This season is much more consistent than the last two; even the worst aren’t as outright offensive to me as “Attack Of The Killer App” or “Neutopia”. What’s most interesting is that the writers have finally committed to Fry and Leela being together. The season is littered with jokes based on subverting the expectation that Fry and Leela aren’t a couple, my favourite being one where Fry sadly considers how lonely he is without Bender, only to reveal a clearly-just-had-sex Leela lying right next to him. This is the value of at least a little serialisation: the whole season feels special and necessary even if few episodes reach the heights of “The Late Phillip J Fry”.
“The Bots And The Bees”
“I was wondering who Shreked in the toilet.”
“Aw, he’s so cute. Wait, no he isn’t, he looks like Bender.”
The premise of Bender becoming a loving father is pretty great, giving us the double jokes of ‘robot versions of stuff’ as well as ‘Bender being an evil version of a good parent’, and there’s a great subplot about Fry being a soft drink addict, a great set of jokes at the expense of people that definitely aren’t me. But this is one of those ‘academic notations of a ‘problematic’ thing that doesn’t affect me’, because Bender’s girlfriend Bev is coded as a black woman, and her presentation strikes me as… I know there’s a word for racist and sexist against black women specifically, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is. The whole ‘bitch ex-wife’ stereotype has never sat well with me. Also, didn’t Bender punt his first-born son into hell in one of the movies?
“And furthermore, by golly, I promise to cut taxes for the rich, and use the poor as a cheap source of teeth for aquarium gravel!”
“Yeah, that’ll show those poor!”
“Why are you cheering, Fry? You’re not rich.”
“True. But someday I might be rich, and then people like me better watch their step.”
“Is this the political process? Because I’m here to get involved in it.”
I remember having a really strongly negative reaction to this back when it first aired, having tied itself so strongly to the 2012 election that I couldn’t see how it could last after that, and it just felt so lazy. Time has since been kind to it – I was surprised by how many laugh-out-loud lines it has. But the ending is still weak, and the decision to have the Obama stand-in be a generic white guy is still weird to me.
“A Farewell To Arms”
“Scruffy, you got any varmint grease?”
“What viscocity you need?”
“Wonder what this doo-cracky does. Snake door, roger.”
A satirical spin on the Mayan apocalypse thing, this works really well because it bases it around Futurama‘s particular world (CC Futurama is really starting to remind me of Discworld in that respect). At its heart is the Fry/Leela relationship; it doesn’t do anything drastic with them, but the jumping off point is the fact that they’re already together.
“The Thief Of Baghead”
“Once again, television has given me a reason to live.”
“They’re attention parasites. They feed on the admiration of their prey.”
“Just like the noble buffalo.”
“Nothing like the buffalo!”
Futurama gets a lot of mileage out of scifi exaggerations of ordinary feelings, and it gets a lot of mileage out of satirising pop culture. This is a rare combination of the two, applying ridiculous scifi logic to the Process of acting.
“It’s great to see so many happy smiles. Most of them on Mouth Mutant!”
“Last time you did that, the Mexican restaurant declared war on us.”
This episode is based on a shitty TV cliche I really, really hate: breaking up a random background couple for no real reason so they can develop and come back to each other, in this case Leela’s parents. But it’s executed so well that I actually can’t complain. For starters, it builds off the mutants being granted freedom last season, and it’s always fun to see something like that come back. And the main emotional arc isn’t about Mr and Mrs Turunga, it’s Leela’s relationship with her parents, capturing a moment where they’re humanised in her eyes a little (also, a moment where Fry gets to be a good boyfriend to Leela). It also has a great twist on Zapp Brannigan, as he genuinely loves Leela’s mum and loses her not because he’s a cad, but because he’s a genocidal idiot. Finally, the image of Leela’s dad surfing a wave of sewerage is hilarious.
“The Butterjunk Effect”
“With one sixth gravity, you can work and be lazy at the same time! It’s like being a voice actor!”
“Keep your eye on the ground. That’s where she’s gonna land.”
The season has fewer (or at least more seamless) random pairings; this episode brings together Leela and Amy, and tries to retcon their random digs to each other as just how women talk. Which is bullshit, but the episode works.
“Fun On A Bun”
“It’s July, right? Let’s wait three months and go to Oktoberfest.”
“People in your day were backwards and crude.”
“Well at least we were hammered!”
