Futurama, Season Seven, Episode Fourteen, “Reincarnation”

Written by: Aaron Ehasz
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

“A wise man once said that nothing really dies – it simply comes back in a new form. Then he died. So the next time you see a lowly salamander, think twice before you step on it. It might be you. Stand by for “Reincarnation”.”

This is another non-canon three-parter dream tale, or as any fan obviously calls them, an NC3PDT. The overall goal is to show Futurama in three different aesthetic styles from its normal unique Groening-esque look, but it makes the interesting and welcome decision to tie each episode together with the concept of a diamondium comet driving the plot forward; it ultimately doesn’t really mean anything, but it adds a folk-tale flavour to the whole thing; the way the comet is used in the plot of each story ends up reflecting the medium each segment parodies. The first is by far my favourite segment; it’s a parody of early Western animation, particularly the Merry Melodies, and I’m deeply impressed by its ability to parody its subject in a way that’s both loving and pointed and simultaneously doing its own thing. My second-favourite thing about the short is that it genuinely pulls off making dark jokes in ironic contrast to a sunny and cheerful aesthetic, something twenty seasons of Family Guy have shown is much harder than it looks; they have a perfect sense of how dark is just dark enough to be funny (“Have you tried getting her pregnant?” / “Gosh yes! I’ve tried and tried, but so far I’ve only managed to get Amy pregnant.”).

“I love this time of day. There’s such a beautiful stillness.”

But my favourite thing is how perfectly this filters Futurama through the Merry Melodies sensibility. On a humour level, many of these gags really would fit right into any of the shorts; you do have obviously Futurama jokes like revealing that what looks like a radio actually contains a toilet, but there are also things like the sun reacting to the comet exploding or the ship having a mouth that opens to reveal the characters. Even better, the story of a man trying to get a shiny new ring to propose to his girl – sorry, ‘goil’ – is something you would see in both Futurama and Merry Melodies! Fry’s been making showy three-point romantic gestures the entire show, and this feels like a natural evolution of that. So perfectly balancing two entirely different sets of parameters is incredible.

“Why are the laws of physics what they are instead of some other laws? To find out, we’d have to recreate the conditions before the Big Bang. It would take decades of work by thousands of scientists in a particle generator powered by dump trucks of flaming grant money! Of course, there’d be no guarantee of success and, in any case, I’d never live to see it.”
“I’m surprised you lived through that sentence.”

The second short, parodying old platforming and adventure video games, is a step down to merely very good; we have the very rare case of the aesthetic impressions being better and more valuable than the jokes, because the gags themselves are all pretty hacky – though I did get a laugh out of Bender trying to cross screens – but the visuals themselves start at cute and occasionally reach beautiful. My favourite shot from that section is the Professor’s sad walk outside Planet Express because, as with the first short, it finds the perfect fusion between its target and itself; it legitimately looks like a sequence from a SNES or Gameboy Colour game. The short also benefits from having a fun story, even if it doesn’t parody video games that well; the central story of the Professor solving Science and then having nothing to work for feels like a quintessentially Futurama one, in which the show can sympathise with laziness and never having to work but ultimately rejects it as ‘depressing’.

“The detector can tell you’re impressed. You should be!”

The final section parodies anime and it is by far the weakest. I have never fully understood why Western cartoons are completely unable to parody anime, and I suspect it’s because they never watched much of it; admittedly, I’ve not seen much of the Eighties anime the crew are parodying here, but I don’t think they’ve seen much of the Nineties and 00’s anime I had seen when this episode first aired in 2011. There were a few things that worked if only because I am just old enough and those tropes lasted just long enough for me to recognise them – the rapid delivery of the dialogue, obviously Japanese places marked as American, and most of all Zoidberg apparently dancing so quickly that he didn’t seem to be moving at all – but a lot of what it makes jokes about hadn’t been relevant for twenty years and doesn’t have the piercing insight of something like “Where No Fan Has Gone Before”. 

Cartoon Billboard: N/A

“I gotta go check this comet for anarchists.”

The episode guest stars Stephen Hawking as himself, and once again he delivers a nuanced and emotional performance. I made an error in tracking the seasons of this show and realised deep into this ‘season’ – I followed production order, which was twenty-six episodes long, but I split it in half because I mixed it up with the airing order. This is so in with the spirit of the show’s messy and confusing airing orders that I choose to leave it that way.

“The pursuit of knowledge is hopeless and eternal. Hooray!”

“Colourama” is a reference to Fleicher cartoons, particularly Merry Melodies. Farnsworth drops a reference to Movietone News. Nibbler crawls around on a window like Swee’Pea from Popeye. Amy drops a reference to Betty Boop. Fry eats mushroom soup in a parody of Popeye. Bender parodies Porky Pig’s catchphrase. Bender ‘swears’ in a manner reminiscent of Q*bert. Farnsworth drops a reference to the folk song “There’s A Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea”, and Hermes responds with a reference to both “A Hole In My Bucket” and the computer program ELIZA. As Farnswoth zooms in on particles, there’s visual references to the games Tempest and Space Invaders. The crew’s job in the video game world is a reference to Dig Dug. 

The newspaper resembles that from Paper Boy and contains a reference to Galaxian. The scene in the bar parodies Tapper. Farnsworth jumps over a barrel in a parody of Donkey Kong and the scene contains references to Super Mario World. Bender punches Fry in a visual reference to Punch-Out!!! The anime section contains the music of Voltron and Gatchaman. Amy’s costume is lifted from Sailor Moon. Bender and Fry dancing together resembles the fusion dance from Dragon Ball Z. 

Iconic Moments: “You and I are enemies now.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “The Bots And The Bees”. “I hate to crush a boy’s dreams, but what the heck.”