Futurama, Season Eight, Episode Three, “Decision 3012”

Written by: Patric M Verrone
Directed by: Dwayne Carrey-Hill
DN’s Ranking: Bad / NONESSENTIAL / Essential

“I promise to cut taxes for the rich and use the poor as a cheap source of aquarium gravel!”

This one is fascinating in that my relationship with it has changed considerably over the years. I absolutely hated it in 2012 because it felt like a desperate stab at relevance and the jokes felt like the most inane take on the, for lack of a better word, mythology around Barack Obama. The conspiracy theories, of course, but also how he became a symbol of hope, decency, and respectability. When I watched it again years later, I conceded that it was funnier than I remembered but I still felt it was trapped within the moment it was made. Now we’re a decade on from the episode’s original airdate, the topic has become a historical document, and I realise the reason I hated it was because the entire Birther movement was incredibly annoying and I was aggravated about being reminded of it. When things become history, they became easier to look at with a detached, more objective eye, and I can more easily see how meaningless the movement was in the long-term, so it annoys me less and I can see the bigger picture, especially how this fits into the mythology of the show.

“Is this the political process? Because I’m very interested in being a part of that.”

This is an evolution of Futurama’s politics; we saw how the show was apathetic about the political process in 1999, but “Decision 3012” shows a clear reassessment and a greater interest and willingness to dive into it, partly sparked by Obama’s meteoric rise by appealing to people’s idealism. Futurama always felt like it reflected a certain demographic within Gen X, growing up cynical and apathetic due to inheriting poor prospects only to be surprised by a gradual ascension to a comfortable, personally fulfilling lifestyle even as the world burns around them; one can look at Fry at the start of the series, broke and unhappy, and compare him to this point in the show where he’s in a comfortable relationship with a job he enjoys and spending time with people he cares about all the time. I’ve seen the real Frys (Fries? No) and Leelas of the world and how they were sparked into real, if awkward political engagement over the Tens and how that evolved from support of Obama into an anti-Trump movement a mere four years later (which evolved further still after he left office and the movement lost an enemy to fight against). 

(The cynical punchline feels almost like the show falling back onto old habits – or, if you prefer, committing to aspects of the worldview the show initially established)

There’s also the things that haven’t aged as well, in fascinating ways. The whole joke here is that Americans cannot be sold on concepts like decency, self-sacrifice, or hard work because those things don’t make satisfying soundbites, and we now have clear evidence that none of these ideas are completely true (think phrases like “believe science”). Again, I end up looking past this episode to the presidency of Donald Trump; an entire section of the movement against him were people who saw themselves as decent, hard-working, and intelligent, and Trump and his supporters as a blow to that self-definition. On top of that, defining themselves by these qualities doesn’t make them any less susceptible to hypocrisy, ignoring reality to commit to an ideology, or self-serving behaviour; it’s a forgivable sin but I’m always amused by people who loudly dismiss the stupidity of people who ignore science while maintaining a cigarette habit. Obviously, the episode can’t be criticised for not engaging with this element of the world; I just find it interesting.

“We have a saying up in Alaska. That’s all.”

The result of all this is that I find myself more amused by the episode’s gags than I used to be. I still don’t think it’s a great twenty minutes of television, but it’s functional and funny, and I enjoy both Leela’s presence within it as a fumbling idealist and Bender as a James Ellroy bagman character. I also think the solution to the mystery of Travers’s backstory is actually a pretty funny riff on the Birther controversy; this is the real advantage of waiting ten years to write about the episode.

Title Card: Made from 100% recycled pixels
Cartoon Billboard: “The Family Album”, 1930

“You explained his positions in a way even an idiot could understand. And that appealed to me, for whatever reason.”

I was baffled by the racial politics of taking a famous groundbreaking black man, changing him to a generic white man, and then having him voiced by a black man, but then I decided that this was a very Futurama sentence and that all was forgiven. It’s not the funniest gag in the episode, but Nixon watching the squirrel hoping it would fall (“Fall, damn it!”) is my favourite Futurama Nixon gag of all time.

“We now go live to the delivery room, where we’re already at there!”

Various aspects of this are lifted from La Jetee, a 1962 scifi short film (which, coincidentally, also inspired 12 Monkeys) as well as The Terminator. One of the candidates is a parody of a character from Good Times. The music during the election montage is a parody of “Sing Sing Sing (With A Swing)” by Louis Prima. The Earth border visually resembles the title concept from the Star Trek episode “The Tholian Web”. The ‘soylent majority’ is yet another parody of Soylent Green. The nations at the convention include references to the Kardashian family, The Hunger Games, the works of HP Lovecraft, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and Waterworld. 

Iconic Moments: “Someday I might be rich, and then people like me better watch their step!”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “The Thief Of Baghead”. “I’m a celebrity! I can kill anyone I want!”