Futurama, Season Seven, Episode Six, “Ghost In The Machines”

Written by: Patric M Verrone
Directed by: Ray Claffey
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

“We had a parade every day. Those were dark times.”

This is a pretty entertaining episode – no spectacular highs, but a fun emotional arc and a lot of good jokes. Putting Bender, egotistical as he is, in a position of weakness consistently leads to good comedy; the absurd scifi justification for making him a ghost is already pretty funny – and, astoundingly, doesn’t step on any jokes the show has already made about robot ghosts – and having Bender in the Patrick Swayze position of being almost completely unable to interact with his environment makes his futile attempts at grabbing attention even funnier. I also think that this is the episode most successful at exploring how Bender genuinely does love Fry, even if he’s very bad at articulating or even remembering that until it’s too late. The episode so well sells that Bender’s ghost existence is miserable and goes against everything he loves about being alive that it’s genuinely heartwarming that he embraces it so long as he gets to watch over Fry. I also enjoy that it’s basically because Fry loves him so unconditionally (“That’s the closest thing to ‘Bender is great’ that anyone besides me has ever said!”). One could see it as an unhealthy dynamic, with Fry being a perpetual Giver and Bender being a perpetual Taker, if they didn’t also have such a strong shared sense of the world.

“Last time you went to a suicide booth, you ended up dating it for six months.”
“How is Lynne, anyway?”
“Living in Oregon with her crazy mother!”

This also has a pretty classic Futurama style solution to the final problem. It’s a minor aspect to this show, but it’s pretty good at finding creative solutions to the problems thrown at it, and having Bender take advantage of the facts that a) he can only possess machinery and b) the Robot Devil is, by definition, a machine is pretty clever. It’s another aspect of the show’s nerdiness – chaining together the letter of established laws to create a specific effect. The show has long abandoned parody as a structure of its plots; individual scenes parody individual moments, of course, but there are no more disaster movie structures like “A Big Piece Of Garbage”. It’s more natural plotting that evolves from the rules of the story and the characters operating through them.

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“Fry, as his only friend, you should have first pick of body parts.”

Dan Castellanetta returns as the Robot Devil and delivers a typically wonderful performance. This has perhaps the least flashy of the improved animation, which only draws attention to how it improves even a standard episode like this; Fry’s life on the Amish planet is genuinely beautiful without drawing attention to itself, which makes both the sense of peace more genuine and the jokes undermining that peace even funnier. I always felt that one subtle but important distinction between The Simpsons and Futurama was that the direction for the latter was deliberately simpler – using far fewer cinematic techniques to convey emotions or character. Compare these two shots in The Simpsons with what is essentially the same visual gag in Futurama. I do believe this is part of what makes the characters feel more cardboard – their world is inherently less lively and less imbued with the individual character of the people within it, no negative connotations intended. The CC-era ‘compensates’ for this by making what’s in the frame more beautiful and pleasurable to look at.

“Where’s Granny Hester?!”
“She’s naked but unharmed.”

The sausage float is a reference to the Ball Park Franks brand, and DeadEx is a reference to FedEx. The Robot Devil reads Matt Groening’s comic Life In Hell. The Robot Devil starts to sing a song from the musical Anything Goes. Bender’s stuttering ‘g-g-g-g-g-ghost?!’ is a reference to the running gag from the Casper The Friendly Ghost cartoon. In one of the funniest sign gags this show ever did, Fry spreads It Sure Ain’t Butter on his toast, a parody of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Fry tries to call The Ghostbusters. A sequence parodies The Exorcist. Robot God strongly resembles Eve from Wall-E. Bender’s body reassembling itself is a reference to The Iron Giant. 

Iconic Moments: N/A
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Neutopia”. I have too much contempt for this episode to remember any lines from it.