Futurama, Season Seven, Episode Eleven, “Cold Warriors”

Written by: Dan Vebber
Directed by: Crystal Chesney-Thompson
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

“I once survived an entire week trapped in a Swiss glacier eating nothing but frozen Neanderthal. To this day, I can’t stand the taste of early hominid.”

So, fun fact: I have a terrific fear of the common cold. As far as I know, there’s no one word for that specific fear – there’s myxophobia for the fear of mucus and tussophobia for fear of coughing, neither of which quite sums up how the whole experience is a deeply unpleasant one for me. Coughing and sneezing sets my teeth on edge, sniffling and nose-blowing will drive me away, and mucus and tissues will activate my fight-or-flight response. That obviously makes this a hard episode for me to watch; sharing a bed with five other sick people is right out of my nightmares already without having someone throw used tissues on my food, and many of the things real people do (like lay in a pile of used tissues) spike my anxiety enough without the cartoonish exaggerations the show indulges in. But I do think it’s ultimately worth exploring this episode due to the interesting discussion it provokes, on top of the fact that it’s pretty funny.

This is the first of a few episodes in the CC era that dives more strongly into Fry’s family and the concept that they love him and missed him (at least until “Bender’s Big Score” retconned him back). I forget who specifically said it, but it has been suggested (both here and elsewhere) that this was a necessary part of both the series being established and in its development; if Fry’s life in the 20th century wasn’t unbearably sad and empty, the very premise of the show would be a traumatic horror story. Conversely, he would have to engage with his past and his parents at some point, or he would look totally inhuman. Coming around to it at this point, I can see another angle to it. I’ve argued from the start that Futurama is the product of Gen Xers the same way The Simpsons was the product of Boomers, and this feels like another aspect of that.

“No crazy technology! Here, Bender, use your immense robot strength to drill a hole the old-fashioned way.”
“I don’t see any irony in that.”

I think it’s normal to reconcile yourself to your past as you get older; I’m early into my thirties, and my relationship with my parents has evolved as I’ve forgiven them for choices they made about raising me and recognised that they were driven by love. Futurama humanising Fry’s father in this episode and his mother later doesn’t entirely work for me but I recognise where the choice comes from, and it reminds me a lot of Gen Xers I’ve known as they’ve aged; not that it usually matters for the show, but if the characters really have aged in real time, Fry is 37 in this season, and if he doesn’t have the attitude of a guy approaching middle age, the show does – taking stock, seeing a bigger picture, accepting what one has and what one doesn’t or can’t have.

Obviously, generational stereotypes do not encompass the entirety of a generation, but I have known Gen Xers who were cynical, laidback, witty, and uninterested in maintaining social institutions just for their own sake, and I remember what they were like in 2011 when this episode first aired and they were hitting forty – many of them were surprised they managed to live so long and gain so much (homes, children, communities), happily tilling whatever soil they personally wanted to till, and as a result finding peace with things they never thought they’d find peace with, including recontextualising things their parents did and at least allowing themselves to imagine their parents had different or more motivations than they had allowed themselves to acknowledge.

Title Card: We’re following you, but not on Twitter.
Cartoon Billboard: N/A

“It could kill millions or nobody. I suppose it might even bring a few people back to life. Anything is possible in science!”

Buzz Aldrin plays himself and Tom Kenny returns as Yancy Fry. Surprisingly, for an episode about a plague, I saw little that resonated with the COVID-19 crisis – except for everyone hating Fry, which hilariously reminded me of the case of Timothy Andrew Gunn, which did indeed trap your humble Tasmanian writer in his home for a week (“All citizens are encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly after beating up Philip J Fry.” = pretty much how we all felt). Not to take a comedy that points out some ludicrous elements within its own text too seriously, but wouldn’t the heads in jars also carry the common cold? 

“He consented! You all heard it!”

Fry puns on rapper LL Cool J to mock Gedgie, and Gedgie in turn riffs on Grandmaster Flash. Wernstrom shows a Verizon map in the middle of his debriefing. The guinea pig montage is set to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship. Hermes’s bogus cold cure is a reference to Airbourne. 

Iconic Moments: N/A
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Overclockwise”. “I’ve grown far beyond the petty concern of your world. Every time I burp, a new galaxy is born. Two if I’ve been eating broccoli.”