Written by: Jeff Westbrook (teleplay) Westbrook and David X Cohen (story)
Directed by: Mark Ervin
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
Even if I didn’t like this episode, it would still be essential. This is one of the big parts of the overall jigsaw puzzle this show is building in the cracks of its day-to-day concept o’ the week episodes – planting the seeds for a greater emotional and comedic impact later. This is the episode where we learn that Fry lacks the delta brainwave pattern, which will both receive an explanation and be developed further. I think people sometimes overstate the quality and ambition of the overall plot of Futurama; there’s what, four episodes and a movie that are driven by it? It was always pretty low on my list of reasons I love the show; indeed, my favourite thing is the exact opposite, in that I love the workaday feeling to the whole thing to which these plot-driven episodes are a sharp relief. But I also get why people love it so much. The difference between The Simpsons and Futurama is that this show was always deliberately moving forward, adding on elements, changing others, and feeling like there was a direction it was trying to move towards. Also, the overall effect of the plot is very much like a jigsaw. We didn’t know it at the time, but the pilot episode was one piece of it, and we don’t know it yet but this episode is the second piece. When we’re all the way through, we’ll see it all click together in a satisfying way.
(Thinking about it, maybe the Fry/Leela romance – i.e. the other major plot of the show – was trying to work the same way but never quite got it to function as well.)
Luckily, of course, I love this episode. Aside from the fact that it’s very, very funny, it’s got so much going for it that I almost can’t pick where to start. Fry’s journey is what anchors it; this is a perfect example of the show knowing exactly what plots to throw its protagonists in. I despise Chosen One plots because more often than not, they’re about how the protagonist is more noble, more worthy, or more special than the people around them. This presents the exact opposite – Fry’s status as a Chosen One is a responsibility inflicted upon him. He’s the hero in this episode not because he’s actually better than everyone else, but because everyone more capable than him has been incapacitated. Fry’s strength is his heart, and his weakness is his brain, and this episode shows him forced to step up and use the latter. It makes it more exciting in the short term because we know Fry is not good in situations like this, and it makes it feel more heroic when he triumphs over his own weaknesses.
It’s also a great moment of creativity and intelligence on the part of the writers, who come to a solution that is genuinely clever but also still feels like something Fry would come up with, and this episode has so much of the writers’ creativity. In particular, this is our first exposure to the Nibblonians, and they’re a comedic masterstroke – not only a hilarious fusion of pompous 50s scifi aliens with cute pet toys, but hilarious individual examples of those things. The joke of Leela interpreting Nibbler’s mutterings is pretty great (“And you go on to say–”), but I’m glad it was put aside so we could get the glorious banality of Frank Welker’s performance; the Futurama line that has most strongly influenced my sense of humour is “I bear many receipts for reimbursement.” Every single line in the explanation for the Brains is great, though I’m particularly amused by “When the universe was forged in the crucible of the Big Bang, our universe was already seventeen years old.” It’s funny how much of this show was built out of references and yet how good it was at inventing new and bizarre imagery.
Title Card: 80% Entertainment by volume
Cartoon Billboard: “Art For Art’s Sake”, 1934
I also love how, considering this is a Fry episode, it gives over huge chunks of its time to Leela – right from the start, we see some great subversion of her comic foilness. Her strength is her brain and her weakness is her heart, and here we see it failing her, depending on how much you care about a pet being well-trained. The opening has a rare but very funny pairing of Zoidberg and Bender; somehow, the fact that they have the exact same goal only makes it all funnier. This also has the first appearance of the Hypnotoad, and it really says something about how this hilarious sequence isn’t even the funniest use of it. Fry blowing his nose on the message is such a brilliant and hilarious plot turn that ups the stakes enormously.
“Zooka barooka! First prize is five hundred dollars and a year’s supply of dog food!”
“Five hundred dollars, you say?”
“Dog food, you say?”
The title is a reference to the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. The plot draws heavily from the Star Trek episode “Operation: Annihilate!” and the movie The Brain From The Planet Arous. There’s an ad for Soylent Chow, another reference to Soylent Green. Fry and Leela travel through Moby Dick, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, and Pride and Prejudice. The Nibblonian’s main room is a reference to The Grey Council from Babylon 5. One of the planets are named after the cartoonist Don Martin. Fry’s last line is a reference to a series of American commercials.
Iconic Moments: “Second place?! That’s a fancy word for losing!” | “All glory to the hypnotoad.” | “People said I was dumb, but I proved them!” | “Superior yet inferior mind.” | “The Professy will help! Augh! Fire indeed hot!” | “We have long since evolved beyond the need for asses.” | “I am the greetest! Muhahaha! Now I am leaving Earth for no raisin!”
Next Week: “That’s Lobstertainment!” “The first funny thing you must do is put all your money in the form of a cashier’s check and come to Hollywood.”