still tear up reading that, because it’s just that adorably sincere.
5) All Good Things… (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
The Show: It’s the 24th Century and mankind has spread itself among the stars, meeting new life forms and threats along the way, and forming the United Federation of Planets. The top ship among the Federation fleet is the Enterprise-D, captained by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Along with crew members William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Data (Brent Spiner), Worf (Michael Dorn), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Picard explores the unknown along the Final Frontier.
The Finale: Picard finds himself unfixed by time, his mind jumping between the present, twenty-five years into the future, and seven years in the past, just before the show’s pilot. These jumps are random, making people think he’s going mad. In the present, he goes to investigate a space anomaly. He then uses a jump to convince his future ex-wife Beverly to travel to the same anomaly, which is happening in the future as well. In the past, he declines to go to the anomaly so that he can have the encounter at Farpoint with Q (John de Lancie), an omnipotent being who threatens humanity. However, it turns out that Q is actually causing Picard to jump through time, telling him that solving the mystery of the anomaly is the only chance to save humanity. Picard discovers that investigating the anomaly is actually what causes it, and sacrifices all three different versions of the Enterprise to stop it. This is revealed to be Q’s test and that Picard passed, saving humanity.
It’s one thing to manage to tie in the themes of a show with the finale, it’s another to literally tie the entire series together into one single cohesive expression of what the show is about. Star Trek has always been about humanity at its best; challenging the unknown, exploring the unexplored, bettering themselves for the sake of being better. This episode reveals that the entire series, from the Pilot to the end, was a test of whether humanity can evolve, with Picard as its focus. Picard proves not only that he can solve a four-dimensional problem, but that he and his crew are willing to sacrifice themselves in three different time periods in order to save the universe. It proves again that humanity has limitless potential both scientifically and socially, if only we can evolve beyond our selfishness.
The Finale: Fry (Billy West) decides to propose to his longtime flame Leela (Katey Sagal), and uses a device that rewinds time by 10 seconds (and has a 10 second recharge time) to set up the perfect proposal. Unfortunately, he ends up breaking the device, trapping him and Leela in a frozen world. Together, they live a long and happy life, until they’re discovered by the Professor, who fixes the device. He warns Leela and Fry that when he undoes the time freeze, it’ll take them back to before the episode started, with no memory of the events. Fry and Leela agree that, while they enjoyed growing old together, they both want to do it all over again.
This show gets bonus points because Futurama actually had four separate finales: “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” “Overclockwise,” and then this one. Despite having tried to wrap the show up multiple times, I am always impressed that this one is, in my opinion, the best of the four. It’s not just telling us that Fry and Leela will ultimately find happiness, we get to see them being happy together, with each of them clearly influenced by the other for the better. It helps that so much of the episode is really funny before that. We see Fry messing around with time in a number of fun gags, a throwback to the pilot, and Fry dying multiple times to the point that Leela starts to get bored with it. It’s a solid set of comedic scenes that turn into a sincere and emotional third act, which is basically what Futurama did at its best.
3) Goodbyeee (Blackadder Goes Forth)
The Show: Each season of Blackadder featured Rowan Atkinson as a different descendant of the Blackadder family. This one was a Captain in the British Army during WWI. He was commanded by the incompetent General Melchett (Stephen Fry) and his nemesis Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny). Each episode features his attempts to get out of actually having to fight, usually involving Blackadder’s incompetent aides George (Hugh Laurie) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson).
The Finale: Blackadder finds out that there’s going to be a full-scale attack the next day, meaning that he, along with all of his soldiers, will be running all-out into No Man’s Land. Since all of them will likely die, Blackadder pretends to be crazy in order to get sent home, but it fails. He tries to contact the British High Command to get sent home, but it fails as well. Darling is sent to the front line, despite his attempts to protest, while Melchett sits miles back. George and Baldrick discuss their losses during the war in a humorous way, until finally George admits that he’s afraid of dying. Blackadder and the rest of the group go over the top and are killed, with the shot fading to a silent poppy field.
It was a tradition for each season of Blackadder to end with death, usually that of the entire cast, but it was always done in a comic fashion. This entire season had frequently played off the massive casualties of World War One as a dark joke, which set everything up to do a similarly humorous or absurd conclusion to this season, but instead, they played it perfectly straight. It’s a sad, somber, painful ending to the show. It’s a subversion of the nature of the series, but it fits the theme of the season, that war is hell. The show sacrificed its own cast to make sure that people remember that the price of war is blood and tears.
