Futurama, Season Two, Episode Six, “The Lesser Of Two Evils”

Written by: Eric Horsted
Directed by: Chris Sauve
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

I feel bad calling this nonessential when it contains one of the two most famous things to come out of this show, but it’s one that I rarely revisit because its ideas never quite kick into gear. I love the idea of Bender having an ‘evil’ twin who isn’t really that evil or even different from Bender – this is almost a warmup for “Roswell That Ends Well” in how the writers are playing with a cliche scifi setup, and you can see how they’re not quite pushing it all the way yet. Flexo’s personality isn’t really fleshed out as a Not Bender, but he’s also not quite hilariously a Bender clone – compare with Bender meeting his parallel self in “The Farnsworth Parabox”, in which they keep egging each other on further and further. A great Futurama episode feels like a runaway train going out of control as it and its characters commit to even greater absurdities, and this episode only rarely gets there, like when Bender inexplicably becomes all about covering his neck with the side effect of tricking Fry into thinking he’s Flexo. The better, more confident version of this show would keep coming up with more and more ridiculous ideas along those lines, but it’s not quite there yet.

The other idea driving this episode that I like is building a story out of Fry being jealous of Bender’s friendship with someone else. Fry’s most sympathetic quality is his capacity for sincere love, and jealousy is a perfect flipside for that and something I could totally see running away with Fry. It’s fairly worked out too, in that Fry isn’t just randomly flipping out but has reason to feel the way he does – as a fellow robot, Flexo and Bender have a connection that Fry can’t, and Bender being as callous as he is only makes things worse. Futurama generally doesn’t deal in emotional subtlety – its big emotional moments come from being very unsubtle, in fact – but you can see why Fry’s feelings are hurt enough in the first place to explain why he’s driven to be suspicious and angry with Flexo, even outside the clues he’s picking up. Again, though, this isn’t something the episode successfully follows through on, and I can see later episodes to compare it with that will more successfully develop emotional ideas; “Time Keeps On Slippin’” will push in on Fry’s crush on Leela until it finds something more interesting past it, “Godfellas” will plough through an awe at the size of the universe and our infinitesimal influence on it, and “The Sting” will push in on the concept of guilt until it reaches a Poe-like level of ecstasy in it. The climax is a really great moment and a great articulation of the show’s bemused apathy (“They’re both fine choices, whatever floats your boat.”), but it doesn’t reach that level of profound hysteria that Futurama will be capable of.

Title Card: The show that watches back
Cartoon Billboard: “Felix The Cat Trifles With Time”, 1925

Bob Barker is a guest star, and he’s just as great here as he is in Happy Gilmore – he sounds genuinely outraged at the crew, and I love how he calms down when clarifying “As long as no one wears the skins.” Speaking of great voice acting, Tress MacNeille’s sexy sounds for a robot performing a lapdance had me nearly cry laughing, and John DiMaggio’s delivery of “Learning is fun!” has deeply influenced my particular flavour of sarcasm. The episode also contains the only artistic (as opposed to writing) input from David X Cohen: the robot stripper with a gear-based design.

The opening act is great not just for the simple but effective “the future will misunderstand the past” jokes that develop the work of “The Series Has Landed”, but for how they have Fry react to them with his mixture of cynicism and naivete (“No one in New York drove. There was too much traffic.” is a very Yogi Berra line). “Then it wasn’t space banditos,” is one of those lines that manages to be very funny despite not actually being funny. I get a real kick out of Zapp Brannigan saying “What are you people, idiots?” because I always love when the stupidest character on the show gets to play straight man in a plausible way, and it’s only setting him up being an idiot again!

“Fry, remember when I told you about always ending your stories a sentence earlier?”

Past-O-Rama contains the film Star Wars 9: Yoda’s Bar Mitzvah. Bender drops a reference to Virginia Slims advertisements. Miss Arrakis is a reference to the book Dune. A Miss Universe contestant performs Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” on her nose. 

Iconic Moments: 2. The image of Fry narrowing his eyes in response to Bender acting suspicious is, I would argue, the single most memed moment from the show – the “Fry saw what you did there” reaction image, also often used for “Not sure if” memes. It was so popular that it was used in advertising for the revival, as well as for the title card of the first episode back. | “I am shocked, shocked! Well, not that shocked.”
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