Futurama, Season Three, Episode Fifteen, “I Dated A Robot”

Written by: Eric Kaplan
Directed by: James Purdum
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

I haven’t seen this episode in so long that I’m fairly certain I’ve never actually seen it. I don’t know what it was exactly; it must have never come up when I watched the show in reruns over my teenage years, and then I never got that particular DVD, and then when Futurama came to Youtube I hopped around buying random episodes when I was in the mood – and it was only this year, after I was well into the project of these write-ups, that the whole series came to a streaming service. I think it’s because the premise sounded boring to me – the basic idea is that Fry is an idiot falling in love with a robot programmed to say what he wants to hear, which sounded like it could fall into the worst impulses of the series. But in fact, it might be the most intense example of what beloved commentor Raven Wilder identified way back in “Fear Of A Bot Planet” – that is, appearing to make a point but deliberately presenting a situation so specific that it can’t be seen as applying at all. This is a delirious mess that makes absolutely no sense and can’t fully map onto anything. If it’s a commentary on movie/TV piracy, it doesn’t really apply – pirated movies have never killed anybody and do not involve literally trapping the celebrities and painfully sucking the life from them, and I don’t see how it acts as a metaphor for any of the actual consequences. If it’s a metaphor for queerness – as both the “DON’T DATE ROBOTS!” video and Bender’s ongoing anti-robosexuality grumblings suggest – then it continuously breaks down, because as everyone points out, Liu-bot has no independent thought or programming, right up until the moment she apparently does.

It is, of course, none of those things – it’s an exercise in absurdity where the funniest thing that could happen does, meaning be damned. I am in no way suggesting this is deliberate, but that opening clip of The Scary Door sets the tone here – any attempt to make a message is deliberately undone for the sake of a Laff. You can read it as a metaphor for a specific situation in the moment within a scene – almost every scene with Fry and Liu-bot works as a metaphor for the way men can want an image of a woman who tells them they’re wonderful no matter what they’re actually like coupled with jokes at the expense of computer programs badly designed to sound human – but the whole thing is not gonna hold up. The closest it comes to a coherent point is that a celebrity is not their public image, which isn’t wrong but also isn’t particularly interesting or explored to any depths. This is in no way a criticism – freeing itself from making a point means it commits fully to being funny, and ends up leading to an almost parallel situation to “Time Keeps On Slippin’” where a serious expression of emotion ends up being incredibly, absurdly funny – Fry watching his beloved Liu-bot sacrifice her life is a ‘serious’ moment presented in such a ridiculous context that I can’t help but fall into giggles. In the words of the episode, there is no purpose, only enjoyment.

Title Card: Scratch here to reveal prize
Cartoon Billboard: “Censored”, 1944

Lucy Liu guest stars as herself and her robots, and she has barrels of fun subverting a sexy image. Every single time she jarringly breaks her own speaking pattern with the robot voice kills me because she does it so violently. The Hitler twist in The Scary Door is a rare case of the parody actually being less funny than the original (“I’m Hitler! I’m in zee bunker! It’s zee end of zee var!”). I love the Professor’s take on the present, pointing out a real futuristic scifi event that was happening at the time of writing. The cowboy universe waving at our heroes makes me laugh. Later in “The Farnsworth Para-Box”, we’ll see some other universes, which will contradict this episode’s assertion that there are only two parallel universes; the creators would observe that the other universes in that episode are perpendicular. Sadly, Mass Effect has this episode beat when it comes to making comedy out of the idea of illegally downloading the personalities of celebrities. The “DON’T DATE ROBOTS” video is hilarious to me as a parody of conservative fears of homosexuality and the idea that the ability to have sex without making babies will lead to humanity wiping itself out through apathy. “Popcorn stadium” is a great turn of phrase and incidentally sets up the winning move. “Life was bad, but now it’s good! Forever!” is very much like one of my favourite 8 Bit Theater lines (“Life is good and it will stay that way forever!”, shortly before being hit by a tidal wave).

“This is Fry’s decision. And he made it wrong, so it’s time for us to interfere in his life.”

This episode contains a parody sequel to Liu’s Charlie’s Angels movies, with the movie’s title being a parody of City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curly’s Gold. Nappster is a parody of Napster. The Scary Door sequence parodies “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, “A Nice Place To Visit”, and “The Man In The Bottle”. Fry and Liu-bot visit Dinkin’ Donuts, a combination of Dunkin’ Donuts and New York mayor David Dinkins. At one point, Bender channels Archie Bunker of All In The Family. George Michael’s head drops a reference to the Wham song “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”. Three Eyed Jack’s is a parody of One Eyed Jack’s from Twin Peaks. During the love montage, “Love Machine” by The Miracles plays. 

Iconic Moments: “DON’T DATE ROBOTS!” | “She’s stuck in an infinite loop, and he’s an idiot! Well, that’s love for you.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “A Leela Of Her Own”. “Oh, put down the binoculars, Fry. The wall of that strip club isn’t going to collapse twice in one day.” / “I know, and I’ve grown to accept that.”