Futurama, Season Three, Episode One, “Amazon Women In The Mood”

Written by: Lewis Morton
Directed by: Brian Sheesley
DN’s Ranking: BAD / Nonessential / Essential

This episode seems to have become a focal point for all the criticism of Futurama’s gender politics, and there is a lot going on in it. This will be interesting because many people write off the whole thing, but I find there are parts of it I like and parts I don’t like, and it’s hard to pick because everything’s so interconnected. The central emotional arc is Kiff working up the courage to talk to Amy, and it’s part of an overall pattern this show has of a weedy nerd trying to find the right combination of words to make a woman fall in love with him. I’m not completely averse to stories about shy dudes working up the nerve to ask a woman out, but I think the fundamental issue everyone has with it is that it’s the story of a man acting upon a woman, and there are about a thousand reasons people have a problem with that. Number one, and what I suspect will pop up most in the comments, is that it reduces a woman not just to an object but a prize to be won, which isn’t really a healthy attitude to have at any point in a relationship – more than one commentor will have a horror story of being either the object or the pursuer in such a pairing. The way I see it, we don’t see our friends as prizes to be won but as people allowed to make their own choices – in Futurama terms, see Fry’s relationship with Bender, which is loving and has shared values and goals. Romantic relationships should be seen the same way; asking someone out isn’t something that should be seen as success/failure but as providing someone else with an option they can choose to take or not. The goal of asking someone out isn’t to go on a date, it’s to get closure on attraction.

Number two, the story of a man asking a woman out isn’t really a whole story in itself – it’s the first beat of a story. A story is driven forward by action, with those actions having consequences; neurotic inaction is really tough to sell as an action in itself. The final season of The Shield makes it work because the stakes are so high and so deadly that everything the characters do spills out to somewhere else, and more often than not indecision is sold via conflicting actions, like Vic trying to call off the assassination of a certain other character. Mad Men made it work all through the show by showing how life kept going on around Don whenever he went on one of his vision quest therapy wanderings. I like the scene of Kiff trying to hit on Amy using Zapp’s pick-up lines because, as stupid as it is, it’s at least an awkward attempt to get what he wants, which is much more sympathetic than his general moping most of the episode. In a way, I think it kind of ties back into the first point in how a person can treat ‘asking someone out’ as the whole story and the only significant choice in a relationship when an actual relationship is a series of choices every day. The most actively grating part of Kiff and Amy’s plot is how he ends it by declaring he’s in love with her and, you know, he isn’t. He’s attracted to her, he’s curious about her, but he’s known her all of what, a couple of hours? And just been obsessed with her image.

“Amazon Women In The Mood” falls right into the trap of making Amy an object. In the long run, I think Amy suffers from the show never being entirely sure what to do with her – I love her being a clumsy ditz and I actually also love her antagonistic relationship with her parents, but this feels like one of the major points where her character is bent to make the plot go where the writers want her to go. Her best episodes play her as a rich female counterpart to Fry – a lazy slacker happy to indulge in physical sensation. Her polite niceness to Kiff feels right because she never struck me as maliciously mean (even her digs at Leela are played as innocent rudeness), but her being so bowled over by Kiff announcing he loves her feels more like some kind of repressed nerd fantasy than how she’d actually react. Surely, given how many dudes she slept with, more than one guy has loudly declared he loves her, right?

From there we have a controversial element: I actually like the jokes about Zapp and Fry being sexist. There’s a recurring attitude, sometimes visible in the comments, that one should not present jokes about dudes being sexist. One of the reasons I’ve seen for this attitude is that it normalises the behaviour and leads impressionable viewers to imitate it in real life; I think that if you’re dumb enough to imitate something you saw on TV without considering the context, you deserve whatever happens to you. Some people go so far as to say it valorises the behaviour through showing Zapp, Fry, and Bender doing it, and not only do I disagree, I think that’s an actively willful misreading of the text. Not only has the show never valorised Zapp Brannigan – literally the only morally good action I can ever remember him taking is when he saved Leela – but it’s often gone the other way, showing an action is bad by having Zapp do it. Along with that, both Bender and Fry have been deliberately shown to be flawed antiheroes from the start. Bender’s sexism is built into his character, but I also find it plausible that Fry would laugh at and make sexist jokes, especially if everyone else was already doing it. He’s a nice guy when it comes to direct emotions but he can have a thoughtless mean streak about things that bore him. Like… all the jokes are on the dudes for being sexist. And if you really need to have someone acting as a moral counterpoint, you have Kiff, who neither laughs at nor makes sexist jokes and, crucially, never seems as enthusiastic about snu-snu. Not all men, indeed.

Which brings us to the part that I must reveal a neutral stance on. I don’t see the snu-snu jokes as rape jokes, but I completely understand why people do. The writers go out of their way to show that the only people who undergo snu-snu are consenting enthusiastically, but then if you have to go out of your way to explain why something isn’t rape, you’re probably already too far. I find the attitudes of Fry and Zapp to be a pretty funny representation of a real attitude that absolutely exists and the way it descends into the obvious ‘be careful what you wish for’ ending to that, but I also get that this is probably too close for most people. It makes me laugh but I wouldn’t miss it if it were gone. In conclusion for the whole thing, I ended up going with a BAD label for this episode despite it being funny (look at all the iconic lines!) because it is conceptually flawed enough to put me off rewatching it and it concentrates much of the terrible, thoughtless gender politics of the show into one half hour. The unfortunate truth a Futurama fan must accept is that a low-grade sexism is built into the show, and luckily it manages to rise above it from time to time.

Title Card: Secreted By The Comedy Bee
Cartoon Billboard: “Art For Art’s Sake”, 1934

Bea Arthur guest stars as the Fembot, and she is gloriously funny in spite of the fact that she had no idea what half her dialogue was about. There’s a whole subplot about Zoidberg losing his shell. There’s not much to it beyond the punchline of Hermes being infuriated that Zoidberg is even talking to him. This episode has the first mention of Bender being Mexican, which would go on to be a really funny part of his character. There’s a really great animation gag of Leela having two eyes in a reflection that’s disturbed by vibrations. I notice that this episode actually made #2 on IGN’s top 25 Futurama episodes list.

The title is a reference to the movie Amazon Women On The Moon. The steakhouse/bistro is called Le Palm D’Orbit, a dual reference to The Palm Restaurant and the Palme d’Or. Zapp’s spoken word rendition of “Lola” by The Kinks is a reference to William Shatner’s spoken word performances. Zapp refers to himself as The Velor Fog, a reference to Mel “Velvet Fog” Torme. Morbo performs “Funky Town” by Lipps Inc and Kiff sings “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. The drooping items at Planet Express are a reference to the works of Salvador Dali. Fembot speaks over a Sonya speaker, a reference to the company Sony. Fembot’s story is a riff on The Wizard Of Oz. The Femputer is a reference to the Star Trek episode “The Return Of The Archons”. 

Iconic Moments: “I find the most erotic part of a woman is the boobies.” | “Ah, she’s built like a steakhouse, but she handles like a bistro!” | “You win again, gravity!” | “We no can dunk, but good fundamentals.” | “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised!”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Parasites Lost”. “It’s like a party in my mouth and everyone’s throwing up!”