Futurama, Season Six, Episode Seven, “The Late Philip J Fry”

Written by: Lewis Morton
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

“I ate both our lunches. You ordered the lobster pileup. It wasn’t cheap.”

If you only watch one CC-era Futurama episode, let it be this one. It’s exactly of a piece with any of the other times the show went serious. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise it hits the widest number of serious tones any single episode has – there’s romance, bleak melancholy, and most delightfully scientific awe. The bump in animation quality is expected and generally, when you get right down to it, unnecessary – but it’s hard for me to take it for granted because it vastly improves the show’s ability to convey more serious emotions. I’ll start with the scientific awe, partly because it’s the least personal aspect of the story and partly because this might be the apotheosis of the story’s interest in natural sciences. The funny thing about the love of science in this show is that, with one major exception that’s coming up, it’s not interested in actual scientific discovery but the parroting of familiar scientific facts (or the twisting of them, with things like raising the speed of light). It’s a glee of knowledge just for knowledge’s sake, and there’s something beautiful about the documentary-like presentation of the universe’s destruction and recreation. There’s something comforting in knowing how the universe works.

(The twist of the Professor leaning on the lever too hard and forcing them to go around again is also one of my favourite examples of the show comedically undermining itself – the effect significantly lessened at having to see it again)

That scientific awe is tied in deeply with the show’s bleakness. The Professor’s declaration that all life on Earth is extinct is the show’s most sincere stamp of hopelessness – no animals, no plant life, no water, only dust. I find the idea of accepting the self-destruction of the universe as easily as the characters do a comforting one; in reality, I can barely handle even minor ego death, so I see the characters watching the stars themselves collapse into each other with a six-pack and I see that rarest of Futurama beasts: a model for good behaviour. Indeed, I find something significant in how the acceptance of death leads into the scientific awe – the idea that we can find beauty in the world just for its own sake, even as the world is going to kill us. Sometimes it’s nice just having gotten to be the one to have seen a beautiful thing.

“I can throw up on a stripper anytime. Tonight I want to not throw up. On you.”

Tying all of this together is Fry and Leela’s romance. Fry’s tardiness is one of those rare ‘faults invented for this one episode’ that feels like a plausible extension of what we already know about him – not only is he a scatterbrained dude and not exactly a systemic thinker, it feels like exactly the sort of thing that would annoy Leela and exactly the first regular issue that would come up in their early real relationship. It’s also another issue that’s shown from both their perspectives; through Fry, we see the sadness of disappointing someone (in an episode filled with haunting lines, I vote that the most haunting is “I made it, Leela. Sorry I’m a billion years late.”). Through Leela, we see the sadness of realising you missed out on a good thing because you were looking for perfect. This is another situation where I identify heavily with her; you can miss out on being happy when you keep looking for flawless, and indeed when alt-future Leela saw Fry’s greeting card and was horrified to realise she’d been bitter for nothing, I saw resonance with the feelings I’ve been having about my sick, ailing father and how I’ve missed out on certain positive aspects of the father/son relationship because of decisions I made in my twenties out of anger and depression. I see her shooting her message into the roof of the cave, and I see her making the best of what she has, just as I am.

Title Card: If you don’t watch it, someone else will
Cartoon Billboard: N/A

“The three coworkers I liked, all dead!”

On top of all of this is a rare ending of positive development – Fry does indeed make it to dinner right on time. This feels like an intuitive step forward in their relationship – something almost experimentally done by the writers that kind of confirms that Fry and Leela are becoming more of a couple now. If you freeze-frame, you can see Leela getting hit by the video card the first time the characters travel forward. Fry crying over the various statues is a classic example of taking a cliche joke and making it funny again by pushing it way too far. One of the books Bender throws on the fire is titled Backwards Time Travel Made Easy, but it’s written in Alienese. Adolf Hitler says “Look at my moustache!” in German. 

“There’s certainly no harm in a fertility banquet.”
“I could eat. And fertilise.”

The majority of the episode riffs on the Poul Anderson novel Flight to Forever. The knight riding an ostrich is a reference to the video game Joust. Fry crying over the statues is a parody of the ending of Planet Of The Apes. The song during the first time travel montage is a parody of “In The Year 2525” by Zager and Evans. The sequence in the year Five Million is a parody of The Time Machine by HG Wells. The year One Million combines The Matrix, The Terminator, and a line from Ron Moore’s version of Battlestar Galactica. Bender drops references to the cartoons Mr Magoo and The Flintstones. This is where I learned that Fry’s turtleneck is actually a reference to the outfit Carl Sagan wore when hosting Cosmos. Future Cubert is dressed to resemble Biff in Back To The Future. “Cavern On The Green” is a reference to the real-life restaurant Tavern On The Green in Central Park. 

Iconic Moments: “Here we are! The end of the universe!”
Biggest Laugh: I ascend into space on the line “In the year One Million And A Half / Humankind is enslaved by giraffe.”

Next Week: “That Darn Katz!”. “The horse says DOCTORATE DENIED.”