Written by: Aaron Ehazs
Directed by: Brian Sheesley
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential
One of my opening grand unified theories for Futurama is that it’s as much a Gen X show as The Simpsons was a Boomer show, and one aspect of that which I had never really considered was how, whereas the Sixties cast a shadow over our favourite four fingered freaks, the Eighties casts a shadow over Futurama. Fry grew up in the Eighties, of course, so any time it wanders to his childhood, we get scores of Eighties references. But it’s also part of the mentality of the show; they might not have direct contact with hippies, but they do have direct contact with the yuppies many of them turned into, and in That Guy, they create a hate letter to everything those people were and stood for. The interesting thing is that focusing so tightly not just on a specific aesthetic but on a guy driven by and using a specific aesthetic is that it ends up revealing a fairly universal concept; I was all ready to dive into the morality of yuppies and Bigger Is Better and how That Guy articulated it, but in actuality he’s just a guy using specific words as a tool to gain power, and his weird honesty about that (“Image, people! Image!”) doesn’t really affect that. He could be a Fifties Guy in a suit and trilby talking about Family and working hard, a Sixties hippie talking about Free Love and opening your mind, a Nineties Guy talking about nihilism, or a New Tens Guy talking about pronouns and rape culture. It’s not that these ideas are wrong, necessarily, it’s that he’s using verbal cliches that mean (or meant) something specific as a conversational cheat code in his quest for power; I imagine you’ve met and spoken to many people who have done that.
It makes Fry into a Follower; this is actually a pretty Homer Simpson kind of story, in which he is seduced by the superficial language of a huckster and enthusiastically repeats buzzwords he heard in the hopes of becoming an specific ideal. The structure of the episode feels like the same kind of thing “Where The Buggalo Roam”, where the overall emotional arc is cliche but the weirdness of the journey is supposed to compensate for that – and in this case, that works really well for me. It’s a fairly straightforward Restoration Of Order story, where our hero does the wrong thing, sees the consequences, and then fixes his mistake. There are two important things: firstly, the emotion is sincere. Fry’s delight in the cliches of the Eighties and the faux-ownage (faux-nage? No) is understandable, if not from a moral (or even rational) perspective then at least from the fact that it’s fun to spout cliches like that. And the Order that we submit to, in which Fry comes back to his found family, makes sense in both universal and personal perspectives – Family is important and all that, most people can understand having coworkers they love to see every day, and also we care about these specific people and the relationship Fry formed with them. Secondly, it finds the best way to cynically twist that. Multiple people have observed where the show tries to have its cake and eat it too by satirically commenting on something and also present it sincerely, and in this case, having Fry ruin the crew’s chances to be millionaires in order to keep his family is something where you understand why everyone’s pissed even when Fry is delighted to keep working with these guys. I’ve had some coworkers I loved working with, but I’d definitely take millions of dollars if I could only see them on a few weekends here and there.
Title Card: Love it or shove it
Cartoon Billboard: “Jingle Jangle Jungle”, 1950
Though he is, of course, in almost every episode, this is a great Dave Herman showcase as That Guy. That Guy is referred to in the script as Steve Castle, though I assume you can imagine why I find it funnier to call him That Guy. I love the opening act with the Planet Express shareholders meeting and Fry wandering around different conventions and meetings. This whole episode has some prime Futurama wordplay, with my favourite being That Guy’s increasingly nonsensical use of the words “sheep” and “shark”. Boneitis is an incredible creation on the part of the writers – just stupid enough to be funny, and the animation when it emerges is gruesome. The hair gel gag is possibly one of the grossest examples of Fry being a slob, and Fry’s line “And a glass of all your water,” is such a great escalation of an already absurd moment, if only because it feels like Fry really would say that. I consider Scruffy’s inexplicable voting for That Guy to be an excellent use of him to move the plot where it needs to go.
“I move that your cat stinks and is ugly.”
The PlanEx logo resembles the FedEx logo. The PlanEx advertisement is a reference to Apple’s Superbowl advertisement in 1984. Igner’s confusion over the ballot is a reference to the Florida voting controversy of 2000. Calculon drops a reference to The Planet Of The Apes. The stock exchange station contains references to Run DMC, Star Trek, Apple Computers, and Microsoft. The station appears in a shot referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey. Jor-El, Master Of Scheduling, is a reference to the film Superman. That Guy has a Miami Vice lunchbox. He references Cindy Lauper and MC Hammer. Amy’s use of the phrase “pure strength of will” in reference to Germany is a reference to the Nazi propaganda film Triumph Of The Will. Giorgio Amonster is a reference to Giorgio Armani. National Pornographic is a reference to National Geographic. That Guy is largely a reference to Gordon Gekko of the movie Wall Street, and his treatment of the company is a reference to the Enron scandal.
Iconic Moments: “Their company is big and evil! Ours is small and neutral.” / “Switzerland is small and neutral! We’re like Germany, ambitious and misunderstood!” | “Any button, they all retaliate!” | “Jam a bastard in it, you crap!” | “This isn’t a business! I’ve always thought of it more as a source of cheap labour, like a family.” | “Somehow, some time, for some reason…” | “I’ll be whatever I wanna do!”
Next Week: “The 30% Iron Chef”. “I don’t mean to offend Bender, but this actually tastes better as vomit.”