Futurama, Season Two, Episode Eight, “Raging Bender”

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

This one was better than I remembered on several different levels. I’ve probably said this before, but this really feels like the point where the writers have settled into a comfortable, snappy, one-liner-driven rhythm; this is the first example we have of a scene where the characters all mutter in a group discussing an idea, and someone loudly throws in a hilarious one-liner right at the end (“Good point, Bender!”), something that would go on to happen every single time, and all the lines are worded in the funniest way they could be, even when it demolishes the seriousness of the situation. To put it another way, the very dialogue itself has taken on the same tone as, say, the story of “A Big Piece Of Garbage”, confidently pushing things forward even as it’s ridiculous. I think my favourite example is the voting chair arguing with Fry about which button he pushed; the ‘almost’ in ‘almost positive’ is what kills me, an absurd thing for a human to say in that context let alone an AI. This is one of the things I mean about the difference between Futurama and The SimpsonsThe Simpsons created absurd premises and then took them totally seriously, and Futurama is coming to the same point from the opposite direction, setting up huge and serious situations and then deliberately botching the seriousness.

Then there’s the fact that actually it’s engaging in a clear thematic throughline that makes sense and covers most of the episode. I actually really enjoy the way that Ultimate Robot Fighting somehow manages to merge the ideas of wrestling and fixed sports; I suspect this is a result of the writers wanting to tell two different kinds of jokes, but I find the idea of sleazy criminal goons really wanting to sell the punters on the story of their fixed fights endearing and hilarious. Because, of course, that’s what we see the fighters doing this whole episode – telling stories, and telling lowbrow stories that appeal to the basest instincts people have at that. Abner Doubledeal (a name right out of Arrested Development) says it himself: Bender is pure lowest common denominator, a creature of base impulse and selfishness where the appeal is watching someone be utterly terrible and have to deal with the shit that comes with it, and the URF audience takes a great thrill in watching him beat up caricatures of people they don’t like. This, of course, is where the satirical aspect comes in – the bad guys (or ‘heels’, for those of us not well-versed in wrestling parlance) are rich people, foreigners, and smokers – cheap and easy targets that appeal to some basic irritations. It’s very Futurama that there’s no real ideological unity to these villains; they’re just people a lot of people don’t like (and the inclusion of smokers is a genuine surprise).

This is also where another surprise comes in. I was wary of this one because my memories of the ‘Gender Bender’ stuff were fuzzy enough that I thought it was a preamble to the shitshow that is “Bend Her”, but the satirical target is actually at the expense of the booing audience – Ultimate Robot Fighting aims to coddle its audience, not challenge them, and the lowest common denominator does not like its sexuality or gender identity questioned. This is a surprisingly sophisticated and accurate point for a show that often descends into Women Be Shopping attitudes and transphobic stereotypes. It’s really interesting, though, to take into account that this is an episode that also has a large example of Leela fighting sexism, because now it’s kind of hypocritical in two ways. The show has always been somewhat hypocritical when it comes to sexism, taking great glee in seeing women violently wreck sexist men while engaging in sexist stereotyping and insults itself, but now we’re getting the show mocking the lowest common denominator and then showing us the cheap and satisfying thrill of someone beating nine colours of shit out of someone easy to hate. To be clear, I’m a lot less bothered by that second hypocrisy – it reminds me of the end of “When Aliens Attack” – but it does speak to how we all have our prejudices at the end of the day. It also points to the limitations of what Futurama can be; it’s not here to make a point (another distinction from The Simpsons) and when it does say something, it’s more a wonderful side effect of the show gleefully chasing some ridiculous comedic (and occasionally sentimental) impulse.

Title Card: Nominated for three Glemmys
Cartoon Billboard: “Hollywood Capers”, 1935.

Rich Little guest stars as himself impersonating Howard Cosell, a truly brilliant example of stunt casting. I know I barely mention Bender throughout this despite him ostensibly being the main character, but he’s such a simple and straightforward guy who’s never going to change that I don’t really have much to say. I do find it hilarious and appropriate that his need for attention trumps any pride from skill he might have. I had a realisation this week that I never have even the slightest urge to skip the Futurama opening theme; I always immediately feel a sense of joy when it comes on. “I’ve taught the toaster to feel love!” is one of the all-time great Futurama non-sequiters, deserving to be up there with “Have you seen my sombrero?”

This episode also has a subplot where Hermes gets a brain slug, and the writers originally planned for it to be a runner throughout the season before changing their minds. It’s definitely a hilarious example of being cruel to a random character for absolutely no reason at all. The word ‘smizmar’ first shows up here, though it appears to refer to a gender identity rather than a social status. Miss Universe comes back in a newsreel. One thing I never noticed was Amy stopping brainslugged!Hermes from putting a brain slug on a young boy in a wide shot. “Interesting if true” is a line that is not iconic, but is one that I’ve used in conversation often.

“Pardon me, sir, but you seem to be inadvertently kicking my seat.”
“Pardon me sir but nenenenenenenenene.”
“Yes, that’s the gist of what I said.”

The title is both a reference to the film Raging Bull and a play on the phrase referring to getting blackout drunk; the shot of Bender getting punched in black-and-white is also a reference to the film. There’s a lot of movie poster parodies in the cinema: Planet Of The Clams (Planet Of The Apes), Galaxy Wars (Star Wars), When A Man Loves A Smizmar (When A Man Loves A Woman), Shaft On Africon-9 (Shaft In Africa). The opening of All My Circuits: The Movie parodies James Bond. Crow T Robot and Tom Servo of Mystery Science Theater 3000 tell Fry to be quiet during the movie. Ultimate Robot Fighting is a reference to the UFC in name. The Gender Bender wrestling persona is a loose reference to Gorgeous George; there’s also a more specific reference to him in the newsreel. RobotMania is a reference to WrestleMania. “Bender 3:16” is a reference to “Austin 3:16”, a sign often seen at wrestling matches and is itself a reference to “John 3:16”, a bible verse often shown at sports matches. The television spot showing Bender’s change to The Gender Bender contains a reference to The Adventures Of Superman. Hattie says “Let’s all go to the lobby!”, a reference to an old theater ad. When battling Destructor, Bender does the crane pose from The Karate Kid.

Iconic Moments: None! Unless you count Bender’s pimp-like outfit, strongly associated with the character despite him only wearing it the once.
Biggest Laugh: Despite being a long series of great individual lines, there’s not a moment that cracks me up, which is partly why this is in the nonessential category.