Futurama, Season One, Episode Twelve, “Fry And The Slurm Factory”

Written by: Lewis Morton
Directed by: Ron Hughart
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

Some of us have said how we can relate to Fry and see ourselves in his problems, and how they’re larger-than-life exaggerations of relatable problems. Certainly, I can see Fry as very reflective of my adult life, in which a lack of ambition higher than spending time with friends and loved ones or enjoying the simple pleasures of life has lead to lack of material success that can be seen as, you know, laziness and stupidity. This gets very specific though, in that like Fry, I have a long-standing addiction to soft drinks that is in no way healthy. The scifi aspect only exaggerates the details of real-life soft drink addiction while hitting the emotional truth – I’m putting something that I know is bad for me and bad for the world into my body, and the only real justification is that other people put even worse things in them – the episode doesn’t go into this, but the hypocrisy of hearing shit about my soft drink addiction from people who drink beer (insurmountably worse on every level and yet more socially acceptable) grates on me. The effect I get watching this episode is a kindly tweaking of my foibles; my definition of satire is that it makes thinking about bad shit that happens in the world a little easier; I can watch this and laugh knowingly (“Right up until my third heart attack.”) and then think about how little of an exaggeration the jokes actually are, and how maybe I should cut down on the soft drink. I also enjoy the satirical jabs at the place soft drinks have in broader society; it’s possible to read the ending as a late Simpsons-esque return to the status quo, but I like it for showing that, even as Fry is aware of the terrible effect of Slurm, he’s not gonna give it up either, any more than people as a group are gonna give their soft drinks up knowing all we do. What’s funny is that I end up having the exact opposite effect that metaphors in fiction usually do. Normally, I watch a show or a movie and I look for how it can relate to my personal situation – emotions and ideas that I recognise from my own life and current circumstances. Coming back to what I said about satire, I think this is a power genre has: taking those every-day emotions and problems and making them much more interesting by having them happen to robots. In this case, the situation is so familiar, I can project outwards and see how other situations can relate to mine; not just, you know, alcohol addiction, but things like smartphone addiction – addictions that have become so embedded in our lives and in the collective social environment that we basically ignore the fact that they’re damaging addictions. Futurama, as is its wont, throws up its hands and says it is what it is. The unfortunate thing about functioning in society is recognising the dysfunctional parts of it.

Shifting away from the themes and towards the craft of sitcom episodes, this one always felt a bit dodgy for me on a few levels. Of course it has a lot of great one-liners, but it feels a bit awkwardly constructed, especially in the first act; the shift from the Slurm contest to the F-Ray and back feels like a break in energy as opposed to a build in it, where I know exactly where this is going and I’m just waiting for the tediously inevitable to roll out (although the joke of Fry taking forever to click onto a plan is hilarious). More than that, a Willy Wonka parody feels lazy and hacky, and not in the fun way this show normally goes for. Like, I feel bad for saying that because it does come up with some clever riffs – certainly, this is the funniest parody of Oompa-Loompas anybody ever did – but this is an episode I rarely revisit because I keep thinking ‘do I want to sit through another Willy Wonka parody?’. Futurama presents its Wonka figure as a sinister and mundane corporate executive covering it all up with a whimsical attitude, and aside from a few gags (“You just used up today’s bathroom break!” – given the stories out of Amazon, ouch), I heard this joke before and it wasn’t that funny the first time. Whether you’re talking about the character in the book or Gene Wilder’s interpretation in the film, Willy Wonka was already a slightly sinister Trickster figure, and in a way far more interesting than the simplified parodies. I already know Futurama can do better than that!

Title Card: LIVE from Omicron Persei Eight
Cartoon Billboard: “Making Faces”, 1987

Pamela Anderson guest stars as one of Slurms MacKenzie’s dancers, and she’s good enough that I never noticed. This episode actually served as a kind of Rosetta Stone for the Alien language that litters the series. There’s a transphobic and slightly racist joke at the expense of a robot sex worker. The Slurm Queen is incorrect – it would be more accurate to say that honey is bee vomit than that it comes from its ‘behind’, and milk comes from a cow’s boobs. This concludes our intensive three week course. There’s a gag in which the Slurm Queen mentions bringing out an inferior product so they can bring back to original Slurm to great acclaim; this is a reference to a conspiracy theory regarding the New Coke debacle. I’ve always been struck by the response an executive responsible for New Coke had: “We aren’t that smart and we aren’t that stupid.”

“Everybody was doing it, I just wanted to be popular.”

The title and main plot are, as I said, a reference to Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Slurms MacKenzie is a parody of Spuds MacKenzie, a corporate mascot for Bud Light. Bender apparently has a 6502 microprocessor in his head, yet another detail David X Cohen lifted from his college years. Slurm shares similarities with both Surge and Mountain Dew, especially in its advertising. At one point, the Professor and Leela are playing 3D Scrabble, a parody of the 3D chess often seen in Star Trek (and the Professor has enough letters to do Futurama). Leela explains Soylent Cola to Fry, which is a parody of Soylent Green (“How’s it taste?” / “It varies from person to person.”). “Yak-face” is a reference to a rare Star Wars figurine that Cohen owns. Bender and Slurms reference Wayne’s World.

Iconic Moments: 2. “I’m getting an idea! No, false alarm. No. Yeah. No. Yeah. No. Wait. No. Yeah. Yeah. No. No. Yes!” | “Tell them I hate them!”
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