Written by: Michael Rowe
Directed by: Ray Claffery
DN’s Ranking: BAD / Nonessential / Essential
“Are you regretting another wasted year?”
This episode is more frustratingly weak than anything else. Interestingly, the show would never return to the What-If Machine concept in the CC era (this being written before any of the Hulu-era episodes air, of course), but this is the first of multiple episodes that take the ‘three non-canon stories’ structure in various directions. I find myself wondering if the writers were recognising how limited the Treehouse episodes of The Simpsons could be and wanted to branch out much further. I think the problem here is that there are way too many ideas stuffed into way too small a package; this also has each episode be driven by an environmental disaster, and the combination of that, the religious stuff, the musical numbers, and the need to – ya know – be funny and make jokes out of our characters ends up making everything feel a bit rushed and badly paced. I particularly find myself thinking of Zoidberg’s “How about if I just lay down”, a joke that might have worked in an ordinary episode but feels like a weird slam on the brakes in this context.
The Xmas segment is the one that works best for me, because aside from the song – which is unfunny due to repetition of older ideas with nothing new brought to the table – everything holds together the best. The apocalypse brought upon by Fry growing a pine tree feels simultaneously absurd and like it fits within the logic of the episode, and the climactic fiery death of all life on Earth has some mild shock value – like, oh, that’s where they were going with this. That effect is lost in subsequent sections and not much is really used to replace it. The Robonica one is alright, even if – as the characters point out – it’s not really bringing much new to the table. Even the reasonably funny joke of Bender somehow amusing himself for thousands of years is an inefficient repeat of “I was enjoying it until you guys showed up!”, though I do enjoy the gag of the dead crew gradually turning into oil. Meanwhile, the Kwanzaa section feels like a bunch of pasty white guys doing their best to pay tribute to an underrepresented religion hobbled by the fact that they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
“You know, Santa may have killed Scruffy, but he has a good point.”
One thing I’ve noticed as representation has become a popular issue of the past decade is that stories made by people from underrepresented groups tend to be better than ones people from outside those groups trying to appeal to them (this fantastic essay from Brendon Smalls articulates what I mean here). It’s not that, like, white people can’t write black people, it’s that it’s gotta come from a place of honesty – this show has always done well with Hermes because he’s an individual black character with his own motivations and quirks that the writers intuitively grasp and can make real jokes out of. It feels to me like the most honest and therefore funniest moment in the segment is when Kwanzabot starts losing interest after getting the basics of the religion out. It doesn’t help that the bit with the bees feels half-assed and unfunny itself.
Title Card: Time travellers: only 331 shopping days ’til last Christmas
Cartoon Billboard: N/A
“Do you not give a damn about the hallowed traditions of Robonukah?!”
“I reckon I do not.”
Coolio returns as Kwanzaabot, Al Gore returns as himself, and Futurama writer Dan Vebber appears as the Norwegian guard, donchano. This is widely considered one of the worst episodes of the show; I would not go so far as to say that (it’s less bad than “Bend Her”, let alone certain episodes to come). Dwight is seeing reading a Captain Yesterday comic, referring to Fry’s alter ego in “Less Than Hero”.
“I don’t recall having done anything in a while.”
The title is a reference to the Star Wars Holiday Special. The Professor says “Cram it, Virginia!”, in reference to the famous “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” editorial printed in The Sun in 1897. Amy drinks Roboschewitz wine, a reference to Manischewitz wine. Leela sets the “bachman turners” to overdrive, a reference to the band Bachman Turner Overdrive. Dwight refers to Kwanzaabot as Kool-Aid. In turn, Kwanzaabot refers to Dwight as Boondocks, a reference to the comic strip The Boondocks by Aaron McGruder. Bender refers to the Norwegian guard as ABBA (note: ABBA is a Swedish band, not Norwegian). The “Did you sting my wife?” exchange is a parody of a scene from Raging Bull.
Iconic Moments: “The albino humping worm!” / “Why’s it called that?” / “Because it doesn’t have any pigment.”
Biggest Laugh: Ownage.
Next Week: “The Silence of The Clamps”. “I’m scared and great at sex!”