Written by: David X Cohen
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
I honestly went back and forth on how to categorise this episode before landing on ESSENTIAL – it never fully manages to come together in a truly satisfying way, but the ideas it has are so good and so essential to the development of the show that nothing else felt right. Robot Santa is one of the all-time great Futurama creations – ‘what if childhood thing was evil’ is kind of hacky, but the crew make it work with a vivid imagination. The sheer number of ways they riff on the concept of a robot Santa slays me (sleighs me? No); I’ve said before that robot versions of things is an inherently funny concept, and they get vividly weird with it by combining almost random robot and Christmas things (my favourite being the incredibly tricky “Your mistletoe is no match for my TOW missile!”). Another thing I’ve said is that one aspect of Groening shows is pleasure in knowledge for its own sake, and this is a great example of Futurama’s particular spin on that; each joke is based on a different fact, and the more facts you know, the more jokes you can get. I especially love how far they go at working out the central idea of murderous robot Santa – the ridiculous reasons on how and why he works and how New New York has adjusted to his presence. Something that always cracks me up is characters all inexplicably having the same emotional reaction to something for no good reason (the eventual runner of everyone randomly hating Zoidberg is a great example), and this is definitely in that ballpark. This is all something the sequel to this episode would do better, but it comes to a juddering life here; the punchline of Zoidberg not only being the only character to get a present but using it to save the day is a perfect capper to it.
What makes the episode almost work is the great idea of an emotional arc. The series isn’t always great at tying its central gag and its central emotional structure together (mainly because it isn’t all that interested in it), but this is something that really works for me. Fry is feeling homesickness and culture shock, and it works a lot better for me than “A Fishful Of Dollars” – I don’t see how Fry stumbling over anchovies would make him suddenly abandon everything about the future to recreate his past life, but I do see how his first Xmas ‘away from home’ would cause him to feel the weight of his loss; traditions are something you really notice when they aren’t there. But it’s also a peek into Leela’s particular loneliness and Fry’s genuine compassion – on the comments for “Fishful”, beloved commentor TheFunBoy3Version remarked that what bothered him about the story was that Fry was actively callous in throwing his friends away rather than obliviously so like he should be, and this is a perfect example of what he meant. I love Fry’s reaction being to try and help Leela through her pain, and he has a very Homer Simpson solution in trying to get her a pet at a suicidal time of night. If they can’t convince me Fry would be a good boyfriend, they have at least convinced me he is a good friend, and they manage to end the arc on one of my favourite lines in the show, a perfect expression of the despair of Futurama and the joy it manages to find within it: “Together, we can be lonely together.”
Title Card: Based on a true story
Cartoon Billboard: “Fresh Hare”, 1942
Conan O’Brien guest stars, and I can’t believe the show perfectly predicted him losing his freakishly long legs in the war of 2012. John Goodman plays Santa, and sadly this is his only appearance as the character before being replaced by John DiMaggio due to scheduling conflicts (although I suspect we wouldn’t have gotten the wonderful “This Toy Shop’s Going To War” song if he’d stayed). I blew right past the first act, which is basically a cold weather rehash of the first act of “When Aliens Attack” but is still incredibly hilarious. This also introduces the casual nudity the show would sometimes engage in (“Ah, brisk!”) as well as Tinny Tim. You couldn’t get a clearer articulation of Bender’s attitude to life than “I got the most! I win Xmas!”.
“Uh, your present may need some assembly.”
The children skating on ice is a reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Tinny Tim is a reference to Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol. Bongo, a main character from Matt Groening’s Life In Hell comic strip, shows up in the pet store. Fry falling down the face of the clock is a reference to the Harold Lloyd film Safety Last!. There’s an extended riff on “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry. Hermes references the Jamaican bobsledding team who were immortalised in the film Cool Runnings.
Iconic Moments: “Another pointless day where I accomplish nothing.” | “Is there anything sadder? Only drowning puppies, and there would have to be a lot of them.” | “Girls like swarms of lizards, right?”