Futurama, Season Three, Episode Sixteen, “A Leela Of Her Own”

Written by: Patric M Verrone
Directed by: Swinton O Scott III
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL  / Essential

There are times that the apathy of Futurama can be hilarious, and there are times it can get offensive in some way – even if that’s just, like, ‘this is an irresponsible attitude’. This is a very rare case where both sides apply. This feels like the writers being deliberately provocative for Laffs – what if a woman set out to play a sport in order to inspire other women, only for her to turn out to be wildly incompetent? I can practically hear the writers smirking at their own edginess. But in practice, the episode feels pretty benign to me – it’s not really making fun of women, it’s making fun of Leela. About the meanest it actually gets is making fun of Leela’s idealistic desire to inspire other women, and we’ve already long established that she’s not as able to live up to her ideals as she would like to be. This episode is interesting because it’s absolutely drowning in the show’s typical apathy; it opens with the characters trying to support some alien immigrants* trying to integrate into Earthican society, not because they genuinely want to help (though we do get a rare and welcome example of Fry being competent for a change), but because they vaguely feel they have to, and it ends with those immigrant aliens choosing to sell out at the first opportunity (“We came to Earth to make pizza, not money!” / “No, Blek! Other way around!”). The concept of people doing something because they enjoy other people or because they enjoy the task they’ve set themselves is absurd, and I know it’s not completely serious about saying that, but it is kind of serious about saying that.

*I am aware of the redundancy in this statement, so don’t bother pointing that out.

This ends up influencing my read of the main plot. Part of the reason it doesn’t feel that mean to me is because it recognises that women getting a raw deal in sport is a pretty crap thing; Jackie Anderson strikes me as the kind of character that would show up on The Simpsons all the time and almost never on Futurama – a serious, intelligent person who is not used as the butt of a joke or reduced to a cartoon character – which makes it feel like the crew admitting that the ideals Leela is trying to live up to are serious and rooted in something real. The resulting effect is that the butt of the joke here is Leela’s failure to live up to her ideals, and even more her reflexive belief in her own inspirational heroism. Part of why it’s so funny to me is being able to recognise my own tendencies to self-mythologise in Leela’s actions in the abstract; I suppose most of us daydream about being widely admired sometimes and not so much about the work you have to do to get to that point. But – and I’m aware I’m speaking of this kind of thing from the outside as a cis man – it’s also inherently funny to me to see a woman completely botch being an inspirational feminist. I happen to believe that people ought to be treated with a certain level of respect regardless of their positive or negative qualities as a person; in the practical terms the episode sets, women don’t need to be geniuses at blernsball to have the right to play it, and Leela is under no obligation to be good at the game to deserve respect as a player.

Looking at it this way makes her attempt to be seen as an ideal – which is not just desperate, but unthinking – into something hilarious. There’d be dignity in what she was doing if it was for love of the sport – enjoying the actual playing of blernsball just for its own sake – but she’s really doing it because she likes the vague idea of being someone inspirational, which makes her pathetic. Once again, I recognise myself in that; sometimes you can get pulled into doing something because it flatters your ego, and you look no better doing that than Leela does here. There would also be dignity in doing it because she genuinely wants to accomplish a task to a high standard; this is effectively why Jackie comes off serious, and when Leela genuinely sets herself the task of becoming Not The Worst Blernsball Player Of All Time, it’s a little funny for being such an unambitious goal, but it’s also funny for making us take it a little seriously. People who set themselves a goal and chase it sincerely tend to be more attractive. Her ultimate failure is one of the grand traditions of Futurama; a hilarious subversion of the heroic underdog sports narrative, even more hilarious for having this be part of the story of a woman who was actually good at the game. But I also find it kind of poignant. Leela didn’t deserve this because she didn’t actually want it. Now granted, that line of reasoning is often used as a justification for real world oppression, but I have been in that situation enough – where I realised too late that I was chasing the image of success instead of trying to succeed – to recognise that it feels the same here.

Title Card: Scratch here to reveal prize
Cartoon Billboard: “The Goal Rush”, 1946

Bob Uecker and Hank Aaron guest star as themselves, with Aaron pulling double duty as his own descendent. Both are very funny; Uecker has the edge in performance, but Aaron gets the funnier writing, with the concept of a guy trying to defend his reign as the worst player of all time being inherently funny. The Professor’s stubborn “NO!” is another great example of his crotchetiness being #relatable. I absolutely love Bender’s immediate and enthusiastic embrace of being Leela’s agent; the “one and two zeroes” runner is a classic case of Futurama pushing a running gag until it breaks. I also love Katey Segal’s delivery of Leela’s terrible acting in the bean commercial. “And not clown fundamentals!” is one of those jokes where it’s impossible to explain why it’s so funny. I absolutely love the gross imagination that went into Hermes’s sweat briefcase.

“You’ve been training with the Hank Aaron?”
“I’ve been training with a Hank Aaron!”

The title and some of the plot and themes are a reference to the movie A League Of Their Own. Jackie Anderson’s name and number are a reference to Jackie Robinson, the African-American player who broke the colour barrier in baseball. One of the players who broke the colour barrier in blernsball is a half-white half-black alien in reference to the Cherons of Star Trek. The clown playing for the Mets is a reference to Max Patkin; Leela’s ⅞ jersey is a reference to the ⅛ jersey worn by Eddie Gaedel. The “ancient Cygnoid secret” exchange is lifted from a 70’s commercial for Calgon Water Softener. Bob Uecker drops a reference to his time on Mr Belvedere

Iconic Moments: “When I grow up, I want to injure men by throwing stuff at them, just like you, Leela!”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “A Pharaoh To Remember”. “We learned many things from the mighty Egyptians, such as pyramid-building, space travel and how to prepare our dead so as to scare Abbott and Costello.”