Futurama, Season Three, Episode Twenty-Two, “The 30% Iron Chef”

Written by: Jeff Westbrook
Directed by: Ron Hughart
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

Man, the high we’ve been riding for so long feels like it went forever! This is a step down – it’s another one of those episodes where the premise is inherently not that interesting which tends to lead one to forget that it’s still funny as hell. I like the joke of Bender technically being the chef of Planet Express but they never really managed to get it to work all that well; you can compare it to the jokes of how technically the Professor is a business owner and watching him poorly throw about business terms (“Who’s your target market?” / “There is no target market. Only targets.”), with the distinctions being that a) the Professor’s lack of business expertise has both reason to come up in the plot and reason not to come up in the plot all the time and b) his treatment of it is exactly in character – the same lazy contempt he does every other thing that’s not superscience. Bender’s obsession with cooking… kinda makes sense? I suppose? But it has no reason to come up in the plot ever. You can also compare it to his obsession with being a folk singer, because it makes more sense to me that he’d completely forget about it right up until it’s right in front of his face, in which case he becomes consumed by it.

As an individual episode, it doesn’t really spark to life either, although it never gets actively painful. It uses the structure of a training plot – seen in things ranging from ancient Chinese fairy tales to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back to The Karate Kid – and it finds some funny spins on that; I particularly like Elzar pointing out that, if anything, Bender is responsible for his master’s death. But it never hits a hot streak the way, say, “A Big Piece Of Garbage” does. It never quite locks into one or two really good ideas the way all the great episodes do. I suppose the idea of being a great chef is interesting, but I also suppose this might be a situation where the writers don’t know enough about cooking to be able to joke about it effectively the way they can make jokes about astronomy or environmentalism or hating hippies.

On the other hand, it also has the ridiculous and wonderful high of what might be the only really good Zoidberg main plot. It really puts into perspective what I was saying about Bender’s A-plot because it locks perfectly into a straightforward “Tell-Tale Heart” story, but twisted to its most absurd expression and in a way that feels true to all the characters involved. Zoidberg’s genuine horror at Fry having to pay ten entire dollars for something he didn’t do makes sense because that really is a lot of money to Zoidberg, and Fry’s cheerful paying of the money makes sense because he’s both stupid enough to not remember not breaking something and goodnatured enough to pay for it anyway. The sincerity of Zoidberg’s pain over something that’s fairly meaningless is hilarious.

Title Card: If accidentally watched, induce vomiting
Cartoon Billboard: “Toys Will Be Toys”, 1949

One of the really good moments in this episode is Bender flipping through his various documents, settling on ‘a plea for attention from Bender’. This also contains a spectacular example of a Futurama scifi concept with the prism beam splitter. I love the gag of having to create a parallel universe to get reservations at a particular restaurant; feels very much of a piece with The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. The accusing parlour makes a glorious return. I feel like the Iron Chef parody ages this episode a bit; I remember it was huge around this time but it feels like the cultural cache of the show has dipped considerably in the past decade.

“That is why I decline the title of Iron Cook and accept only the lesser title of Zinc Saucier, which I just made up. Also, it comes with double prize money.”

The title and much of the plot is a reference to Iron Chef, and it’s one of the rare cases of the title coming up in dialogue. Bender’s training montage contains references to The Karate Kid, Star Wars: A New Hope, and commercials for Ginsu knives. There is yet another reference to Soylent Green. The space train contains parodies of real-life rail companies and references to the musical Starlight Express and the movie Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan. Koji drops a reference to the Styx song “Mr Roboto”. Good Morning Earth is a reference to Good Morning America. The prism track splitter looks like the cover to the Pink Floyd album Dark Side Of The Moon. The episode ends with “Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream. 

Iconic Moments: “Oh no, Professor will hit me! But if Zoidberg fixes it… then perhaps gifts!” | “You guys like swarms of things, right?” | “My story is a lot like yours, only more interesting because it has robots.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch”. “Spare me your space age technobabble, Attila The Hun!”