2) Felina (Breaking Bad)
The Show: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a chemist who finds out he has terminal cancer. He decides to partner with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to make meth in order to provide for his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). He does surprisingly well, eventually becoming a kingpin.
The Finale: Having managed to lose most of his money and betraying Jesse in the last season, Walt threatens former partners to leave a fortune to his son and decides to “make things right.” He rigs a machine gun to a mechanical arm and tries to make amends to his wife for all of his misdeeds, having a conversation in which she points out that his actions were always about him, never the family. Walt goes to meet the Aryan Brotherhood members holding Jesse hostage and uses the machine gun to kill almost all of them, with him and Jesse killing off the survivors. Walt is mortally wounded, but dies smiling surrounded by meth cooking equipment as Jesse escapes.
This episode works on so many levels. First, the title is an anagram for finale and a reference to the song “El Paso,” which mirrors the events of the third act. Like the subject of “El Paso,” Walt dies in the arms of his beloved: Meth. Second, it mirrors the pilot, both beginning and ending with sirens headed for Walt. In the pilot, Walt declines to shoot himself, but here, he dies by a shot from his own gun. Walt even dies in the same outfit he wore in the pilot. Third, it provides a satisfying conclusion to a series that was constantly escalating tension by doing exactly the opposite, being a quiet denouement for Walt after one last blaze of glory. The show was always building towards his death, and Cranston’s final moments on-screen send the character off in exactly the right way.
1) The Last Newhart (Newhart)
The Show: Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who moves to Vermont to run an inn with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). While Dick is a relatively normal and sane person, the town is populated by eccentric people whose inability to operate within the bounds of reality constantly drives Dick crazy.
The Finale: After years of putting up with the locals, the entire town is purchased by a Japanese tycoon who wants to turn it into a golf resort. While Dick and Joanna make a show of wanting to keep the town the same and refuse to leave, literally everyone else takes a huge payout and vacates. Years later, Dick and Joanna now run their inn in the middle of a golf course. All of their former neighbors pay them a surprise visit, but quickly drive Dick crazy until he gets hit in the head with a golf ball. He then wakes up in bed… as Dr. Bob Hartley, the main character of The Bob Newhart Show, next to his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). He reveals that the entire series of Newhart was just a dream he had, something that annoys his wife when he reveals that he was married to a beautiful blond.
This finale should be terrible, because the idea that the whole series was a dream would normally be stupid or seem like a cop-out. However, The Bob Newhart Show was a series about Bob Hartley questioning his own reality and Newhart was a series where everyone somehow played by rules that defied any established rules of logic, except for Bob Newhart’s character. It not only made sense that Newhart was a dream of someone who constantly questioned reality, it made MORE sense than any other explanation. Bob Hartley always defined himself as the “only sane man” in his life, so he still does that in his dreams. Bob Newhart essentially spent 20 years setting up this punchline across two different series and it served as a perfect finale for both of them. I think it’s telling that after Breaking Bad ended, Bryan Cranston did a “fake ending” where he wakes up as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle that was inspired by this. When the second best ending has to pay tribute to something, you know that thing has to be the best.
Let me know if there are any others that you think I should have added by posting in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter.
Come along with me to a show that managed to turn every cliche on its head.
Welcome to the Land of Ooo, where magic thrives, princesses are plentiful, and heroes are born. Oh, it’s also Earth after a nuclear war wiped out almost all of humanity. Finn (Jeremy Shada) is the last human and a courageous hero with a love of adventure and fighting. His adopted brother is Jake (John DiMaggio), a magical shapeshifting dog who is laid-back and fairly lazy, mostly because his powers allow him to do almost anything. Finn and Jake act as protectors of the Candy Kingdom, which is ruled over by the supergenius nerd Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch). The pair often have to rescue her from the machinations of the Ice King (Tom Kenny), a magical king who is obsessed with kidnapping princesses. Finn is also friends with Marceline, the hard-rocking Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson). There’s also an adorable sentient computer named BMO (Niki Yang), the sarcastic Lumpy Space Princess (series creator Pendleton Ward), the fiery Flame Princess (Jessica DiCicco), Jake’s girlfriend Lady Rainicorn (Niki Yang), and an insane number of recurring characters.
