Futurama, Season Four, Episode Three, “Love And Rocket”

Written by: Dan Vebber
Directed by: Brian Sheesley
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

This feels like a spiritual twin to “Put Your Head On My Shoulders”, because it follows another male member of the crew as he embarks on a relationship with a female member of the crew, only to screw things up and cause chaos. Somehow it manages to be equally as flawed in almost the exact opposite way. In this case, Bender’s sexist asshole behaviour is something I can roll with because not only is it completely consistent with his behaviour up until now, they manage to find so many absurd expressions of it. He’s simultaneously too lazy to tell the truth and too lazy to lie, and he’s so completely without shame that he becomes weirdly endearing. It’s the treatment of Planet Express Ship that grates on me. I think I can see what they were going for; granting personhood to something that’s been an object up until now is inherently hilarious, and every scene of the characters casually treating her so like she’s always been there makes me cackle. Rowan Atkinson said that comedy comes from something being too big, too small, or in the wrong place, and the large and ungainly ship floating around outside Fry’s window or the zoo as if it’s supposed to be there is great.

I even see what they were going for in making her a stereotypical “crazy clingy chick I dated once”, in that they thought it would be a funny personality for a spaceship. One reason I disagree with this is simply that these kinds of stereotypes of women leave a bad taste in my mouth; a good majority of the time, the guys who spread them are no more tuned in to others’ emotions than Bender is. The other reason is that I think it clashes with the basic joke; if you’re gonna make a joke about granting personhood, then you gotta go all the way with it. I’m not expecting a Mad Men character, but I feel like the more of a person Planet Express Ship is, the funnier it becomes that this is all happening over a lovesick spaceship. I feel like there would be more interesting turns in the plot. You can contrast with the Omicrons (who appear here and get two of the big iconic lines), who actually are funnier for being sexist stereotypes.

On the flipside, this turns out to be a surprisingly good Fry/Leela episode. We’ve talked before about how Fry seems driven by a belief that Leela returning his love depends on him correctly expressing it; see “Time Keeps On Slippin’” for a good discussion on this. “Love And Rocket” manages to come to much the same conclusion that many commenters did – that words in one moment are secondary to what kind of a person Fry is overall. What I like about this plot is that it gets where Fry is coming from and finds a practical way to get him what he wants. It reminds me of a point people often make about the five love languages – that we can often project the things we want onto other people, when the point of the love languages is to help us express our love in ways the object of our affection can appreciate and understand. Fry gets his big romantic gesture by sacrificing himself to get Leela what she wants, and crucially with no expectation of reciprocation or even acknowledgement. He’s not entitled to her love, he’s expressing his own. And hey, he even gets the candy words he wanted!

Title Card: When you see the robot, drink!
Cartoon Billboard: “In A Cartoon Studio”, 1931

Sigourney Weaver guest stars as Planet Express Ship and she puts an agonising amount of sincerity into the character wherever she goes that makes many of the lines land better than they should. Lucy Liu also technically returns; the crew had her record some generic lines when she appeared for “I Dated A Robot” that they could throw into another episode. The sheer cynicism of the Planet Express Crew as they have to deal with some sincere romantics is also inherently hilarious, particularly Leela. When the candies spilled out into the ship, I found myself thinking the characters should be comforted by the fact they’re not ruffled.

“Hey, I won free admission to Six Flags! Just one more reason we must survive this.”

The title is a reference to either Love and Rockets, an alternative comic, or Love and Rockets, an alternative rock band that named themselves after the comic. Much of the plot and imagery is lifted from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Planet Express Ship referring to Leela as “made of meat” is a reference to the short story “They’re Made Out Of Meat” by Terry Bisson. The scene of the lady choosing between two dummies is a reference to Harry Harlow’s experiments on rhesus monkeys. Zoidberg’s description of gangster planets is a reference to the Star Trek episode “A Piece Of The Action”. A bit of technobabble Fry drops is a reference to the mime team Shields and Yarnell, with Robert Shields being considered the inventor of the dance The Robot. 

Iconic Moments: “Oh wait, you’re serious. Let me laugh even harder.” | “Why does Ross, the largest Friend, not simply eat the other five?” | “This concept of ‘wuv’ confuses and infuriates us!”
Biggest Laugh: This reminds me of the tremendous “Great Boo’s Up” gag from Blackadder.

Next Week: “Less Than Hero”. “We have to keep our identities a secret.” / “From everybody?” / “Especially from everybody!”