This is something extremely rare for even middle-era Futurama: a genuine attempt to engage with the fact that Fry is a 20th century
fox man who got frozen, and it serves as the basis of a part of Fry and Leela’s relationship. This is one of the deepest cuts in the show’s vault of scifi tropes, reaching right back to the pulps for the ‘ancient hidden civilisation’ trope that hasn’t even been done ironically in decades.
“Let’s boldly go where we’ve gone before!”
“They look just like you, Fry. Arms. Legs. Ugly.”
Somehow, I can forgive this episode for the extended insult against The Matrix (for the record, it had two writers, assholes) because it gives us two nice stories: Fry, connecting with his only remaining family, and the Professor, reconciling with his – there are a lot of jokes this season where the characters randomly acting like kids (“Can we stop for ice cream on the way there?”), and this episode spins some gold out of that. It also has one spectacular example of the writers managing to zig a sentence instead of zagging: “Momma? Daddy?”
“31st Century Fox”
“This is my best protest sign ever. And it was easy, because I started with the “Save The Ox” sign I already had.”
“Today we hunt the most dangerous game, aside from lawn darts.”
Fox hunting is one of the weirder premises the show has ever dived into, but it makes it work. I’m often tempted to think of Leela as a future version of Lisa Simpson, and this episode plays with that – she starts to protest the fox hunt in a very Lisa way and changes her mind when she discovers the fox is actually a robot (letting Bender pick up the slack), as if she’s a version of Lisa who learned when not to give a shit. Patrick Stewart guest stars, but sadly he doesn’t feel as necessary as Bullock over on American Dad – Maurice LaMarche could have played the character and little would have been lost. Bender’s fascination with acting classy makes me think of all those times I and many others my age have imitated classy behaviour without fully understanding it (see also: Always Sunny), which makes me wonder if there’s an essay on Gen X/Millenial fascination with the whole ‘gentleman’ archetype.
“Viva Mars Vegas”
“Look out, penny slots, I’ve got a system! It’s to put all my money in you.”
“This is why you never see a poor person with millions of dollars.”
It’s hard not to oversell this episode, because heists really bake my potatoes and this is a fun comic Futurama-specific take on one, relying on ridiculous pseudoscience, Zoidberg’s ridiculous appetite and smell, and the Robot Mafia. I also love the first act where Zoidberg gets his eight million dollars and blows it all pretty much immediately. The Chart Room scene just gets funnier the longer it goes.
“The Six Million Dollar Mon”
“My job? Toilets and boilers, boilers and toilets. Plus that one boiling toilet. Fire me, if’n you dare.”
“You don’t understand! He was the only one who cared enough to insult me!”
“I insult you, you fat sack.”
This feels like another ‘shove two characters together’ episode, but it’s extremely effective because it builds on relationships and traits that were already there: Zoidberg loves Hermes despite Hermes very clearly hating him, and Hermes loves being as efficient as possible. The increasing scifi absurdity of Hermes upgrading himself, the hilariously pathetic-yet-charming nature of Zoidberg trying to fix the situation, the basic storytelling holding all these gags together and giving the absurdity a strange emotional resonance; all strengths of Futurama.
“Free Will Hunting”
“Well, I got my tuition back. Minus nine thousand dollars for the damage I caused to the Dean’s wife.”
“So, you want a piece of gum?”
“If I do, it’s only because I was predestined to want a piece of gum.”
“Whoa. That’s pretty deep. So, you want a piece of gum?”
Bender’s combination of thoughtless cruelty and beingarobotnessism makes him a strangely perfect candidate for the show’s occasional dives into genuine philosophical thought; having to stop and think about things would be believably difficult/hilarious for him, and being a robot allows him to survive some particularly violent spins on concepts. In this case, he’s forced to confront the fact that he has no free will. The show ultimately cheats its way out of the question, but it hits some interesting places on the way there.
“Goodbye! It was fun maturing with you! But at this point in my life cycle, I need a mate who’s within squirting distance.”
“Is it weird if I talk about his crazy turtle penis?”
“I’m forty percent ass! Arf arf!”
This is one hell of an episode to end the season on. One of the basic assumptions of the Groening shows is that knowledge is a genuine pleasure in and of itself, allowing you to make and get as many different kinds of jokes as possible; this feels like the ultimate extension of that, building three genuine stories out of True Animal Facts. I always get a kick out of cartoon animals that aren’t basically human beings in fursuits, but actual animals with animal instincts that happen to talk; this episode totally commits to all the facts to deliver as many jokes as possible. It also has great visual gags; my favourite is the Nixon Jellyfish.