Adventure Time is the ultimate coming of age story, because it progresses in the same way that life tends to progress when going from childhood to the cusp of adulthood. This is embodied in Finn, who ages from 12 years old to 17 during the series and, apparently, 18 in the HBO Max revival that’s coming out this year. Likewise, the show itself starts off as a really simple and childish series about a magical land where dreams come true and heroes and villains are easily discernible. As the show goes on, though, everything starts to get more and more complicated, with the good guys revealed to be morally ambiguous and the bad guys revealed to be more sympathetic or having deeper motivations than we had previously been privy to.
That’s what really makes this show special, because it takes a simple outlook of “good people vs. bad people,” then slowly destroys it, the way that people will need to have it destroyed at some point in their lives. Now, the show doesn’t say that there aren’t truly bad people out there in the world, in fact it makes a point of having a few characters that are just truly bad and never really get redeemed, but it does show that a lot of them have been made the way they are, or that they’re really trying to do the right thing and they just haven’t been able to. Similarly, seemingly good or innocent characters are shown to have selfish or stupid motivations. “People are complicated” is one of the hardest lessons to learn, because even when you know that fact, we often still want to group people into “good” and “bad.” However, that’s rarely ever the case, when you see what made them that way.
One of the other great things about this show is how thoroughly it blends storytelling ideas from throughout history, although it’s almost entirely Western history. We see a lot of influences from fairy tales, because Ooo is a world where you can spontaneously stumble upon an old woman offering cursed apples or magic beans or maybe just a random princess trapped in a tower. The randomness of happenings in the world allow for shorter-form storytelling, because they eschew set-ups. We also see a number of episodes derived from mythologies ranging from Greek and Roman to Egyptian, where our characters are just pawns caught in the grasps of higher beings. Then, there are the more modern stories where the characters are playing video games or addressing fan fiction. By combining all of these influences, the show gains a more timeless quality and a greater level of relevance to almost any viewer.
The animation and the voice action are highly stylized, but that also lets the show play with styles more and convey more visually than many shows could. It mostly does a good job in making body horror and grotesqueries look cartoonish enough that they’re not really scary. The show does frequently do horror storylines or episodes, ranging from possession to murder to existential horror, but despite the darkness, the show’s animation and the emotional resilience of the characters manage to keep it bearable for any viewer. It helps that the show’s storytelling is unbelievably streamlined, with each episode being 12 minutes and yet often feeling like you’ve watched a full normal episode of television. They do this by using a lot of quick cuts and clever visual storytelling tricks to convey massive amounts of information in a few seconds.
The main reason why I want more people to watch this, aside from helping any viewer with their emotional development, is that the show teaches a valuable lesson that most shows can’t teach because they don’t grow the way this show does: Even though life is complicated, you can always keep fighting to do the right thing. What is “right” will always change as you get more information, so it’s tempting to just not learn more, but it’s better to learn and grow and change yourself. The right thing isn’t usually the easy thing, particularly when you have to accept that you might have been wrong in the past, but the world works out better for everyone, including you, when you work to change it for the better.
The downside to the show’s brilliant structure is that the beginning of the show is extremely childish and simple, with humor that often is in the same vein. In other words, some of the episodes just aren’t that fun to watch for adults until around Season 3. If you want to just spend 15 minutes to test if the show will be for you, I would recommend watching the Season 3 episode “What was Missing.” If you like it, give the show a try. If, after seeing that, you want to get into the show without having to go through all of the early episodes, I recommend the following episodes in Season 1:
“The Enchiridion,” “Ricardio the Heart Guy (it’s got George Takei),” “Evicted,” “What Have You Done?” and “His Hero.”
For Season 2:
“It Came From The Nightosphere,” “The Eyes,” “To Cut a Woman’s Hair,” “The Silent King,” “Guardians of Sunshine,” “Death in Bloom,” “Susan Strong,” “Heat Signature,” and “Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil.”
So, if you just watch those episodes, you get most of the show’s set-up, but you only need like 3 hours to do it. Once you get to Season 3, the show quickly starts to get much stronger, especially when you get to “What was Missing,” and “Holly Jolly Secrets,” an episode that I put on my list of the best episodes of television.
Overall, this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and the fact that it’s still going brings me nothing but joy. Please give it a watch.
Much like its sister-show Brickleberry, this show tries to be edgy but really just comes off as derivative.
