Written by: Patric M Verrone
Directed by: Rich Moore
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential
This is one that has a kind of dodgy reputation but I like a lot. One of the fundamental issues people have with it is that Cubert is unbelievably annoying; the idea of the character is that he points out all the absurdities of the show, but the creators quickly figured out that fans were perfectly capable of noticing these things themselves and that he came off as irritating and whiny for openly questioning Futurama’s basic premises. But I’ll be honest with you guys, as annoying as that would have been to sustain for the length of the show, I find it very funny in the context of a single episode. ‘Obnoxious child’ is a comedy archetype that’s very difficult to get right, and for me personally, the main way to get it to work is to have it be setup for the kid getting some kind of slapstick asskicking. An interesting part of the discussion of comedy the past few years is identifying when comedy is simply bigotry under a fig leaf of irony – or as someone once put it, Schroedinger’s Asshole, in which something is ‘just a joke’ depending on how you react to it. I think that, for sure, there are people who are just straight-up saying racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted shit and trying to pass it off as humour, but at the same time, I think fiction can act as an outlet for negative emotions and actions. That is to say, yes, fiction can show bad behaviour and attitudes and we can even get a sick thrill out of seeing them played out, but we can also recognise it’s a work of fiction and leave those impulses where they belong. In this case, it’s an impulse towards hating children.
I love kids – I enjoy their innocence and bluntness and watching them slowly figure out a task they set themselves, and I hope it’s taken as read that I’m horrified and disgusted by violence against children – and part of that love is recognising that they can be hideously annoying little goblins. Children can’t be diagnosed with some personality disorders like narcissism because their capacity for empathy is still developing, and on top of this their awareness of and frustration with their own powerlessness can often lead to them acting out and enjoying the times they feel as if they’ve come into a power over someone; I’ve written pages and pages about how Bart Simpson is a sympathetic look into that kind of mindset, but it’s also intensely aggravating when you’re on the outside looking in. Cubert perfectly captures how aggravating a child can be when they believe they know it all and are taking glee in holding it above you. Not only are his jokes pretty funny in themselves, and not only are the crew’s immediate reactions funny, it all sets up Cubert getting his violent comeuppance. Obviously, part of it being funny comes from the show having the sense to not make what he actually suffers resemble child abuse; I doubt any child has had a giant jar’s worth of blood taken from them all at once. But it’s also tied into how his comeuppance is satisfying in that it punishes him for being annoying in a kid-like way.
Title Card: Coming soon to an illegal DVD
Cartoon Billboard: “Ko-ko Needles The Boss”, 1927
Kath Soucie, veteran voice actor of child characters, enters the series as Cubert – the first time I saw this episode, I recognised her voice as being very similar to Phil on Rugrats. It’s amazing how she doesn’t sound anything like a real child whilst definitely capturing the emotions and qualities of them. Hilariously, Morbotron writes out Cubert’s name as Qbert. This time, I barely spoke about the Professor despite this being his episode! Part of the reason for that is because, as this is not a show that deals in subtext much, there’s not much to say about the themes of ageing and old people that the episode does not adequately say itself, although I can say that, having worked in aged care a little, the Near Death Star captures the spirit of the industry very well. This is the first episode where we catch a glimpse of Zoidberg’s aspirations as a comedian, and his line (“If you consider his age, he’s likely to die soon!”) is one I use on my older friends all the time.
“Up yours, Zoidberg! Up where your species traditionally crams things!”
The little joke of Leela trapping Hermes behind the oven with a bin slays me. I feel like it’s a great sign of the show’s comedic development that it has two separate ‘a group of characters all talks at once with a funny line trailing’ gags that are both hilarious – “Well, once… in the park” is spectacular, but I’m actually more amused by “One foot in the grave!”. The development of the show’s comedic timing has been much quicker than The Simpsons, which I should think is partly a side effect of it taking the characters less seriously. “That’s why scientists increased the speed of light in 2208!” is one of my favourite dumb science gags in the show.
Iconic Moments: Oddly enough, despite finding the script very witty, I couldn’t see any lines that stood out as particularly recycled.