Futurama, Season Six, Episode Ten, “The Prisoner Of Benda”

Written by: Ken Keeler
Directed by: Stephen Sandoval
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

“Science cannot move forward without heaps!”

If you only watch two CC-era Futurama episodes, make this the other one. It’s reminiscent in structure with “Three Hundred Big Boys”, being composed of about a dozen smaller plot threads interconnected in one big plot; it’s reminiscent of “The Farnsworth Parabox” in that it chucks an old scifi cliche into the mix and watches our characters bounce off it and each other; it’s reminiscent of “Roswell That Ends Well” in that almost every single line is hilarious and instantly memorable. It moves like a machine designed to generate jokes and I love it to bits. It’s interesting, actually, in that my personal taste is towards things that are if not tightly plotted then at least tightly structured, but I do think that Futurama specifically benefits enormously from a clear plot with real stakes and a clear line of consequences. It’s what turns every line into a punchline, it keeps the story from lingering too long on any one concept, and the absurdity is amplified by a sense of reason driving it.

The plot is driven by one more classic scifi premise: bodyswapping. I could mutter some mumbo-jumbo about it tying into asking what we would do if we could take someone else’s identity, but realistically it’s become a trope because the wrong person in the wrong body is easy drama and also it’s fun to watch actors play each other (my favourite example is the Stargate: SG-1 episode “Holiday” – it’s where you can really see that Christopher Judge is a genius actor). In animation, this effect is often lost, especially because voice actors often retain their character and it’s simply applied to a different character (rare counterexample: Justice League Unlimited episode “The Great Brain Robbery”). Futurama goes the easier route, but I do delight in how the animators genuinely try to capture the sense of characters in the wrong body (favourite examples: Leela as Farnsworth and Zoidberg as Fry).

“All in less than… ten minutes ago?!”

Best of all, this contains not just character development but character progression. I realise I defend the gross sexual content in the CC era a lot, but I only do it because it’s so defensible; there will definitely be some episodes later that I will, to put it lightly, cock an eyebrow at. In this case, I find myself thinking of Roger Ebert’s quip that he didn’t like movies that went too far, but loved movies that went much, much farther than merely too far. Sex while in another’s body is consensually iffy and something that occasionally pops up in the genre; the role of physical attraction in romance and how much one is responsible for one’s feelings is a contentious one. Fry and Leela start off in a stupid place – her, not entirely sure what she’s hurt about; him, not entirely sure what he’s actually arguing – but both committed to one-upping one another in being disgusting. It reads to me like two people more interested in settling their insecurities than in actually winning an argument (I got a big laugh out of “No, I – what?”), and given that it ends with the couple finally consummating their relationship (at least on-screen), I take it as the two of them finally defeating their insecurities and trusting one another enough to be in a relationship. I do believe from now on they’ll read as an on-couple.

Title Card: What happens in Cygnus X-1 stays in Cignus X-1.
Cartoon Billboard: N/A

“I challenge you to a romantic dinner tonight!”

This episode is, of course, famous for inventing its own mathematical theorem to restore all the characters to their original bodies – practically a Simpsons or Dan Harmon level of dedication to making a show work. Ken Keeler prefers to call the formula a proof, however. Bender trying to be sexy in Amy’s body is a rare moment of that kind of thing being genuinely funny – the fact that he’s trying way too hard to be sexy makes it so much funnier.

“And they say pure math has no real world applications.”

The title and some of the plot are a reference to The Prisoner Of Zenda by Anthony Hope. Other parts of the plot lift from The Prince And The Pauper by Mark Twain. Leela references the National Treasure movies. Emperor Nikolai’s crown is loosely based on the Holy Crown of Hungary. Bender tries to convince people he’s a robot in Amy’s body by moonwalking like Michael Jackson. Hermes compares Amy in Leela’s body to Fat Albert. Big Bertha is a reference to the Big Bertha howitzer (“Someone said howitzer!”). A sign in the episode combines the names of American disco/soul group Peaches & Herb with the countries Bosnia and Herzegovnia. Leela drops a parody of the intro to “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Iconic Moments: “Tonight at eleven:” / “DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!” | “I’m afraid we need to use… math.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences”. “I built this castle with my own two slaves!”