Futurama, Season Three, Episode Eleven, “The Cyber House Rules”

Written by: Lewis Morton
Directed by: Susie Dietter
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

Now here’s a great episode! I suspect people will find it a bit cheeky to call this one essential because I don’t generally see people talk about it outside the big iconic moment. But aside from the fact that it’s so funny that picking a biggest laugh was very difficult, it feels to me like a great expression of a central plank of the worldview of Futurama. For a show that’s famous for its cynicism, it has a genuine sense of wonder and awe. It’s possible to read that as a contradiction, but I think both come from the same place – aside from the fact that the former is funnier when set up by the latter, I think the cynicism comes from seeing when the universe fails to live up to the wondrous things it can be. The reason Fry’s dreamy-eyed longing works so well is because the show really feels it; it craves something more than the banalities of working, sleeping, and paying taxes. Much of the humour comes from those banalities intruding anyway, and much of the sincere joy comes from finding and creating a sense of wonder anyway. “I already did!” comes in the middle of Fry enthusiastically celebrating the weirdness of our regular characters, and it has a real ‘yeah, I do love these characters!’ feel to it. I actually forgot how far we are into the original run of the show, and this scene was a reminder that we’ve actually come a long way already.

It’s an important part of this specific story, too. More than anything, Leela wants to be normal – to be banal and have banal experiences. Normally, I don’t like stories with that kind of premise for two reasons: one, because they are almost always about superheroes who are sad because they have superpowers. Two, I do not and have never had any interest in being normal, so it’s hard to empathise. This works a lot better at avoiding the former because Leela doesn’t actually have any powers – arguably, her problem is a disability, and it’s effectively framed that way in the story (“Looking at me in the street, or trying not to look at me.”), which is easy to sympathise with. More importantly, I understand it better even if I disagree. In a broader sense, a situation that is banal is a situation we have control over. We’ve seen this a million times, and we know how to react; this is what makes Leela cool. I think this is what attracts Leela to Adlai in the first place, besides him being a tall doctor. Being normal is another way of saying having social power.

But there are things more important than power. The most important reason Leela’s story is sympathetic to me now is because I can see it as a variation on the overall arc of the show. One way of looking at it is that it’s looking for the best kind of banal experiences, ones it can have over and over again and never get tired of. Dr Zoidberg being gross and weird and poor, Professor Farnsworth being a senile mad scientist, Amy being a Martian klutz, and yes, Leela being violently angry. Over time, it’s been collecting characters and jokes and ideas and recycling them, and that’s created a comforting, consistent effect. Adlai represents banality that’s limiting and excludes some wonderful things that hurt nobody and that Leela doesn’t want to lose. Normal is subjective, and while there’s bad ways of being normal, I suppose that doesn’t mean the feeling is not worth chasing at all. Chasing its own unique form of normality is what made this show worth watching and keeping.

Title Card: Please rise for the Futurama theme song
Cartoon Billboard: “Congo Jazz”, 1930

Tom Kenny guest stars as Adlai, and he is hilarious as a monotone Normal Guy. Really, the quality of the show’s comedy writing comes down to how well it makes normality into a funny idea to play with. A while back, I had a conversation with my mad genius trans witch friend, who convinced me that what makes Fry a sympathetic and plausible romantic interest to Leela is that he takes her for what she is rather than what he wants her to be, and this is a really good episode for proving her point. He is completely uninterested in changing her or in making her fit some unnecessarily specific image of a woman. Bender’s B story in this was even funnier for me this time, because it managed to cartoonishly reflect the relationship I tend to form with children – one of indifference on my part that somehow manages to inspire love on theirs. The final image especially made me laugh for how familiar it was.

This is also our first foray into Leela’s childhood at the orphanarium, which provides some more context for her desire to be normal. She missed out on the childhood other people had, and that makes her bitter. Later episodes would explore that in a more interesting way. Speaking of things I find #relatable, Leela’s flirting style is also very much like my own (“That’s so handsome of you.”). Interestingly, Leela’s name is written in her hospital bed as ‘Leela T’ when later episodes would establish her name as Turanga Leela. 

“You’re just jealous.”
“No I’m not! Oh wait, I am. But my point remains valid!”

The title is a riff on The Cider House Rules by John Irving, and Bender paraphrases a line from the book. The scene of the blonde woman’s banaged being removed is a reference to the Twilight Zone episode “The Eye Of The Beholder”. Leela buys glasses at a shop called Eye Robot, a reference to the Isaac Asimov short story collection I, Robot.

Iconic Moments: “And Fry, you’ve got that brain thing!” / “I already did!”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Where The Buggalo Roam”. “By the way, I took the liberty of fertilising your caviar.”