Written by: Eric Horsted
Directed by: Bret Haaland
I always liked this episode, but now I can see it as proto-Futurama – an episode that has all the elements of the show, including a heartfelt emotional arc and many great one-liners, but hasn’t quite worked out the kinks yet. I always loved Fry and Bender’s peculiar relationship; like everything else these characters do, it should be wildly unhealthy and if they weren’t cartoons it would probably get one or both of them killed, but it balances out into something endearing and recognisably human. Fry is a creature capable of infinite and unconditional love, and Bender is a sociopath with no empathy whose ability to love is effectively an extension of the way he loves beer and prostitutes. Both of them get something out of it – Bender gets to receive constant love and affection, and Fry gets to give constant love and affection. It’s not a terribly healthy dynamic, but it’s a believable one; I always found a lot of resonance with my relationship to my own male best friend (if in a cartoonishly exaggerated way). Fry is not too dissimilar from Homer Simpson in how his defining aspect is his big heart, but he has a strange distinction in which he is both more actively thoughtful about his feelings but also less effective at articulating them. Homer suddenly managing a country star or leading a bowling team makes sense because he is, in his own way, always thinking on his feet. The thing about being impulsive is that it will lead you, rightly or wrongly, to action. Fry’s always putting thought into the things he does, it’s just a) not a very practical kind of thought and b) gets in the way of him articulating those feelings in the moment. At his worst, Fry spends his time spinning in circles brooding on his feelings instead of actually solving whatever problem he’s in, but aside from that being sympathetic sometimes, we also see him grow and change in small but significant ways as he finds ways to fix and deal with situations.
(Also: Fry and Bender have almost exactly the same interests and values)
As we go further in, we’ll see that one of the secret strokes of brilliance of this show was the way that the writers put the main trio into situations that force them to act on their personal weaknesses, and this would pay dividends with highly entertaining half hours that rank amongst the show’s best and most loved. Bender is a thoughtless asshole, so he gets thrown into philosophical quandaries like “Godfellas”. Leela is smart and practically minded, so she gets thrown into emotional situations where she’s either forced to admit she wants something irrational, dangerous, mean, or stupid (as we’ve already seen in the pilot, when she quits her job because she realises she hates it) or just straight up thrown into a situation that can’t be fixed, like “The Sting” or “Leela’s Homeworld”. And Fry is the one who gets big adventure stories like “The Why Of Fry” or “The Day The Earth Stood Stupid”, where he’s forced to problem-solve. It’s entertaining in a Fish Out Of Water kind of way, as we see someone muddle through a high-stakes situation with limited resources hoping they’ll get through, and it feels meaningful because the character will inevitably learn something from their situation. Granted, this show was never Community or Scrubs, showing characters learning lessons and actually applying them later in the show, but there was a gradual sense of Fry and Leela changing their attitudes slightly and adapting to what they learned.
Zooming back in on this episode, we can see this as laying the groundwork by showing Fry somewhat in his element – more precisely, dealing with the kind of conflict he’s comfortable with. This is Fry dealing with the very Simpsons-esque problem of having to choose between his personal comfort and his love for his friend – though in this case it’s like, his health or the love of a sociopath. Trying to figure out the direction his heart is telling him to go is the first step of his character, and just like Homer, the people he loves tend to win out over his self-interest, and this is the first real example of his willingness to self-sacrifice. At the same time, you can see how it’s not quite there yet in how it doesn’t stick the landing. The actual shaggy dog ending – in which Bender’s apartment turns out to have a ‘closet’ that suits Fry and then some – is absolutely hilarious and right up my alley, but the actual conclusion to the story is jarringly easy and not in the hilarious way that the show would eventually develop. If The Simpsons takes the dumbest principles it can think of and then follows them completely logically, Futurama asks “what is the dumbest way we can push the story forward?”, and the flipside of that is that the story genuinely does push forward and develop – that there are actual motivations and stakes and that the characters decisions have consequences that can’t be easily walked back. In this case, as funny as the emotional resolution is, it basically says that it doesn’t matter that Bender cut off his antennae because it could have been solved in three seconds with no lingering after effects. A later episode would have some big setpiece as Fry teams up with Bender to restore his antennae and really work to undo the damage (the much, much later episode “Assie Come Home” would basically retell this story to greater effect by doing that), or it would make the simplicity of the solution into a joke in itself.
Title Card: As seen on TV
Cartoon Billboard: Baby Bottleneck, 1946
This episode was a turning point in the way the series was made – originally, the script was written to fit the request from above that the show feature more ‘down-to-Earth’ plots, as well as their nervousness about suicide booths and Bender’s anti-social behaviour. The script ended up a disaster, the producers decided to stick to making the show they wanted, and the episode was rewritten to what we have now.
This is also an introduction to a lot of basic elements of worldbuilding of the show – the fact that owls are a pest species factors into the initial plot, both Randy and Hattie make appearances, Bender being fuelled by alcohol makes its first appearance (“What are the cigars for?” / “They make me look cool.”), and the glory of All My Circuits, the robot soap opera, is given a lot of space. I always loved the joke of the token human on the show. It’s also the first appearance of one of Bender’s catchphrases, ‘fun on a bun’.
“You know, Fry, of all the friends I’ve had, you’re the first.”
The title is a reference to Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. When Bender bends a clock, it resembles Salvador Dali’s painting The Persistence Of Memory. Fry hums the Looney Tunes theme. Fry gives the TV the Fonzie Fix from Happy Days. Fry and Bender’s movin’ in montage is a reference to The Odd Couple. The underwater apartment is a reference to the Beatles’ song “Octopus’s Garden”. One of the apartments is a reference to MC Escher’s Relativity. Bender’s sobriety montage is a reference to the film The Lost Weekend.
Iconic Moments: 2. “Everybody’s a jerk. You, me, this jerk. That’s my philosophy.” | “To shreds you say.”