Written by: Ron Weiner
Directed by: Chris Louden
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
Everyone has their own bit of what TV Tropes calls ‘fandom heresy’ – a reaction to a particular episode from a work that’s diametrically opposed to the fandom’s consensus. I have three examples when it comes to Futurama, and this is the first – I was never really as bowled over by this episode as everyone else seemed to be. Don’t get me wrong, the final resolution always moved me, but I always put that down to the craft of the moment – not only in the way it’s staged – with Fry’s silent reaction where words could not possibly enhance the effect, the use of “Don’t Forget About Me” – but in the nature of the reveal and the way it radically reframes what we’ve seen in a way that is surprising and yet logical. It’s the show’s joke-telling abilities turned towards creating a heartwarming effect. But it feels isolated and even calculated in a manipulative way rather than emerging from character. As often with this series and with The Simpsons before it, I find that putting it under the microscope (and having put the whole series up to now under a microscope) makes me more appreciative of it. If most shows have comedic relief, this show has dramatic relief – moments that are deliberately, almost melodramatically emotional, and this is the first real stab at the concept; this is both an extension of everything the show has done up until now, and points to where it’s going to go in the future, as other ‘dramatic relief’ episodes will create intense moments of emotion with a punchline-like revelation, and will deliver more intense twists that build on the same approach this episode is using.
I also realised that part of it was me simply not identifying with Fry’s problem or his relationship with his brother. One of the aspects of Futurama’s morality is a general indifference to the concept of family; we will, of course, see a counter to this down the line, but this dives deep into Fry’s family being people he doesn’t like, doesn’t understand, and doesn’t actually enjoy being around – Yancy has none of Fry’s imagination, sincerity, or thoughtfulness – which is not reflective of my attitude towards my own parents and sister. Hell, I even had a sibling rivalry going on with my sister as a kid because she copied a lot of what I did, and this episode still doesn’t feel right! But it matches perfectly up with other people’s experiences with their family that I’ve heard about, not quite up to the level of people with abusive parents but definitely with people who at best have trouble relating to their family and at worst don’t see the point of the whole blood relation idea to begin with (no negative judgement intended). Fry’s one of those people who will take someone he can relate to over someone he happens to have shared DNA with. What’s the point of spending so much time and energy devoted to someone you don’t even like? The punchline, of course, being that while they don’t like each other, they do love each other.
Title Card: Broadcast simultaneously one year in the future
Cartoon Billboard: “Boom Boom” (1936)
Tom Kenny guest stars as Yancy Fry, as well the narrator of the movie on Philip J Fry. Even if I don’t identify with Fry’s problem, his mother is the closest I’ve seen anyone come to representing my mother’s parenting style onscreen. Like it’s not right, but it’s closer than anything else. Fry’s Dad drops a hint about where the plot’s going to go with his discussion of the family name. This has the first joke about a character being friends with Scruffy, which is the funniest possible direction to go after literally the first joke being nobody recognising him – that’s like six kinds of postmodernism. It’s also the first appearance of Bender’s full name: Bender Bending Rodriguez. The gag about the Professor’s browser hearing a phrase and sending him ads has aged horrifically now that computers and phones casually do that. “You’re twice the ‘the’ he ever was!” is a gag I get a lot of use out of, mainly by saying I’m three times the ‘stan’ of any guy named Stan. When Yancy goes through Fry’s stuff, he pulls out a banner with ‘whitefish’ written on it, in reference to “Mars University”.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
(This many be the purest Bender dialogue ever, next to him just saying his own name)
Fry referenced the iconic catchphrase of The Thing from the Fantastic Four comics. The hypo-spray Bender uses is lifted from Star Trek. The manhole has a picture of a character from The PJ’s on it. When in Old New York, Fry shouts “Howard Stern is overrated!”. A sign in Alienese at the horse race contains a reference to the film Not Without My Daughter. There’s a Tomb Of The Unknown Comic, a dual reference to the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier and the 70’s standup comedian The Unknown Comic.
Iconic Moments: “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring!” | “Man, I can’t wait until I’m old enough to feel ways about stuff.”
Biggest Laugh: Part of what makes this work for me is how tossed-off it is.
Next Week: “The Birdbot Of Ice-catraz”. “Stop yelling at me!”