Written by: Eric Kaplan
Directed By: Susie Dietter
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
I am so excited to get to this episode. Arguably, it’s the first real attempt at serialisation and character development the show has gone in for; obviously, the seeds have been planted for later surprises and we’ve seen plot elements brought back, but this feels like the first real attempt to build on what we know even if the plot is actually a huge bait-and-switch where we’re all being conned and learn nothing new. But this feels ESSENTIAL anyway, and I think it’s because it works to make me care and to take these characters slightly more seriously than just as vehicles for jokes. I’ve always said that Futurama is 75% ironic and 25% serious, and that this has always been what I loved about it; earnestness and irony are difficult enough to do individually, and hitting that precise mix that this show does is so hard even it didn’t always manage it (at least in the revival years). It isn’t just knowing the right time and amount of time to devote to something serious, it’s knowing what you can and cannot take seriously. If you’ll allow me to jump way ahead, there’s a gag in “Bender’s Big Score” that a lot of people don’t like because it undermines the serious story shown in “Jurassic Bark” for an off-hand gag. It’s especially notable because usually the show has a better sense of the things it’s not going to make fun of, which is almost always the things its characters wanted most of all.
In this case, what Leela wants is to be normal, which is another way of saying she wants to be part of a community. One of the things that’s always driven Leela is a profound sense of responsibility, and that’s always leaned much more to what she owes others than what they owe her. I think her expectation is that she does things for Society and Society will, in turn, look out for her, and part of her frustration as a one-eyed orphan is that there isn’t anyone looking out for her – there’s nowhere that she can allow herself to feel vulnerable. Shaping herself into a sexist stereotype to please some jerk she barely knows because, as far as she knows, he’s the last of her kind feels like something she’d do at this point, and it also feels like a comic exaggeration of things I’ve seen women do. I don’t just mean women who stay with jerks, I mean women who roll with gender roles not because they buy into them uncritically but because it seems easier than being lonely. There are some feelings and ideas that are universal, and it’s that the world reacts differently to the people who have them based on things like gender, race, ability, etc; if this episode doesn’t capture how women can deal with loneliness, it at least shows how it looks from the outside.
Title Card: This episode has been modified to fit your primitive screen.
Cartoon Billboard: “Hollywood Capers”, 1935
The first act of the episode parodies the internet, so obviously it has become a relic of the year 2000. The internet is still full of porn and ads, obviously. The jokes about AOL and the Professor trying to get them to log off so he can use the phone haven’t aged anywhere near as badly as the stereotype that the internet is full of horny, desperate, pathetic and creepy men now that it’s become clear that there are many horny, desperate, pathetic, and creepy women too. The video game is a rare moment of Fry being the smartest and most powerful character in the room. One of Bender’s avatars in the chatroom is Napoleon, which is ironic because my avatar is Bender.
“Fry, if it’s obvious to you with your learning disability, of course it’s obvious to me!”
The slow revelation of Alcazar’s badness is really well done. “That’s too painful to speak of,” is a serious moment that lands, and the writers allow exactly one clue about his sleaziness before revealing it all after they sleep together; alongside this is the clever solution to the mystery plot. It’s not my biggest laugh of the episode, but the “Animals go in the corner” exchange is my favourite Fry joke.
“How many planets can there be?”
The title of the episode riffs on a line from the song “Daisy Bell”. The sequence of the crew entering the internet parodies 2001: A Space Odyssey (“My god, it’s full of ads!”). The appearance of the internet is based heavily on Neal Stephenson’s book Snow Crash with a touch of Tron. Leela’s relationship with Alcazar is a parody of Married… With Children, complete with whooping audience members. Donkey Kong appears in the video game. A Macintosh menu system appears in the internet. One of Alcazar’s forms is that of a Yithian from HP Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out Of Time”. The music in the video game is from Space Invaders. Alcazar’s fake backstory for Leela is a parody of Superman.
Iconic Moments: Surprisingly, I don’t think I see lines from this episode referenced much.