The Police Department of the City of Paradise, one of the worst cities in the world, is basically the least competent police force ever. The Chief, Randall Crawford (Tom Kenny), is a racist, sexist, narcissist. His son, Kevin (David Herman), is an idiot, but also the newest member of the force. The others include hyper-violent sexual predator Gina Jabowski (Sarah Chalke), her morbidly obese victim Dusty Marlow (Dana Snyder), the elderly pervert Stanley Hopson (Snyder), PTSD sufferer Fitz (Cedric Yarbrough), and the drug addicted police dog Bullet (Kyle Kinane). They have to deal with a cast of colorful criminals creating chaos.
If you’re a fan of Daniel Tosh, or were in college in the early 2010s, you probably remember hearing about the show Brickleberry. It was about the worst crew of park rangers in the world who monitor the worst park in the world, and was created by Roger Black and Waco O’Guin, just like this show. It was filled with dirty jokes relying on stereotypes, shock value, and scatological humor with basically no other substance or types of comedy present. It got three seasons, because of course it did, and for the most part was forgotten quickly. Then Netflix decided to reboot it, but since they didn’t have the rights (Hulu does), they just let the creators come up with an almost identical premise, something the show itself has mocked repeatedly.
While I admire their candor in admitting their unoriginality, I still just don’t like this show that much. The biggest issue I have is that there seems to be nothing to the characters. Any of them can be suddenly given a new and contradictory character trait or background and it’s just used for the episode and never referenced again. This wouldn’t bother me as much, except that the show is actually a loosely formatted serial with a continuous plotline, meaning that the events of one episode happened, but the character trait that led to those events might not have happened. I am sure a lot of people can deal with that, but it just ticks me off.
Also, I just don’t think it’s super funny. They can pull off a solid joke every few minutes, but all of the failed ones just aren’t worth it and sometimes they make one that just makes me feel unclean as a human. If you enjoy the humor of the first episode then it seems like it stays pretty consistent throughout, but I can say that it never got much better. I think I would enjoy it if I was watching it with a crowd that had been drinking to the point that silly talking dogs are inherently funny, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort.
Rocko’s Modern Life returns after 20 years with an important message about balancing nostalgia and change.
After the end of their series in the 90s, Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), and Filbert (Mr. Lawrence) have been stuck in space watching reruns on VHS of their favorite series, The Fatheads. When they finally return to Earth 20 years later, they find that a lot of society, as well as O-Town, has changed, and that Rocko will have to learn to change with it.
Rocko’s Modern Life was and is a nostalgia gold mine for 90s kids. It was edgy, it was poignant, it spoke to a lot of issues for both kids and adults, and it surprisingly holds up well on rewatching. The fact that it was constantly trying to find the dirtiest thing that it could slip by the censors helps, particularly with jokes like the “Jack-All-You-Want” Jackhammer festival.
The characters in Rocko’s Modern Life were always a perfect blend of absurd and familiar. While you might not actually know a wallaby that is best friends with a cow that was raised by wolves, you probably know the neurotic guy who has a slovenly friend that he is simultaneously infuriated by and dependent on. The relationships between the three leads always kept the conversations somewhat understandable, even when the situations would be insane, like when they end up in Hell Heck being tortured by Peaches, the Devil.
This special brought all of that back, but also added a very poignant message about nostalgia. We follow along as our characters adjust to the changes in the world that have happened over the last 20 years, ranging from the presence of cell-phones to the digitization of comics to the fact that a lot of shows and movies that were formerly popular are now being reimagined and brought back. Strangely, there appears to be no change to the joke about most of the world being owned by megacorporations. Weird how that works. However, Rocko doesn’t handle the changes well and just wants to hold onto one thing that he knows well: his favorite show The Fatheads. So he dedicates himself to getting the show back so that he can at least have something familiar in a world that now scares him. That’s the core of what nostalgia is about, having something familiar to hold onto that reminds you of a time when you thought the world was better.
That’s why most nostalgia is from childhood. When we’re kids, our world is small and simple. We haven’t had to deal with all of the shit that life can throw at us (at least most of us haven’t). However, even when we later go back to things for which we’re nostalgic, the fact that we’ve changed becomes apparent and sometimes those things we want to remember aren’t quite as perfect as we remember. Moreover, when we bring something back for the “nostalgia factor,” even small changes to the original material are going to drive off some viewers, though overall the profitability makes it worthwhile. This special covers all of this in a clever way that I don’t want to spoil here, but it does make the point well.
The truth is that times will always change, and we must change with them. For the most part, despite how scary things can be, times do change for the better in the long run. This special reminds us that we need to be open to it. Also, it’s damned funny. Give it a watch and maybe they’ll make more.
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.
Leela gets plastic surgery to be normal while Bender tries to sell orphans for meat.
