Written by: Eric Horsted
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential
This is a great one to explore the concept of a ‘nonessential’ Futurama episode, because it’s funny without its main ideas quite sparking to life. If I pull back and look at the basic concepts, I can see the structure of a great episode – it’s a cross between space Titanic and Three’s Company, which calls forward to “Roswell That Ends Well” mixing “Time’s Arrow”, the Roswell incident, and Gomer Pyle, or “Time Keeps On Slippin’” riffing on Space Jam, the Harlem Globetrotters, and an original concept. The problem is that it doesn’t push any of these particular concepts to their limit; at its best, Futurama is great at following the logic of its ideas to somewhere hilariously strange and strangely coherent, coming up with absurd justifications for absurd images and then figuring out what would happen if you followed that logic. The episode doesn’t delve more than lightly into the mechanics of how a space Titanic might work, and the Three’s Company stuff lasts, what, maybe two scenes? And it never crosses over into somewhere divine, far beyond what the original show could have conceived of. Leela’s inexplicable jealousy of anyone even pretending to be attracted to Fry always struck me as the single most sexist idea driving Futurama – I might be just revealing my own specific experiences with women, but I have never in my life seen any woman loudly announce she wasn’t into a guy and then get possessive of him like that and have only ever seen it in bad fiction. Worse, it doesn’t feel like an honest reflection of Leela and what she wants the way her other flaws do. The one idea it successfully develops is that of Hermes being an Olympic limbo dancer – the tragedy that led him to quit was hilarious and the way he saved the day was hilarious, and the fact that all these random details manage to weave together to create a real-ish person makes it all even more hilarious.
The one thing that works perfectly this episode is the way it explores Bender. I gotta say, Bender is one of those characters who tends to say what I’m thinking, and so many of his lines here express feelings and viewpoints I’ve had almost constantly throughout my life (“Welp, I’m tired of this room and everyone in it!” and “I assure you, I barely know the meaning of the word ‘labour’,” being the top examples) or deeply affected my way of wording jokes (“I’m a fraud! A poor, lazy, sexy fraud!” and “And I’d do it again! And perhaps a third time! But that would be it,” being the best examples in that category). Nihilistic hedonists in fiction are a dime a dozen, particularly in comedies like this, but Bender always felt like he got past that cliche and into somewhere weirdly special, and I think there’s a whole confluence of reasons why. I think the answer, all around, is honesty – he’s so sincere about chasing his impulses and drives (even when he’s lying) that he becomes weirdly endearing, much like Homer Simpson, and it feels easy to identify with his self-interest and laziness (especially with John DiMaggio’s wonderful acting). Like, if I were going to go about being Bender, this is exactly the way I’d want to go about it, and it would feel pretty good. There’s also the way the show looks honestly at Bender. Like I said, nihilistic hedonists are a dime a dozen, but so many other stories pull their punches with such characters – softening them over time, or worse, apologising for them. I think of Barney Stintson of How I Met Your Mother – even if you ignore the fact that he was, like, a serial rapist, I think a lot of people projected their love of how funny he is onto who he was as a person and the show fell into the trap of both amping up his absurdity while trying to rewrite as much of him as possible to be likeable. Futurama always knew that Bender is funny because he’s an asshole and never tried to pretend otherwise – even in stories like this where he’s sympathetic, it’s almost an extension of his selfishness and ego.
Title Card: Filmed on location.
Cartoon Billboard: “Space Station”, Clutch Cargo, 1959
Speaking of Hermes, this is also where we meet his wife LaBarbara (though not his son, Dwight). I always felt like making Hermes a family guy was a good one, expanding the moral and comedic universe. Fry, Leela, and Bender are sophisticated single New New Yorkers while Hermes is living out simple domestic bliss. We also meet Leo and Inez Wong. Billy West playing Leo is clearly incredibly racist, though it’s a situation like Apu where I love the character – a Chinese billionaire in a Texas hat is some classic Futurama mixing of imagery and I really get a kick out of the character’s utter commitment to being Ebenzer Scrooge. Finally, this episode introduces the Amy/Kif relationship, a pairing I have never understood or cared for even as a few great episodes came out of it.
Zapp’s incompetent navigation feels like a dry run for “Amazon Women In The Mood”, although “Come back when it’s a catastrophe!” works for me. The most sincere emotional moment in the episode is Fry looking back to the ship and saying “Goodbye, Bender.” My gut tells me that as we go along, almost all of Futurama’s strongest emotional moments will come through in powerful one-liners as opposed to whole plots or speeches the way The Simpsons could.
The episode as a whole is a parody of the 1997 film Titanic, and the title comes from A Night To Remember, a nonfiction book about the sinking. iZac is a reference to a character on The Love Boat. Bender refers to himself and the countess as ‘star-cross’d robots’, which is a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.
Iconic Moments: “Give me your biggest, strongest, cheapest drink!”