Futurama, Season Four, Episode Sixteen, “Three Hundred Big Boys”

Written by: Eric Kaplan
Directed by: Swinton O Scott III
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

This is neither the most philosophical nor the most emotionally intense episode of Futurama, but it reveals that these traits are nice but unnecessary, because there are few that surpass it in being absolutely gripping fun. It strongly resembles “22 Short Films About Springfield”, but as I suggested in that article, it shows the relative strengths and intentions of each show. “Three Hundred Big Boys” abandons the typical A- and B-plot structure of sitcom television for an intricate web of seven main plots and a few scattered two- or three-beat stories; the simplicity of the characters and the cartoonish malleability of the world they operate in means that it can whip up a completely absurd plot that, nevertheless, makes a bizarre amount of sense. Kicking off with the Tricky Dick Fun Bills is a great plot point, giving every single character the same starting point and watching them go off in their own directions. Each scene ticking over into the next is a fairly conventional farce technique that taps into the sense of watching a car crash (you can’t look away because you want to see what happens next), but both the sheer number of beats and the vivid imagination that went into them make it into watching a clown car crash.

What’s great is that it then builds into a single spectacular setpiece in which almost all of the stories weave together into one ridiculous sequence of events. There’s a classic “if you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all” situation in how I can’t figure out if that stunning climax was a preplanned idea they worked up to or a natural, logical side effect of what they’d already worked out, which only makes its elegance even funnier. The side effect of all this is very similar to the effect I have trying to talk about “Anthology Of Interest” episodes, in that the stories are slight in themselves and have no thematic coherence together but the episode would be worse if it tried for those things. I could talk about things like how Zoidberg’s story is one in which he becomes a poor person’s idea of what a rich person is like, revealing both his awful taste and the banal ridiculousness of the rich, but then I’m just stating what the episode articulates perfectly well on its own. What’s the most compelling way to say that this episode is really, really fucking funny?

Title Card: Voted “Best”
Cartoon Billboard: “Flop Goes The Weasel”, 1943

Roseanne Barr guest stars as a hologram of herself. Fry’s dedication to drinking a hundred cups of coffee is my favourite of the plot threads. There’s so much to such a simple concept – that the goal itself is inherently stupid, that this of all goals is what he would dedicate himself to, his gradual physical decline over the course of a hundred cups, the counter in the corner, and most of all the fact that this leads him to save the day with a look of enlightenment on his face. This also has one of the more tolerable Kiff/Amy romance plots, where his whininess at least leads to some good jokes and cool plot turns. This also has one of the greatest creations the show ever achieved: the whale biologist. Everything he says is calculated to be the funniest thing he could say, and Dave Herman’s performance is, perhaps, the best example of the cast playing a cardboard cutout like it’s a real person. I particularly like the undercurrent of rage he puts into “The educated whale who thinks he’s better than you!”. 

“Bye, Fry and Leela!” is a classic case of Futurama stupidity. Bender using a diamond to cut the glass and then casually tossing it in the trash feels is one of those things so funny that I feel like it’s what you see when you pass through the gates of heaven. I never quote variations of Zoidberg’s “Thank you, golf slave,” as much I would like. The integration of ambergris into the plot is one of the savvier ways to build plot out of a simple science fact. Hermes reference to an investment in Amazon has aged pretty badly, and not just because it’s referred to as “Amazon Dot Com”. 

“And the fifth reason whales kill is for the sheer fun of it!”

Fry’s coffee ascendence riffs on several sources: the TV series of Dune, HG Welles’s story The New Accelerator, the film The Girl, The Gold Watch, And Everything, and the time-slowing scene in Star Trek: Insurrection. Nixon’s line “The loot, the loot, the loot is on fire!” is a reference to the song “The Roof Is On Fire” by Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three. Geneworks is a parody of the film studio Dreamworks. Zapp Brannigan’s attack on Tarantulon 6 is a parody of Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlen. Nixon’s reference to voodoo economists is a parody of the phrase “voodoo economics”, a derisive phrase for Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy.

Bender’s theft of the cigar is a reference to Mission Impossible. Farnsworth namedrops Fight Club. Kiff’s list of potential perfume scents includes Franken Berry, which is a cereal. One of the homeless guys drops a parody of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Bender hums “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson as he flees the police. Amy’s Devil Tattoo sarcastically refers to Kiff as Gordon Gekko, the villain of the movie Wall Street

Iconic Moments:  “Jail’s not so bad. Ya can make sangria in the terlet. ‘course, it’s shank or be shanked.” / “Of course.” | “Precious hamburgers?”
Biggest Laugh: In some ways, I am a simple, stupid man who is prone to laugh hardest at the absolute dumbest joke.

Next Week: “Spanish Fry”. “Hey, I’m a porno-dealing monster. What do I care what you think?”