Written by: J Stewart Burns
Directed by: Mark Ervin
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential
This is often remembered as one of the worst original-run Futurama episodes, especially by me; this is the earliest that I’ve not revisited often specifically because I remembered it as being bad. It’s ultimately a hard one for me to categorise because it was far better than I remembered – certainly far funnier – whilst still having some conceptual flaws that seriously bug me. I’ll start with the good: on top of being funny, this is a great exploration of how Fry, if anything, fits in too well to the future. This is a bit of Futurama lore that I suspect any fule kno – that Fry was originally intended to be a Fish Out Of Water, only for his character to end up becoming much more laidback. Many of my favourite artists and storytellers have remarked on how the art seems to create itself after a certain point; one famous example is Vince Gilligan remarking that Walter White, protagonist of Breaking Bad, revealed himself as more prideful than he initially assumed. It comes from the inherently contradictory nature of art. Humans are not rational, ideologically perfect creatures, and when a storyteller acts out impulses through their characters, sometimes those impulses contradict, and like people seeing faces in clouds, we try to make sense of those contradictions. This feeling is what makes art feel alive. In Fry’s case, jokes about him being a slacker and jokes about him being a scifi nerd full of wonder ended up overtaking any Fish Out Of Water stuff, and for good reason – every single joke of Fry taking some weirdness in stride is hilarious, so of course they’d lean in on it.
The bad parts of this episode are all conceptual. I think the fact that Fry unfreezes Pauly Shore leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths (leaving Weird Al frozen on top of things!), and I have a feeling that this was released when a lot of people found Sarah Silverman really grating – I can’t put it down to any one thing, but I remember people disliking her around the early 00’s and that her reputation hasn’t so much been rehabilitated as she seems to have gradually worked her way into people’s good graces. More importantly, though, Michelle is a big, clear example of multiple grating sexist female stereotypes at once. Going back to Breaking Bad, much has been made of the Antihero’s Wife archetype – a woman who nags the antihero about doing the cool thing we specifically tuned in to watch, of which Skyler White was the big example. This is an archetype that goes back a long time, with a female love interest who tells the hero he’s wrong (random examples: Taylor Howard’s character in Dirty Work, Marisa Tomei’s character in Anger Management), and sometimes she’s redeemed in some way, sometimes she’s defeated, and sometimes she’s right all along but the weight of the narrative is still to our hero for doing the funny thing. This factors a lot into Michelle here, where the whole joke is that she’s horrified and disturbed by things Fry takes in stride now, and to be fair a lot of those jokes are hilarious (like her screaming at everyone but Amy) and work for a single episode gag.
What’s frustrating is that she also fits the more general stereotype of a Nagging Bitch Wife/Girlfriend. Specifically, this is a girlfriend who spends all her time trying to nag her long-suffering boyfriend into being more ambitious, usually by insulting him, and there’s no way I can watch this and think of all the terrible, terrible asshole dudes who thought their girlfriend was this when in actuality said men were just emotionally stunted pricks (personally, I solve the problem of a woman I’m attracted to who does not share my goals and overall lifestyle by, you know, not dating her). More broadly, though, I think this is what grates on other people – you either believe in the archetype and find both Michelle and her lack of any comeuppance annoying, or you find it sexist and find her annoying. It’s just not really a fun concept to play around with the way even “Put Your Head On My Shoulders” is, and it (most likely unintentionally) makes the Fry/Leela pairing more palatable, as a friendship if not a romance – Leela criticises Fry’s, uh, choice of lifestyle, but there’s genuine warmth and love between them and a willingness to let the other be.
Title Card: Not a Substitute for Human Interaction
Cartoon Billboard: “Up To Mars”, 1930
The moment of Zoidberg getting to steal the spotlight is both hilarious and endearing. Not only do the career chips come back from the pilot, we get acknowledgement of their lack of acknowledgement since then. The Indian cryogenics boss dude comes back, just as great as ever (“How do you feel about Mondays?”). Fry using the freezerdoodle as a fridge is hilarious, and he’s weirdly inventive in his laziness in the lab. Fry delivers “Beth said that?” with the same energy that Robert Goulet delivered “Vera said that?” in “$pringfield” back on The Simpsons.
“I’ll fight the box. I think I can take him.”
The title is a reference to The Bionic Woman. Leela’s poster is a reference to Garfield. Paulie Shore drops multiple references to his career. Otherwise this might be the episode with the fewest direct references!
Iconic Moments: 2. “We don’t need to beg, Bender. For god’s sake, we’re not veterans.” | “Michelle, I don’t regret this. But I both rue and lament it.”
Next Week: “Amazon Women In The Mood”. “Then the large women again!”