Leela (Katey Sagal) gets invited to her reunion at the Orphanarium. At first she is hesitant because all of the times her fellow orphans tortured her over her eye, but Fry (Billy West) points out that she has become more successful than any of them and should use this to get payback. When they arrive, Leela points out that all of them are losers (One lives in a box, one sells his own body parts for money, one is deaf and blind), but they still look down on her because she only has one eye. Dr. Adlai Atkins (Tom Kenny), a man she had a crush on as a boy, defends her. He apologizes for making fun of her as a child and offers to give her plastic surgery to make her appear to have 2 eyes. Everyone at Planet Express says it’s a good idea, except for Fry, so Leela goes through with it, gaining a “normal” face. She goes around experiencing normal life with two eyes, including winking, blinking, and blending in with a crowd.
Meanwhile, Bender (John DiMaggio) has discovered that the government will pay $100 a week to anyone who adopts orphans. Seeing a scam ahead, Bender adopts a dozen of the orphans, only to quickly realize that kids cost a lot of money. He tries cheap work-arounds like Cat Meat burgers, feeding them with the free peanuts that come with his beer at bars, and dining-and-dashing, but still is barely making any money. It’s also keeping him from living his usual bachelor lifestyle.
Adlai and Leela begin dating, much to Fry’s frustration. Adlai is exceptionally boring and obsessed with average things. However, when he takes Leela to dinner and sees Bender’s kids run out on a check, Adlai asks Leela about having kids. She is elated with the thought, but then asks Adlai if they should adopt kids instead. He agrees, and they decide to adopt one of Bender’s kids, who he is apparently trying to sell to a Chinese restaurant. Upon seeing them, Leela wants to adopt the mutant child, Sally (Nicole St. John), who has an ear on her forehead and a tail, something Adlai insists they fix through surgery. Leela states that she’s fine just as she is, leading her to realize that she was fine the way she was, and forces Adlai to reverse the surgery. Bender donates the orphans and the money back to the Orphanarium, Leela goes back to normal, and Bender reveals that he did actually become attached to the kids before declaring he hates them all.
This is an episode where I think the B-Plot is definitely the stronger of the narratives. I think even the creative team recognized that when they ended up naming the episode after it, rather than the clear focus of the episode, Leela’s eye. The thing is most of the jokes in the episode that actually work come from Bender mistreating the children (which is okay because he keeps them happy), rather than the montage of Leela trying to be normal.
The generic plot of “everyone’s different and fine the way they are” is something that is more difficult to do with science fiction, because technology does slowly eliminate a lot of differences and in Futurama technology is unbelievably advanced… when it suits them. For example, blind, deaf, and nearsighted people still exist, but Fry once had his hands replaced in 15 minutes when a T-Rex bit them off. Hell, in the first episode on Comedy Central, Fry is regrown from a few cells and hair, complete with his memories. Similarly, despite the fact that people routinely interact with aliens ranging from humanoid to blob to hyper-intelligent forms of light, Leela and Sally are still mocked for their appearance and mutants are forced to live in the sewers of New New York. Granted, most of this is done by children, who I think everyone agrees are cruel little monsters when in groups.
While the message of the episode is good, it does still bring up a few ethical questions for the future. For example, throughout the series it’s pointed out that Leela has almost no depth perception, despite the fact that she’s a pilot. She crashes at least twice from it over the run, which, again, is actually pretty impressive given that she has no depth perception. However, in another episode it’s implied that every time she crashes through the billboard in the opening, that actually happens weekly, which is… less impressive. My point, though, is: Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for her to actually have two eyes if she wants to do that job? But, if they do that, are they destroying something about her identity? When we eliminate disabilities, we’re also eliminating the culture that has grown out of those disabilities. While this episode kind of picks the “you’re better just being you,” they do kind of avoid any actual discussion about the implications of this. Probably for the best, given that deaf people protested when Scrubs portrayed a deaf father agreeing that his son was better off with a cochlear implant, something that the deaf community considers “selling out,” apparently.
Overall, I enjoy this episode, although the A-plot just isn’t that funny to me.
This episode has the best opening line in the series. It’s Morbo, the news monster, saying the following:
So I gave the cookies you made to Fawn and the kids and they couldn’t believe it — they were delicious. But, I digress.
Tremble, puny earthlings! One day my race will destroy you all!
