Written by: Eric Rogers, Ken Keeler, and David X Cohen.
Directed by: Chris Louden and Rich Moore.
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential
So, this is our first of the “Anthology” episodes – the Futurama equivalent to the “Treehouse Of Horror” episodes of The Simpsons. The most interesting insight the crew ever had on the show’s commentaries is when David X Cohen noted that, because Futurama is already set in a wacky scifi universe, the “Anthology” episodes have to riff on character rather than the wacky premises the “Treehouse” episodes trafficked in, and these three shorts are a perfect demonstration of that*. The first short, a simple movie parody where the whole joke is “what if Bender was huge?”, is alright but only really gets going when Zoidberg is brought into the game and can find a new layer to his innocence – aside from the hilarity of “Friends! Help! A guinea pig tricked me!”, him instantly using his power to destroy buildings he holds grudges against has me cackling, serving to make him even pettier. With all the Large Bender jokes, I find myself thinking of Buster Keaton saying that gags that break reality are much less funny than gags based on character – obviously not universally true (“That just raises further questions!”), but the jokes in the first short feel pretty generic. The whole thing feels like a conceptually funny gag (the zigging instead of zagging in the setup when Bender contemplates not fitting in with humans and shifting to being five hundred feet tall) without much meat to it, like if 30 Rock tried actually showing us a Bitch Hunters episode.
*The best quote in the commentaries is when Billy West said “That is the nerdiest thing in the universe. It is, however, only the fifteenth nerdiest thing in Futurama.”
The second short is the best one in the episode, and it’s based around the idea of upping Leela’s impulsiveness to the point of breaking the show. One of the other observations Cohen makes in the commentary is that they have to make the plots ridiculously fast because they have no time to throw in some scene that makes things more plausible, which is fine by me because I always find that hilarious. It especially works here because we’re seeing something so repetitive that slamming through it quickly makes it funnier, especially because each death only escalates the situation – like we’re seeing the show on crack and speed. Basing it around Leela being more impulsive is a great premise too – it’s not actually a new invention, it’s taking something that was always present and amplifying it. We’ve seen for a long time now how Leela has a selfish, impulsive side to her, and this simply makes that moreso; I love how part of the escalation is going from something that at least gives her a lot of money, to covering up the murders, to simply being annoyed. The ending is actually genuinely interesting to me – on the one hand, it is kind of saying that actually Leela is suppressing a desire to date/bang Fry and that his wearing her down is getting her to admit to real feelings, which is Toxically Masculine and part of a pattern of real-world behaviour that is at minimum obnoxious (as a Male Man Dude, I recognise your feelings better than you do, Female Woman!) and at worst terribly violent.
On the other hand, I do enjoy the read of Leela as not willing to take risky chances, with men or in general. The interesting thing about Leela is that all the things I think about her character end up sounding like cliche insults thrown at women in general and female ‘nag’ characters specifically, but I mean them in a ‘I recognise this as a fault in myself as well’ way – a recognition of fellow humanity, which I am aware is a ridiculously pretentious-sounding thing to say about a particularly cartoony cartoon character. Letting go of the need to have everything work out and to be in control is a difficult thing to do, and I can see myself in Leela’s descent into murder and sex that goes out of control because she isn’t equipped to deal with chaos on this scale due to a lack of practice; I am absolutely projecting onto her when I consider how strange it is that she doesn’t just go out with someone who seems less than perfect to see if it works out. What makes this really work is that the short manages to fit in characterisation for everyone else as well, especially Dr Zoidberg as a hapless, useless detective.
The final short is something that’s conceptually interesting but ends up bogged down in a really funny idea that pops up. Having an actual ‘what if’ that shows what would happen if Fry didn’t fall in the freezer is a genuinely great premise, possibly too great for the amount of time in the short, and I think the writers know this. One thing I love about the show is that anytime it goes back to the past, it becomes grittier and less wacky than even The Simpsons, and that this is something that continues all the way through the movies and post-revival episodes (with the possible exception of the Leelu plot). The introduction of the inherently wacky Vice Presidential Action Rangers and the idea of the time/space continuum collapsing immediately undercuts that; obviously, this is a result of having no time to explore anything but plot, but I would have loved to see an exploration of Fry’s world and the way he would have been unhappy if he was stuck there.
Title Card: Painstakingly drawn before a live audience.
Cartoon Billboard: “Bosko Shipwrecked”, 1931
This has Stephen Hawking, then-Vice President Al Gore, Nichelle Nichols, and Gary Gygax as guest stars. Famously, Gore’s daughter, Kirsten Gore, was a writer on the show. Speaking of the commentary for this episode, John DiMaggio gets hilariously enthused about Gore’s vocal performance, especially the scream he gives as he’s sucked into the collapsing universe, and Cohen observes that Nichols delivered the “eternity with nerds” line slightly too sincerely. This is our first appearance of the Finglonger, a device I absolutely love.
The futuristic pronunciation of the word ‘ask’ comes up again this episode. We have our first official appearance of Scruffy, and hilariously, he appears in the What If Machine video before appearing in the real world. This is a fantastic episode for the peculiar use of words in Futurama. We have the musical effect of characters repeating words and phrases back at each other in an oddly literal way (“That doesn’t mean I killed him!” / “It’s a video will! It shows you killing him!”), we have two words that don’t go together (“Nothing except an even equally big monster!”), and we even have the actors imbuing a line with extra comedy by choosing what to emphasise and what not to emphasise (“My first clue came at four fifteen, when the clock stopped. My next clue came three hours later at four fifteen…”).
“I’m bored. You’re boring, Zoidberg. I’m gonna go watch TV.”
The first story is a parody of The Iron Giant with a bit of The Day The Earth Stood Still thrown in. When Giant Bender flies to Earth, “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath can be heard. Giant Bender drops a reference to the Honeycomb Cereal advertisements. Earth’s initial defence against Giant Bender is a reference to King Kong. Bender and Zoidberg’s rampage is a reference to Godzilla. Mr Panucci says the only real monsters are Dracula, Blacula, and Son of Kong. Nichelle Nichols is dressed as her character Uhura from Star Trek. Fry asks if Planet Express was built on an Indian burial ground, which is a reference to the movie Poltergeist. Fry drops a line from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Gary Gygax makes multiple references to Dungeons & Dragons. Zoidberg wears Sherlock Holmes’s iconic deerstalker cap. Deep Blue, a computer designed to play chess, is one of the Vic Presidential Action Rangers. Giant Bender crushes the band Hanson as they play “Mmm-Bop”.
Iconic Moments: 4. “Friends! Help! A guinea pig tricked me!” | “I’m bored. You’re boring, Zoidberg.” | “That question is less stupid, though you asked it in a profoundly stupid way.” | “You fool! You foolish fool!”
Next Week: “War Is The H-Word” “Wait. Where do you shove things up a ball?”