Futurama, Season Four, Episode Five, “A Taste Of Freedom”

Written by: Eric Horsted
Directed by: James Purdem
DN’s Ranking: BAD / Nonessential / Essential

When I talk about how Zoidberg-centric episodes don’t do much for me, I’m usually thinking of this one. I’d hoped that revisiting it for this series would reveal new depths to it, but unfortunately no. Zoidberg is one of my favourite characters ever, but it’s very difficult to make him work as an actual protagonist; the fundamental aspect of a character is their motivation, and Zoidberg’s is simply too fluid and undefined to build a whole episode around. Fry wants to experience a sense of magic, avoid work, and date Leela; Leela wants to do good, live a normal life, and get vengeance on those who wrong her; Bender wants to experience every sensation life has to offer for as little work as possible and get all the attention. You move down to the second tier of characters, Professor Farnsworth wants to make scientific inventions, Hermes wants to get his work done, and Amy wants to be cute and get laid. Any of these characters can work to drive an episode because you just have to put something in the way of what they want. Zoidberg exists more for what happens to him and how he reacts to it than what he wants, so the best stuff about him is no bigger than a fragment, and trying to expand him into a protagonist either turns him into a boring sad sack or throws in something entirely new that doesn’t feel entirely true to the character. Generally, Zoidberg episodes have the former problem, but this one has the latter. Making Zoidberg a deep believer in Freedom and then vengeance-driven when he has it taken away from him doesn’t really work for me – he’s more childlike and mercurial in his emotions than that. 

Worse, though, is the fact that this episode isn’t all that funny. There are a few sparks of inspiration; Old Man Waterfall’s increasingly ridiculous war injuries and controversial personal life gets funnier and funnier, and the “Hugh Mann” scene is a brilliant spark, but it never really feels like it gets going, comedically. It feels like it takes the theme of Freedom relatively seriously but what it has to say about Freedom is too muddled to land. There is something interesting in how this episode makes the apathy of the series not just explicit but celebrated; it’s a specific definition of Freedom as ‘the ability to do what you want without criticism’. That’s something I and I assume most commenters would find flawed, obviously, but I understand the emotions that drive it and even if I didn’t, I prefer to have a work commit to a flawed idea than half-ass a good one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really explore the idea all that well. I find myself thinking this would actually make a good episode of The Simpsons; I imagine Homer or Bart being at the centre of a flag-desecration controversy, Lisa commenting on it, and the townies delivering coherent but dumb explanations for why it made them mad. By comparison, “A Taste Of Freedom” feels like it’s accusing the anti-flag-desecration side of hypocrisy, which doesn’t feel all that accurate, doesn’t feel hilariously inaccurate, and therefore doesn’t feel funny.

Title Card: Or is it?
Cartoon Billboard: “The Queen Was In The Parlor”, 1932

Phil Hendrie guest stars as Old Man Waterfall and Frida Waterfall, and for some reason I always registered them both as voiced by Dave Herman. I do enjoy riffing on Zoidberg as an immigrant – the notion of an immigrant as an inherent and necessary part of a nation’s makeup, as much a member of their nation as anyone born there, is a politically resonant one for me, and the ending almost makes that work. 

“My fellow Earthicans, we enjoy so much freedom, it’s almost sickening. We’re free to choose which hand our sex-monitoring chip is implanted in. And if we don’t want to pay our taxes, why, we’re free to spend a weekend with the Pain Monster!”
“See you April 15th, folks!”

The title is a reference to the book by Peng Ming-min. Zoidberg runs past the Klingon Embassy, which is drawn to resemble a Barbie dollhouse. Zoidberg wonders to himself what the Shroud Of Turin tastes like.

Iconic Moments: “I’m having one of those things. A headache with pictures.” / “An idea?” / “Nnn! Nnn!” | “You can crush me, but you can’t crush my spirit!” / *crush* / “Ah, my spirit!”
Biggest Laugh: “I can’t wait to tell my husband!” / [booing increases]

Next Week: “Bender Should Not Be Allowed On TV”. “You’re watching Futurama, the show that does not endorse the cool crime of stealing!”