Futurama, Season Eight, Episode Thirteen, “Naturama”

Written by: Eric Rogers, Michael Saikin, Neil Mukopadhyay
Directed by: Crystal Chelsey-Rogers
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

“I don’t have a name! I’m a salmon!”

This is one of my all-time favourite Futurama episodes to the point that I’m surprised it doesn’t show up in favourite episodes list – something I can only attribute to it being so deep in the CC seasons that most people gave up before reaching it. On the commentary for the first “Anthology Of Interest” episode, David X Cohen remarked that Simpsons “Treehouse Of Horror” episodes were comparatively easy to come up with because all you have to do is throw one fantasy element into Springfield and watch it go, whereas doing the equivalent for Futurama was much harder because they already live in a wacky scifi world where anything can happen. Their initial solution was to change up the characters a little bit, but I love this idea of simply placing the characters in a wildly different world that operates by entirely different rules. 

The specific context of this episode lets me better articulate why I think Simpsons characters come off deep while Futurama characters feel like cardboard cutouts – something I don’t think has been entirely clear. Simpsons characters are exaggerated and they can be flexible depending on who writes them, but they have very rich and occasionally competing motivations that carry across multiple episodes and circumstances. Selma and Patty are third-tier characters that live up to the stereotype of hateful sisters-in-law, but they’re always motivated by the fact that they feel Homer drags their sister down, and Selma is also motivated by a desire to live a normal life in a normal, loving relationship. Skinner is a stereotypical fussy teacher type, but he’s genuinely driven by a belief in order and in the things educators often say they believe in.

“Experts are unsure whether salmon travel by memory, sense of smell, or by detecting variations in the Earth’s magnetic field.”
“Okay, everybody do one of those three things.”

Conversely, the characters of Futurama have consistent behaviours at the expense of consistent motivation, even at the highest tier. Bender will always be stealin’ and takin’ things, bragging about himself, smoking cigars, etc. Morbo will alternate between standard television host behaviour and insisting he will destroy things; Mom will degrade anyone and anything in her field of vision and quite a few things outside of it. Perhaps this contributes to the comfort-food feel of the show and to both its general sense of consistency and its strong variations in quality; this is a show that relies on habits. Anyway the reason I look at it this way is because transferring the exact same behaviour to a wildly different context is both easy and refreshing. 

“Tell me offspring I love me. Very much.”

And doing the nature documentary parody in particular is such an inspired concept, allowing the show to indulge in its geekiest instincts. This really is barely one or two degrees away from genuinely resembling kids’ edutainment shows – it’s the focus on mating-as-human-behaviour (which always gets a laugh out of me) and lines like “I’m gonna crack her open like a slutty walnut!” that mark this as Futurama, but the genuine exploration of science facts about animal behaviour could come right out of any well-researched children’s show (I’m picturing The Wild Thornberrys or something like that here). Really, the most Futurama element is the undercurrent of nihilism driving the whole thing.

Title Card: Tell your parents it’s educational
Cartoon Billboard: N/A

“Talk about a cloaca-shrinker!”

Speaking of nihilism, I find the closing narration for the first segment deeply weird for just being some straight nihilism without any punchline (“Why did they live and why did they die? No reason.”). I mean, I dig it, it’s just weird. Bender as a lazy indifferent lizard just lounging around is inherently hilarious. I was thinking that Fry and Leela’s relationship seems to work really well in shorts like this – a simple, comprehensible motivation that doesn’t have time to get weird.

“Keeping sensible harems of no more than five!”

Phil LaMarr’s narrator is a parody of Morgan Freeman’s narration in The March Of The Penguins and the opening is a parody of Wild Kingdom. A facehugger from the Alien film franchise attacks someone in the opening. Salmon!Fry and Salmon!Leela kissing while eating eel is a parody of The Lady & The Tramp. Tortoise-Mom drops a reference to the ubiquitous quote from The Western Code. 

Iconic Moments: N/A
Biggest Laugh: “And so, the extinction of the Pinta Island Tortoise is assured. Two hundred million years of evolution snuffed out. For in the end, nature is horrific and teaches us nothing. Coming up next: the hilarious antics of the elephant seal, the clown of the sea!”

Next Week: “Forty Percent Leadbelly”. “Don’t come back til your life’s worth singin’ about!”