Futurama, Season Seven, Episode One, “The Silence Of The Clamps”

Written by: Eric Rogers
Directed by: Frank Marino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

“Earth is dangerous! I fell off my chair there once!”

I do believe this episode holds to the standard of the Fox era – in terms of both ambition and execution, it reminds me of both “The Deep South” and “War Is The H-Word” because while it doesn’t reach for anything spectacular, I was cackling all the way through it. One of the first lines in the episode really sums it up for me (“Who likes good news? Everybody? Well then, good news, everybody!”), because it’s not at all breaking any new ground for this show but it’s such a funny combination of words that I am okay with that. I admit to being a bit wary of diving back into the robot mafia stuff, especially because the first half of the first act feels like a greatest hits of stories that was never that great in the first place. But once Bender ends up witness to the entire Robot Mafia’s assault of Calculon, the episode really kicks into gear.

Bender from a position of weakness is a reliably funny creative conceit, to the point that I’m mildly disappointed that the plot disposes of him almost immediately, but that’s made up for by the spectacular comedy that comes from bringing Clamps into the Planet Express Crew. I think the thing that gets me most is that he has the exact, precise personality of a Sopranos character – brutal, thuggish, and simultaneously completely dimwitted and cunning, defaulting to the most violent solution to any problem because it usually works for him. Seeing his exasperation with the geeky mystic neuroticism of Planet Express and their mixture of inability to notice him and indifference when they do is incredibly funny, putting our regular characters into sharp relief – even Bender, whose childlike sociopathy is very different from Clamps’s adult sociopathy.

“I knew Bender would turn up by coincidence.”

The most interesting new thing “The Silence Of The Clamps” brings to the table is a desire to make Zoidberg badass, and ‘interesting’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’ here. One of the minor tonal changes the CC era made was an increased sentimentality towards its protagonists, which is something I found exasperating for the most part. The show’s apathy may have led it down some unlikeable paths, but it’s also what attracted me to the Fox era in the first place; it might be mean but I do enjoy the characters being dicks to Zoidberg or Farnsworth for no reason. I don’t mind it applied to things I already cared about like Fry and Leela’s relationship, but suddenly going beyond giving Zoidberg his dignity and straight into making him a badass feels like abandoning the game we were all playing – like they’re mixing up “I find Zoidberg funny” and “Zoidberg is imbued with inherent humanity”, which isn’t the same thing. Although the look on his face as he cuts pizza at the end almost makes it worth it.

Title Card: No refunds
Cartoon Billboard: N/A

“Stop talking like that! You live on the moon!”

I’m pretty sure the entire plot was spawned by the idea of calling a hillbilly character Billy West. I criticise the sentimentality, but I have to admit that having Billy just be some guy who looks like Bender and dies pointlessly is classic Futurama cynicism and I love it. This is actually the first solo script by Eric Rogers – he contributed to “Anthology Of Interest I” and was a prolific writer for the comic series.

“I refuse to believe anyone is happy!”

The title is a reference to the book and film The Silence Of The Lambs. The first act riffs heavily on The Godfather film series and Clamps’s real name is a reference to director Francis Ford Coppola. Robot Stack is a reference to actor Robert Stack, particularly his role in the TV series The Untouchables. The montage of Fry and Clamps is set to “Clamptown” by The Clash. Fry breaks a pipe labelled “Colonel Mustard gas”, a reference to a character from the board game Clue. Clamps drops a reference to the tagline of the movie Alien. The sequence of Zoidberg and Clamps fighting each other riffs on the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, particularly The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Leela describes Billy West as “Jethrovian”, a reference to the patriarch of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Iconic Moments: “I’d better use my special robot vision to see what’s inside.”
Biggest Laugh: This only just beat out the beautiful simplicity of “No, Clamps. No clamps.”

Next Week: “Mobius Dick”. “I didn’t say he had hair! If you chose to picture it that way, that’s your business!”