It’s so perfectly delivered that I rewound it two or three times on this viewing just to watch it again. It conveys the exact dichotomy that Morbo represents: A professional talking head and an invading alien. Normally, you’d think that you couldn’t be a newscaster and also be seeking the eventual destruction of the people in your audience, but- who am I kidding, that’s most of cable news.
Strong second place is Bender’s response to getting arrested:
SMITTY: You’re under arrest for child cruelty, child endangerment, depriving children of food, selling children as food, and misrepresenting the weight of livestock!
BENDER: If you had kids of your own, you’d understand.
I mean, I don’t have kids, but I’ve met enough of them that… yeah, I get it.
Morty forces Rick to go along on an adventure with the Vindicators, a superhero team whose name is definitely not derivative of anything.
Rick and Morty (Justin Roiland) receive a call from the Vindicators, a superhero team that they had previously assisted. Rick refuses, but Morty uses his right to choose every tenth adventure from winning the bet in “Meeseeks and Destroy” to force Rick to do it. They join the Vindicators on their spaceship base and are informed that a villain named Worldender is out to take over the galaxy. Rick wastes no time in being hostile towards all of the Vindicators: literal starchild Supernova (Gillian Jacobs), cyborg reptile Crocubot (Maurice LaMarche), conductor of a ghost train Alan Rails (Lance Reddick), hive-minded ant colony Million Ants (Tom Kenny), and renegade starsoldier Vance Maximus (Christian Slater). The only one he gets along with is the janitor Noob-Noob (Roiland).
Morty believes this is the second time that the Vindicators have assembled and is dismayed to be told that it is actually the third. Rick and Morty weren’t invited to the last one due to Rick’s horrible personality. Rick is amused that the Vindicators hate him so much and points out that he routinely beats much more powerful enemies than the Vindicators face, but is then hurt when Morty says that the Vindicators are heroes, unlike Rick.
The next morning, Rick is found on the conference table passed out in his own feces. Morty and the Vindicators head towards Worldender’s lair with the unconscious Rick in tow. They manage to make it through multiple defenses, but then are stymied by turrets. They wake Rick up, who stops the turrets. Once they’re inside, they find all of Worldender’s minions dead and Worldender himself impaled and dying. It’s revealed that he was killed by none other than Rick, while Rick was blackout drunk. Drunk Rick has set up a series of death traps designed to torment the Vindicators. Vance is killed quickly trying to escape while Morty solves the first death-trap.
In the next room, Drunk Rick challenges the Vindicators to tell where they would never be found. Crocubot is killed after he reveals that the Vindicators killed an entire planet during Vindicators 2 due to not being able to track down a shapeshifter named Doom-nomitron, who Rick could easily have located. It turns out that Rick was talking about Israel, which Rick defends as just being “complicated,” but not “anti-Semitic.” After that, Drunk Rick tells them to make a series of three-pointers, which they do easily, however, Alan Rails ends up accusing Million Ants of sleeping with Supernova while she was married to Alan. Rick and Morty fight over Rick’s behavior, until they witness Million Ants and Supernova kill Alan violently.
The last room contains a puzzle where Drunk Rick tells the Vindicators to show the one thing he values. Morty reasons this is nothing, but Rick says the answer might be Morty. Morty gets taken on a ride by the deathtrap where Rick appears to be getting emotional, only to reveal that the actual answer was Noob-Noob. The trap still accepts the answer, though, and the room starts ascending to the surface. Along the way, Supernova starts trying to kill Rick and Morty. Million Ants tells her not to, but she kills him. Rick and Morty are nearly dead when they hit the surface, which has been turned into a party organized by Drunk Rick. Supernova flees the crowd and Rick and Morty join the party.
This episode is a shot at the superhero film genre and it’s one of the funnier ones to date. There are a lot of levels of criticism in this episode, so let’s go through a few.
First, Rick points out that superheroes are fairly generic. In his first trap room, he tells the Vindicators to match several traits (Don’t play well with others, tragic origin, never give up, superpower is a burden, and using power responsibly) to each of their pictures. Morty quickly points out that all five of the traits apply to all of the Vindicators because they’re just variations on the same general themes. He even tells them that he’s more complex than they are.
Rick also tells the Vindicators that he believes he can knock out what they do in a year in a few hours, a reference to how superhero film arcs take an entire film or even multiple movies, whereas Rick and Morty generally gets through both an A and B plot in 22 minutes. This is a statement on the tighter storytelling that Rick and Morty uses compared to the more spectacle-based superhero films.
