Futurama, Season Two, Episode Fourteen, “Mother’s Day”

Written by: Lewis Morton
Directed by: Brian Sheesley
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

This is another one I actually haven’t seen in a while and I can’t remember why – maybe it’s another one that was scratched on my DVD? Anyway, it’s goddamned hilarious and a perfect example of this show at its best – endlessly funny, lightly satirical, based on some silly scifi concepts, and just mean enough to be funny. What I find interesting is that each of its individual ideas is developed about as much as the robot mafia jokes in “Bender Gets Made”, but there are so many ideas that this feels satisfying and enjoyable. This is what I mean about the show getting into a flow where everything works. What set my thoughts in this direction was noticing that everything everyone says in this episode is hilarious, and almost all of it comes from each character having their own jokes and their own absurd way of talking. Mom is the big centrepiece here; right from the phrase “Jerkwad robots make me sick to my ass!” she shows off her violently angry command of the English language. My favourite example in the episode is “Some snot-eating bastards say it made me a bitter woman,” because Tress MacNeille delivers it so sincerely that it comes off as if Mom literally cannot help talking like that. Everything is written with that level of precise humour where everyone contributes something unique, right down to Larry pausing to whisper ‘bra’.

The first real theme of “Mother’s Day” is corporations trying to draw on love in their advertising. Obviously, robots are programmed to love Mom, but the specific presentation of both Mom’s advertisements and the way she’s industrustrialised sucking up all the money she can from the robots’ presents for her makes me think about how, on International Women’s Day, you have so many big companies pushing out so many ads on how women are important and deserve to be empowered and blah blah blah, only for them to have a poor track record on hiring or paying women, or supporting them through things like maternity leave. They’re no more sincere about supporting that or Pride or Day of People With Disability than Mom is about loving robots – what they’re really after is money. Coupled with this is character work for Bender, who is at his most hilariously childish; I think my favourite example is his aggressively sincere reaction to the “Mom’s Favourite Robot” exhibit (“No one else look in this mirror!”). Beloved commentor Raven Wilder has read Bender’s complaints about robot oppression in the past as a satire of racial satires – where the metaphor breaks down entirely and that’s the joke – and that’s affected my read here. It’s really that Bender is lazy and will use any term he can find to justify not working (and, if possible, looting).

From there it turns to a mixture of our modern day reliance on technology and straightforward relationship stuff tinged with jokes about getting old. Seeing the characters immediately regress into cavemen is hilarious (with the peak being the Professor announcing his new invention – a pointy rock tied to a stick!) knowing full well that we’d probably at least try the same thing. With the relationship stuff, I’ve complained before about generic stereotypes in relationship humour, both in this show and on The Simpsons, but the stuff here really works for me because of how generic it is – the situation and the jokes are simply so absurd that I need some kind of grounding. It helps, of course, that there is some kind of emotional truth here; the Professor’s seduction of Mom has the energy of a fumbling horny teenager, which really makes all the age jokes even funnier now that I think about it. I could stretch and say something about how it makes a kind of sense to see that idiot teenager moves are still at least at the back of the mind of even older, ostensibly more sophisticated adults, but it’s more that seeing a wrinkled senile old man fumble with a bra strap is even funnier than seeing a teenage boy doing the same.

Title Card: Larva-tested, Pupa-approved
Cartoon Billboard: “Bold King Cole” (1936)

One of the other great mean jokes is the crew’s collective disgust at Bender’s sappy Mother’s Day card. A major plot point is that Mom keeps the remote in her bra, and it occurred to me that despite this being an extremely common thing that lots of women do, I’ve only ever seen it in this and a staged version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I saw once. The binary that the robots chant translates to the ampersand symbol (&). 

“Someday I want to marry a girl like her.”

A Betamax tape player appears at the Mother’s Day celebration. The soup can Fry tries to open is labelled “Quantum Leek” in reference to the show Quantum Leap, and resembles the Campbell’s Soup cans painted by Andy Warhol. The robot trash can throwing itself through the pizza place window is a reference to Do The Right Thing. Walt’s non-computerised map contains ‘Isle Of Rikers’ (presumably a dual reference to Riker Island and the character from Star Trek: The Next Generation), ‘Here There Be Tygers’ (which is the name of a Ray Bradbury short story) and ‘Cloakwood Forest’ (a reference to The Forgotten Realms). Most of the greeting card’s dialogue is riffing on The Communist Manifesto

Iconic Moments: 3. “Jerkwad robots make me sick to my ass!” | “False hope! I love it!” | “Hurray, I’m useful! I’m having a wonderful time!”
Biggest Laugh: This was so hard, because I was laughing myself sick the entire time. Ultimately I have to go with the meanest joke in the whole thing.

Next Week: “The Problem With Popplers”. “Hey Mac, where do you want those rat droppings you ordered?”