Written by: Lewis Morton, David X Cohen, Jason Gorbett, Scott Kirby
Directed by: Bret Haaland
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL
It’s funny how these feel essential even when they’re really inconsistent in quality; I’m perfectly willing to make allowances for that because it almost feels like it comes with the territory of three shorts. It’s the same amount of time as any other episode, but because each individual story is so short, when one disappoints me I just end up thinking “well there’s another around the corner and my expectations weren’t actually high to begin with”. It’s widely understood that it’s easier to write something long than something short; one of the commentaries (I think the one for the first anthology?) has someone (I think David X Cohen?) remark that it’s almost impossible to get the pacing right to tell a whole story. You can kind of see that here. The first sequence is actually a pretty well-paced short story; it ends up feeling like a commentary on Bender as a character in effect. The whole joke is basically that Bender only gets away with what he does because he’s a robot, of course, but it also shows why he works as a character. At his essence, he’s a creature of sensation, interested only in how things look and feel and taste and sound and presumably smell. He doesn’t care about the rules associated with something or the meaning behind it, and breaking all those rules – which being a robot allows him to – is what makes him so funny.
I never thought much of the second story. I always thought it was because I was enough of a gamer to find the pool of references used in it rather shallow; it doesn’t help that I was steeped in gamer culture through the 00’s (when this was on rerun) and saw enough comics and posts and jokes that did the basic joke of this – what if life worked like a video game? – and did it with greater care, nuance, and humour. But I also think the sequence just isn’t that funny; there are some great gags in there, like “Tend to the widow Pac-Man” and the punchline to the whole thing being that the bad guys are driven by laundry needs, but most of the jokes are really just having characters say things from video games. The show’s other references tend to be both deeper cuts and more absurdly contrasted with other things – within this episode alone, we have a much funnier riff on the ‘misunderstood alien conveying a lesson to humanity’ reference at the end of Bender’s story. The final sequence is definitely my favourite here – I can’t imagine a hackier sitcom premise than a parody of The Wizard Of Oz, which works perfectly for this show’s knowing apathy. Pretty much any parody of Wholesome Entertainment will go for the obvious “everyone is cynical and terrible” route for comedy, but this has a tradition of Leela failing to be as kind as she wishes to draw on; it’s a specific character beat as much as a cynical subversion, and the rest of the short has that character to it.
Title Card: Hey Tivo! Suggest this!
Cartoon Billboard: “A Close Call”, 1929
Bender eating and kissing at the same time is the grossest thing in the short and possibly in the show. The sounds! “Is Bender still missing for a week?” Such a great joke on exposition. The various ways the Professor asks the What If machine make me laugh, as the writers find weirder and weirder ways to hit the same beat.
“I was having the most wonderful dream. Except you were there. And you were there, and you were there!”
Bender’s segment is named “I, Meatbag” in reference to the Isaac Asimoc book I, Robot. The song Bender becomes obsessed with is “Conga” by Gloria Estefan. DUI Fridays is a reference to TGI Fridays. Fry’s segment is named “Raiders Of The Lost Arcade” in reference to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Militari HQ is a reference to Atari. The planet Nintendu 64 is a reference to the Nintendo 64. One of the Nintendians drops a reference to “All your base are belong to us”, a line from the game Zero Wing. Donkey Kong makes his third appearance in the show. Fry listens to “Tom Sawyer” by Rush as he plays. Mario, a robot from Berserk, a fried egg from Burgertime, and Q*bert all appear as Nintendians. Leela’s segment is a parody of The Wizard Of Oz and the title “Wizzin’” (as well as a reference from Fry) come from the musical The Wiz. When Leela first lands in Oz, she sees the NBC peacock. Leela drops a reference to the movie For The Love Of Benji.
Iconic Moments: “Being a robot’s great, but we don’t have emotions, and sometimes that makes me very sad.” | “It’s Saturday night. I have no date. A two litre bottle of Shasta. And my all-Rush mixtape. Let’s rock.” | “”YOU WATCHED IT!!! YOU CAN’T UNWATCH IT!!!”” | “We represent but are legally distinct from the Lollipop Guild!”
Biggest Laugh: That whole runner of Zoidberg half-assing his way through being the Cowardly Lion is hilarious, but the climax is downright sublime.
Next Week: “Roswell That Ends Well”. “Oh, a lesson in not changing history by Mr I’m-My-Own-Grampa’!”