The show also uses their typical nihilist satire to deconstruct the idea that superheroes even exist by having them slowly display all of their worst traits when faced with something more complicated than a normal, punchable villain. Vance reveals that behind his charm and wit he’s actually a coward, Alan attacks Million Ants out of anger, Crocubot makes an illogical decision, and Supernova just goes straight villain. However, as Supernova says, the reality of the heroes is irrelevant, because it’s the belief in them that actually matters. In other words, heroes don’t actually have to be all they claim to be, they just have to appear that way. Rick, meanwhile, is always honest about being a shithead, which is somewhat more moral in its own way.
This is one of the best episodes which doesn’t have a B-Plot. The focus is unerringly on Rick and Morty, but it still works well.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Look, this one’s pretty straightforward, so I’ll give you two mini-theories.
First, Rick chooses Israel because he’s sick of being confused with Rick Sanchez, the former CNN, now Fox News commentator who got into trouble for anti-Semitic comments. Rick apparently has complicated feelings regarding Israel, but I think he goes out of his way to draw attention to his support of Israel in an attempt to separate himself from the other Rick Sanchez.
Second, why do Rick’s neutrino bombs have such a high fail rate? Well, it’s because he’s building them out of neutrinos, which have a high rate of passing through regular matter undetected due to only interacting with gravity and the weak nuclear force.
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
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.
Season 3 kicks off with a game-changing bang… that tells us the game isn’t changing.
It’s been a few months since the Second Season Finale and Rick (Justin Roiland) is being interrogated by the Galactic Federation’s top agent Cornvelious Daniel (Nathan “Firefly Was A Masterpiece” Fillion) inside of a fake reality that exists in Rick’s brain. Rick quickly sees through the ruse and reveals that he is actually capable of making alterations to the interrogation scenario when he changes Cornvelious Daniel’s coffee into a farting butt. Despite that, Cornvelious Daniel tries to convince Rick to show him the secret to interdimensional portal technology by giving him the chance to relive his last memory of his wife. Rick agrees to take him there, but they stop for McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan McNugget Sauce along the way, because it only exists in his memory.
Meanwhile, Summer (Spencer Grammer) is rebelling against the family’s new life under Galactic Federation rule. Beth (Sarah Chalke) is unemployed because alien tech makes horses immortal, while Jerry (Chris Parnell) is thriving, because his new bosses are such bureaucrats that people who are completely clueless are more successful under them. Morty (Roiland) tries to talk Summer out of saving Rick, but ends up telling her that the dead Rick from “Rick Potion #9” has a working portal gun. She robs the grave, but the pair are caught by the family’s robot Conroy (Tom “Ice King” Kenny). They escape through a portal to Morty’s original universe and are saved by Jerry C-137 and Summer C-137. The now near-feral Smiths destroy the portal gun and try to exile Summer, but are stopped by a group of Ricks from the Citadel of Ricks who detected the portal gun’s destruction. Summer tells the Ricks that Rick C-137 has been captured, but is dismayed when they tell her that means he’ll have to be killed by Seal Team Ricks.
Back in Rick’s head, he shows Cornvelious Daniel the story of figuring out interdimensional travel: While he was just a scientist in his garage trying to invent in-universe teleportation, another Rick came to him and informed him that teleportation is not an accomplishment, but interdimensional travel is. Rick, however, realized that this would make him miserable and alone, so he refused, infuriating the other Rick, who left. Rick C-137’s wife, Diane (Kari Wahlgren), comes out to check on him and Rick says that he’s giving up on science, so they should go for ice cream. He gets in the car, but when Diane and Beth come out, someone blows up the garage. Rick then writes out the mathematics behind interdimensional portal technology, something that the modern Rick says made him an “unfeeling ghost.” Cornvelious Daniel, thrilled at having achieved his message, uploads the equations… only to find out that they actually give control of the “brainalyzer” to Rick, who puts his brain into Daniel’s body and leaves him to die. The entire backstory was a lie. As Rick, now in Cornvelious Daniel’s body, tries to use his access to shut down the Federation, he’s interrupted by Seal Team Ricks, who kill everyone, but Rick manages to put his brain into one of the other Rick’s heads and kill the rest of the team, escaping from the Federation. He contacts the Citadel of Ricks and transfers his consciousness into the body of a high-ranking Rick.
