Written by: Bill Odenkirk
Directed by: Mark Ervin
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
This is one of the most famous Futurama episodes, and I would argue a perfect example of how many of its best episodes come not from an ambitious idea – although that will happen on occasion – but from everything clicking. This episode doesn’t feel like they set out to make the funniest thing ever, it just kind of happened; even the climactic musical number feels like something the writers came up with on the spot as a solution to the unresolved plot rather than as something they were consciously building towards. This feels like a bunch of things merging together into a single beam of comedy – not just various ideas like Hermes being Jamaican and a bureaucrat or Fry being a slob, but techniques and pacing that the show has ramped up over the course of two seasons. It’s not that the one-liners are coming faster and harder, it’s that they’re hanging together more elegantly. One of my favourite little things about this episode is that the plot is filled with absurd details and yet actually does hold together – it rockets forward in cause-and-effect with stakes that stay consistently high and force the characters to make moral choices, it’s just the causes, effects, and choices are all absurd. It has as much structural integrity as “A Big Piece Of Garbage” or “When Aliens Attack”, it’s just much weirder and more unique.
What holds this all together is an exploration of bureaucracy. By far my favourite thing about this episode is that it runs on a very simple insight: much of bureaucracy is based on the appearance of efficiency. Most of the jokes are divided between two seemingly contradictory ideas: that much of bureaucracy is ridiculous and inefficient (with my favourite example being Hermes getting a message from Central Bureaucracy that he’s about to get a message from Central Bureaucracy) and that, in social situations, bureaucrats are bizarrely, dryly efficient (with my favourite example being Morgan directing Bender through high-fiving Fry). I think what it adds up to is this sense of bureaucracy being more of a pageantry that its enforcers put themselves through – that, for the Hermes and Morgans and 1.0s of the world, bureaucracy activates the same part of their brains that thousands years ago would have gone into sacrificing goats for the harvest or reciting the songs of their people. Realistically, the bureaucratic nonsense of this episode is as ridiculous as almost any other social cue we actually have; social cues are about order, and the Central Bureaucracy is simply a more absurd expression of that idea.
Title Card: As foretold by Nostradamus
Cartoon Billboard: “Felix The Cat Trifles WIth Time”, 1925
This contains one of Dave Herman’s finest performances – my favourite is the genuine menace he puts into “We kept it grey!”. I didn’t even touch on the opening act about Leela’s poker game with her old workmates – I know that we don’t look too kindly on white people playing POC characters with accents these days, but Leela’s old boss is one of the comedic highs of the entire series for me with almost every single one of his lines being solid gold (“Oh my various gods!”). Somehow, I never quite caught the joke in the CB closing at 1pm until now.
This episode contains so many great moments of the wordplay this show is capable of, and what’s especially great is how it’s always tied into character. We have two classic cases of Fry’s stupidity right next to each other, we have Bender’s lazy self-interest (his way of wording his story about Fry sleeping with Morgan is wonderfully self-centered, though I’m even more tickled by his excuse of “It was ghosts! Big ones!”), and Morgan’s incredible question “Why isn’t this jacket in alphabetical order?” made even more incredible by the bizarre kind of sense it makes. This episode actually contains the final appearance of Number 9 Guy until Bender’s Big Score.
The title of the episode is a reference to the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Much of the Central Bureaucracy is based on the film Brazil. The plot of Bender’s brain being removed is a reference to the notorious Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”.
Iconic Moments: 4. “I thought you were some kind of outer space potato man.” | “Why is there yoghurt in this cap?” / “I can explain! See, it used to be milk, and well… time makes fools of us all!” | “Is she behind me?” / “No, I’m in front of you.” | “You are technically correct, the best kind of correct!”
Next Week: “The Deep South”. “That just raises further questions!”