Futurama, Season Four, Episode Seventeen, “Spanish Fry”

Written by: Ron Weiner
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

While this one is merely very funny rather than transcendently so, I still like it a lot and feel it represents how Futurama was at the top of its game in this season. It has four central ideas: alien abductions in a setting where aliens are banal, illegal aphrodisiacs, terrible sitcom relationships, and Bigfoot. Although I suppose those first and last ones go together; I remember reading dozens of cryptoid, mystery, and unexplained phenomena books as a kid, with stories of alien abduction right next to Bigfoot right next to Hoffa conspiracies. One of the pleasures of Futurama is that, whereas The Simpsons reflects back my childhood, this show reflects back all the media I’ve ever consumed all at once. Anyway, the alien abduction stuff is a clever riff on the setting; it reminds me of beloved commentor Raven Wilder’s observation that much of the robot humour comes from applying a metaphor that doesn’t really fit, and in this case the joke is that humans apparently take the tropes of alien abduction in stride in 3002. Also, it’s a common observation that Fry fits almost a little too well in the future, and his blase reaction to a flying saucer here is often held up as a really funny example of that.

The real meat of this, though, is in the goofy Honeymooners sitcom marriage. It’s amazing how simply making them aliens and then giving them that otherwise cliche dynamic instantly makes them hilarious; it’s also a common observation that robot or Muppet characters often get away with being sociopathic to a level human characters don’t because being inhuman gives them a layer of artifice, and I suspect there’s something similar going on here. If they’re acting inhuman, it’s because they literally are, and I think for me it highlights just how ridiculous this behaviour actually is. Throwing in the stuff about aphrodisiacs not only makes it even more absurd by bringing actual sexuality into a notoriously sanitised product (well, sanitised until like the Nineties I suppose) and revealing how much of this dynamic is from people who grasp eating and fucking and not meaning or human emotion – I love watching Lrr (ruler of the planet Omicron Persei Eight) go because he stubbornly refuses to comprehend anything that happens around him.

The other thing that makes me like this episode is how it reflects an overall pattern of the show in that the dialogue is getting more and more casually funny. There are two driving principles here: a) finding a way to twist a cliche and b) knowing the music of language well enough to zig when one would zag. There are a lot of great examples, though one of my favourites is “Can you put ‘top quality’ in bold? You can’t.” It’s one of those things where it’s impossible to explain why it’s funny; the banality of the request in this situation and the fact that he got denied such a simple request, I suppose. But it’s present in even tinier moments, like the guard responding to “Guards!” with “Yeah?”. It’s a really delicate thing to trip up the chemistry of a scene without breaking it entirely, and the fact that this isn’t even their A-game at this point is what makes it so great. It’s a very confident level of writing.

Title Card: “Thanks for watching, Futurama slave army” is written in Alienese.
Cartoon Billboard: “Much Ado About Mutton”, 1947

This has a unique opening in which Billy West and John DiMaggio beatbox the opening theme. One funny thing about the human horn aspect is that it flips over the robot versions of stuff joke – this is a human version of a nonhuman thing, and it’s just as funny seeing humans be treated like endangered rhinos. I enjoy the amount of love poured into the futuristic swap meet. Bender’s “wooooo!” jokes are a funny exaggeration of the sex jokes, and just get funnier and funnier as they get more specific.

“Bender, wasn’t that Fry’s tent?”
[barely comprehensible mocking repetition]
“Bender raises a good point. Where is Fry?”

The title is a reference to the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly. The sex shop is called “The Beast With Two Bucks”, a reference to a line from Othello. There are Gene Shalit bobbleheads at the bazaar. Both the Winnebago from Spaceballs and the Sandcrawler from Star Wars are seen in the parking lot. Joe Camel can be seen trying on sunglasses. Lrr drops a parody of the catchphrase from The Honeymooners.

Iconic Moments: “Turns out it’s man.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”. “Your music’s bad and you should feel bad!”