Written by: Eric Kaplan
Directed by: Brian Sheesley
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential
Dr Zoidberg is one of my favourite characters on Futurama, which puts him in the running for being one of my favourite characters of all time. And yet, episodes that actually have him as a main protagonist tend to rank pretty low for me (although they never tip into outright bad). I’ve talked often about strong characters who become even funnier when they’re pushed to the background, and this seems to be the opposite. One thing in this episode’s favour is that it seems to be the point where they’ve really figured out that Zoidberg is at his funniest when he’s pathetic, but it also points to what makes him a weak protagonist. Fry, Bender, and Leela are strong characters because the things they want are all clearly defined; zooming in on Bender specifically, he wants to indulge in sensory delights, make as much money for as little work as possible, and cause chaos and damage to other people for shits and giggles. Push him to the background and he’ll react to the main plot in predictable but funny ways, but he can also support a main plot himself by chasing his desires in a more exaggerated and destructive way. Zoidberg, on the other hand, is a funny character not for what he does but for what he is – gross, dimwitted, lonely, and eventually poor. It’s possible to spin thousands of great jokes out of these concepts and the show would do some of its funniest work with them; Zoidberg is one of the greatest characters because it’s possible to see oneself in him, grotesquely reflected like a funhouse mirror, and to laugh at one’s own quirks. But storytelling comes from action married to a clear motivation, and Zoidberg doesn’t really have a consistent one – if you like, he’s the most prominent example of a character like the Horrible Gelatinous Blob, able to be bent to the needs of the plot.
(In future, even when he’s prominent in the plot and it works, it’s usually as part of an ensemble piece like “Roswell That Ends Well”, “Three Hundred Big Boys” or “The Farnsworth Parabox”)
Where this episode works better is in its central satirical point, making this a rare case of the show making sexist stereotypes into something funny and an early example of it doing so through filtering them through weird aliens. In this case, what makes it work is that all the stereotypes are coming from Fry, and they’re towards characters who find them bizarre and alien. Even if we didn’t have the broader context of Fry being an idiot, I would still interpret this as a joke on Fry for thinking he understood relationships much better than he actually does and messing up things for people who were actually fairly straightforward about what they wanted and introducing needless, stupid chaos. Fry’s advice is all manipulation and presenting a version of yourself that you think women want to see as opposed to any authentic presentation of yourself; admittedly I now realise that if you have sex once and immediately die, this is actually a pretty great approach because you don’t have to deal with any of the nasty consequences of attaching yourself to someone you don’t respect or find interesting. This is actually a rare case of me being unsure what the writers were going for but enjoying the implications of the end result anyway – normally I’m pretty good at sussing out the intentions of a storyteller (when I look up what they have to say themselves, I’m almost always right), and normally Futurama wears its goals on its sleeve, but this is a case where things are a bit muddled and hard to parse.
Title Card: From the network that brought you “The Simpsons”
Cartoon Billboard: My Old Kentucky Home (1926)
The episode opens with not only another great slice-of-life kind of first act, but one that allows the main plot to build and build throughout it as Zoidberg gets randier and randier. I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m certain I’ve done the exact equivalent to Bender complaining about his beer missing his mouth recently. Zoidberg is 100% correct: abbreviations do not belong in Scrabble and anyone who disagrees is a savage and an IDIOT!!! Billy West’s finest moment of voice acting in this episode is his delivery of “As long as I’m in town, I was wondering if maybe, braw?”
“No offence Fry, but you’ve become a fat sack of crap.”
I love Zoidberg’s straw hat when he’s trying to tell Edna he loves her, and I love it falling off when he gets angry. This also has some great Futurama offhand lines, with the Honest Bender story being the funniest. This has a few Star Trek references, but this also feels tonally like one of the more TOSy episodes of the show, with the alien cultures that exaggerate ordinary human problems combined with both yellow and orange backgrounds and quirky, round architecture that resembles the sets of that show. The meme picture of Zoidberg saying “Why not Zoidberg?” comes from the scene in this episode in which he explains Claw-Plach.
The title is a reference to the song “A Teenager In Love”. Fry feeding lines to Zoidberg is a reference to the play Cyrano de Bergerac. Zoidberg and Fry’s fight is a reference to “Amok Time” of Star Trek (with a weapon from the episode appearing) and the Decapodian national anthem is the fight music from that show. The characters eat at Red Primate, a reference to the restaurant Red Lobster. Robo-Rooter is a reference to the Roto-Rooter company. Zoidberg cuts “Dr Zoidberg” into Fry’s shirt in a reference to Zorro.
Iconic Moments: 2. “This ‘love’ intrigues me. Teach me to fake it!” | “He’s got male jelly comin’ out the wazoo.” / “Well, that is where it comes out.”
Biggest Laugh: The entire runner of Amy being easily tricked by Zoidberg had me howling.