Summer and Morty are being put on trial by the Council of Ricks, to whom Morty admits that he still is loyal to Rick. The trial is interrupted by Rick C-137 teleporting the citadel into the middle of the Galactic Federation Prison. Chaos ensues, with prisoners and the Ricks and Mortys fighting each other. The Council of Ricks take Morty and Summer hostage, but most of them are killed by Rick C-137. The remaining Council Rick (Riq IV) holds Summer hostage, but Rick C-137 fakes being shot by Morty (who didn’t know about it), giving him an opening to kill Riq IV. Rick, Morty, and Summer then break into the highest-level room of the Prison, giving Rick access to the top of the Federation’s computer system. Rick then changes the value of their currency to 0, collapsing the Federation economy and leading them to evacuate the Earth. Rick then returns home, where Jerry tells Beth to pick between Rick and him. She picks Rick and divorces Jerry. Being left alone with Morty, Rick proceeds to tell him that he did all of this to get rid of Jerry and the Federation, because he wants more Mulan McNugget Sauce.
I can’t even begin to cover this episode without mentioning the fact that it was part of one of the greatest April Fools Day pranks in history. Without warning anyone, this episode began to play on a continuous loop on Adult Swim. I was at a party at the time, and I didn’t believe it, thinking it was just a prank. But then we bothered to check the site and, to our amazement, here was a new episode of the show, almost exactly a year and a half after the last one, just like Mr. Poopybutthole said. Absolutely amazing.
This episode stands for a complete rejection of character development, something that helps set this show apart in comparison with similar series, while simultaneously playing with the notion of what constitutes such development. At the end of the second season, we believe that Rick has finally decided to do something for his family rather than himself, but this episode reveals that everything was actually just Rick getting revenge on all of his enemies through an elaborate gambit. Morty, who threatens to never forgive Rick for leaving in the last episode, reveals that his feelings towards Rick haven’t changed. Beth, who finally seems to have gotten past her fear of her father leaving, immediately takes him back. The only one who seems to really change is Summer, who is now somewhat idolizing Rick. At the end of the episode, Rick takes it a step further by revealing that his new motivation is now just to get more McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan McNuggets sauce. Not to avenge his family or to fight for justice or anything else that usually motivates protagonists, no, just the sauce. And that’s one of the best jokes a show can make: Rick’s motivation is completely unimportant to us, so why shouldn’t it be something absurd?
We even think that we’re getting Rick’s secret backstory to explain why he is the way he is, only for it to be revealed to be completely made up. It’s similar to how a lot of writers have treated the Joker in comics and film: Even when we’re given a backstory, it’s best to think that it could be a complete lie. After all, if we found out that Rick really is just driven by some catastrophic event or concrete motivation, wouldn’t that kind of ruin what makes him awesome? He’s just a force of chaos and that’s what works for him.
Overall, this episode was the perfect continuation of the last season’s cliffhanger. It had references to things that had happened throughout the series, but it also just re-established the setting for the true Rick and Morty formula: Rick and Morty doing random crazy stuff because Rick’s a selfish prick.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Alright, so I just pointed out that this episode ultimately removes any real selfless element of Rick’s sacrifice from the season 2 finale, but I actually don’t think that’s completely true. Let’s break down how Rick’s plan worked:
Get put in a brainalyzer with an agent who wants the formula for interdimensional transportation.
Determine what brainalyzer you’re in by seeing how many times Jerry can fold himself.
Use that information to determine what virus will give you control of the machine.
Put your brain in the agent’s body.
Get Level 9 access.
Wreck Federation Economy.
Ultimately, this didn’t end up working out beyond step 5, because of Seal Team Ricks, but at the end of the plan, there didn’t seem to be any steps that would actually get his family back. His last conversation with Morty was that Morty would never forgive him for leaving. Without Morty and Summer being captured by the citadel, who incidentally become victims of Rick’s original plan, Rick might not have been able to get back into the family. Sure, Morty later said that he hadn’t ever really renounced Rick, but Rick isn’t exactly perfect at guessing Morty’s motivations (see: Morty shooting him in the head). Now, he was aware that everyone but Jerry was on his side before leaving, but that’s still a huge risk that he’s never going to see them again, which means that on some level he was at least trying to do something to make his family’s lives better at his own peril.
If you’re saying that he knew his plan to collapse the Federation would work, I counter with: Then why had he waited to do it? Rick has been against the Federation since the pilot, but it’s not until he has nothing left to lose that he finally does it. He’s willing to take the risk now because if he fails, his family is still better off.
So, yeah, the show snuck a little bit of character development into an episode against it. Well done.
LEAVING THE CORNER
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.