Futurama, Season Nine, Episode Thirteen, “Meanwhile”

Written by: Ken Keeler
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

“Poor Leela! I never told her I loved her!”
“What?! You told her like a hundred and forty times!”
“Yeah, but she paid very little attention to me!”

First of all, let’s get this little note out of the way: LOST did not end with the reveal that they were in purgatory the whole time and “Meanwhile” doesn’t end with the characters going back to the start of the series. I get why people assume that (because it’s the single most obvious and sentimental way of wrapping up a scifi series outside of a character taking one last look at the set before turning off the light), but the Professor explicitly says the button will take them to ‘the instant before [he] conceived of the time button’. I think also people just wanted to believe that because it’s generally accepted that the show was past its prime by this point and people just wanted some full stop to prevent any more bad Futurama from coming. More on this later.

For now, let’s focus on this episode. One of the big obvious skills of this show has been its inventiveness, particularly in the realm of scifi – building on old cliches to create ridiculous but compelling plots that work under a strange but clear logic. This feels like the apotheosis of that; the situation feels like the highest stakes we’ve ever had because the problem seems impossible and the stakes involve Fry being trapped in a nightmarish hell (which becomes hilarious in how quickly it becomes banal – “He sure has a lot of blood for a skinny guy.”). The solution is as silly as the problem, but nevertheless, they manage to get me to care about the outcome.

“Seeing Leela fly off the Hexedecapus and crash through the moon dome and survive inside a stuffed animal by breathing a balloon was a dose of reality.”

They get me to care, of course, through these characters we know and love. One of the subtle funny things about this episode is that it’s a rare case of Fry drastically overthinking something for a change – wanting a big dramatic moment of emotional expression he can hold onto forever, and creating an elaborate setup that causes the infinite loop in the first place. When you pull back and look at the big picture, this is a show about loneliness – Fry’s life in the 20th century was miserable in part because nobody cared about him and he cared about nobody, and of course he has created a found family in the 3000s. 

One’s instinct is that this is about being loved, but even more than that it’s about loving – to get to do these big gestures because you have someone important enough to do them for. It’s interesting to consider in light of the criticism we’ve all brought to the show and Fry for making Leela into an object that he puts Nice Gestures into – our criticism is largely based around both Leela’s agency being ignored and Fry acting entitled to a relationship to her. Another way of looking at it – the way I think Fry sees it – is that Leela is a good person who is entitled to a relationship in which someone does nice things for her, and Fry is the one willing to fill it (this is largely what Bender’s Big Score is about when he gives her up for Lars).

“Friends! I found a ten dollars!”

In a way, Fry manages to give Leela that when they marry in the frozen world and then travel it together, seeing the sights of the world. And you know, I can even see the resonance with our relationship with the show. What is a TV show (or any art) but a series of experiences someone gave you? Maybe that’s what being a person is – having a series of experiences you shared with other people. Maybe the best thing in life is getting to be the one who came up with an interesting situation that other people could enjoy.


The CC seasons do not enjoy the reputation of the Fox run. I think this is largely unfair, both in underrating the average quality of the CC episodes and ignoring how variable the quality of the Fox run could be – there were always a few clunkers per season, and I think the CC run largely maintained the “one or two stunning masterpieces, one or two clunkers, the rest are average with a lot of funny lines” standard the show had set for its seasons. The difference was largely one of tone, with the CC years having a looser and less disciplined feel. I also found episodes that annoyed me the first time through were more entertaining than I had remembered; coming in with a more open mind about what Futurama could be and an interest in exploring the idea of it made each episode more rewarding.

I pull back further and think about what Futurama means to me, and I definitely see that indifferent playfulness is a big part of it. That is to say, choosing what is funniest even when it makes you a dick or a hypocrite. One can see this fully expressed in Bender – simultaneously deeply predictable and capable of anything, brazenly maintaining a lie right up until he gets bored with it, sometimes getting a spark of inspiration and diving deep into an idea for a full five minutes, and expressing a profound thought once every three or four years. It’s this willingness to chase impulse wherever it goes and whatever it says about you – allowing inspiration to emerge.

There’s also that loneliness at the core of the show. I really identify with the show’s simultaneous lack of respect for ‘traditional’ values of hard work, civic duty, or family responsibility and its knowledge of what you miss out on without those things. In the book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari details how consumerism has led to individual empowerment at the expense of community and how this has led to things both good (like being able to escape communities you don’t identify with to the point of them being a danger to you) and bad (like loneliness), and I feel that Futurama, intentionally or otherwise, captures the experience of trying to find community, safety, and love in our modern, sophisticated, New New York lifestyles without giving up our values. When I was twenty-five, I realised to my horror that I was exactly like Fry at the start of the series; technically in “Meanwhile” he’s thirty-eight, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing to be him when I hit that age.

Title Card: AVENGE US
Cartoon Billboard: N/A

“I tried to fix it once, but then I got mad and hit it some more.”

If you do need some kind of circular aspect to this episode, the crew returning to Lunar Park is pretty great (love the gag of them casually getting it done in six seconds). I enjoy the implication of the huge projects Fry and Leela set themselves in the frozen world, chaining their friends together. Bender tells Fry that he’s said he loves Leela “like a hundred and forty times”, and this indeed is the 140th episode. 

“I was never lonely. Not even for a minute.”

The title and plot are most likely lifted from the Jason Shiga comic of the same name. Bender throws a bottle at the Luna Park mascot, creating a parody of the iconic shot of the moon from the film A Trip To The Moon. Hermes orders a drink reminiscent to how Picard orders tea in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Petunia lifts a line from When Harry Met Sally. Sal rides in a wrecking ball machine with three legs a la the Martians in War Of The Worlds. The crew delivers the painting The Scream. Fry breaking the time machine turns the episode into a parody of the Twilight Zone episode “A Kind Of Stopwatch”. Fry and Leela’s honeymoon is set to Chopin’s “Étude Op. 10, No. 3”.

Iconic Moments: N/A
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: When the new Futurama episodes hit, I’m going to do my writeups on the first Sunday 3pm EST after each episode airs, and when that season ends, I’m going to dive into Seinfeld writeups. I was hoping to get the timing perfect so that we could slide right from Classic Coverage to the new episodes – and indeed was terrified for like a year that the new episodes would start airing before I was finished, but obviously that didn’t happen. What this means is that we’ll have the first break in my regular essays here since I started posting them on January 1st, 2016. 

I’ve written enough about my sentimental feelings towards this series and the community of commenters that has built up around them that I find it hard to think of anything new to say – I have learned from the shows I’ve covered, the commenters who have posted, and the mere act of putting one word in front of the other. It actually does pain me a little that there’ll be a gap in them – it’s my routine, my self-expression, and my very language, and I recommend the experience highly. If you want to keep reading my work while waiting for Futurama, I do also post weekly essays at The Solute based around no specific theme.