Futurama, Season Three, Episode Seventeen, “A Pharaoh To Remember”

Written by: Ron Weiner
Directed by: Mark Ervin
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

This is one that’s famously hard to watch for a lot of people, and I get it because I didn’t care for it much at first either. This episode pushes Bender’s need for attention to the forefront, which I suspect would be fine if it didn’t also push his sociopathy to the forefront. Even without Bender literally enslaving his friends and a whole bunch of people when he actively doesn’t have to (with the Pharaoh dying trying to tell him to free them), his behaviour at his fauxneral is incredibly obnoxious. I suppose part of the unstated contract this show has with the viewers is that Bender is an asshole but he’ll never go too far. If Fry exists to be the guy who is an idiot but has a good heart and Leela is the comic foil who can’t keep it up, Bender gets to be dangerous – he’s going to do and say the funny self-centered thing and he’s going to enjoy and suffer the consequences. Sometimes he gets away with it – particularly if it’s just an offhand remark – and sometimes he doesn’t, and usually they get the balance between wish fulfilment and punishment right. Part of it is that he’s never really going to do anything that feels like it has real consequence – he’ll rob people we don’t care about and drink and smoke, and these things feel like regular TV wish fulfilment, and he’ll insult Fry and Leela and occasionally get comedic violent but enslaving and whipping them feels like a step too far. Even worse, it feels like he’s basically unpunished at the end – they basically forgive him as soon as they get on the ship!

The flipside of this is that it is genuinely funny. This has a classic case of Bender’s sincerity making him even funnier in how he is absolutely enthusiastic about being a slave and deeply respectful to the slavedrivers (when he’s not correcting them); I suspect this is a case of Bender liking things that remind him of himself, because it doesn’t even occur to him that he could replace them until the opportunity is right in front of his face. It’s a very specific kind of empathy, extended only to people who either want or feel the things he does, and he embraces it without hesitation. There’s also the fact that what punishment he does get is actually pretty hilarious – because all he wants is attention, they deny it to him in the pettiest and most lowkey way, and it totally works! What really gets me is when they tease him, and he honestly responds (“Oh please, let it be me!”). 

Title Card: Psst… big party at your house after the show!
Cartoon Billboard: “Toys Will Be Toys”, 1949

The funny thing is that a large amount of this episode’s understanding of how the pyramids were built has been debunked; it’s widely understood that they were built by paid workers rather than slaves (largely, farmers working during the off-season). One small way this has aged badly is that licking butts is now considered a good thing. We see the return of the single Australian man from “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back”. I often think of Bender’s statue declaring “REMEMBER ME!” when clicking ‘remember me’ on website logins.

“I know whose funeral we’ll be attending next!”
“Oh, hush!”

Fry drops the classic Star Wars quote “I have a bad feeling about this!” when being carried off in a scene reminiscent of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi. The funeral singer is a reference to Elton John and sings a pastiche of his songs, with the whole moment being a reference to Johns’s performance at the funeral of Princess Diana. The Osirins reference Abbott and Costello, and Fry makes an Abbott noise when he sees Bender as a mummy. Bender’s entrance as Pharaoh is lifted from Steve Martin’s “King Tut” routine. The snakes beneath the desert are a reference to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The “Bender licks butt!” gag is a reference to the fold-in gags of MAD Magazine. Hamenthotep’s organs are kept in jars labelled “Pharaoh’s Own” in reference to Newman’s Own. Zoidberg sings the folk song “Danny Boy”. Hermes drops a reference to the Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz. 

Iconic Moments: “Insane theories one, regular theories a billion!” | “I’m gonna spin til I fall down!” | “Great wall of prophecy! Reveal to us God’s will that we may blindly obey!” / “Free us from thought and responsibility.” / “We shall read things off you!” / “Then do them.” / “Your words guide us.” / “We’re dumb.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Anthology Of Interest II”. “You watched it! You can’t unwatch it!”