Futurama: “31st Century Fox/Naturama”
B

Futurama: “31st Century Fox/Naturama”

B

Futurama

“31st Century Fox/Naturama”

Season 8, Episode 11

Here we are at the end of another Futurama season—I think. I mean, Comedy Central is calling it a season finale event, which sounds pretty solid, but I feel like the network has pulled this trick before, and it turned out we’d never left season six, and everything smelled like stale popcorn.

Anyway, this batch of episodes is done, and it went about as you’d expect: a few good entries, a lot of passable ones, and nothing so painfully horrific as to make you swear off the show for life. As always, I struggled with what to say in some of these reviews, since trying to pick apart the show these days seems mostly a matter of pointing out for the umpteenth time that the writers have exhausted all of the obvious story potential and are, at this point, coasting on fan goodwill, decent jokes, and the occasional home run. Much thanks to Alasdair Wilkins for spelling me a few times during the run; it’s great to get some fresh blood, because all the dried stuff was starting to smell. And as always, I’m a little sad to see this go, because it means that summer is ending, and it also means my paycheck is going to be a bit light.

Tonight brought two episodes for the price of one (a fact I didn’t grasp fully until I checked the running time on my Tivo), and I’m not sure double features are a good choice for the series these days. This worked okay in this case because the second half hour, “Naturama,” was off-format enough to be distinctive, but it still felt a bit like too much of an okay thing. “31st Century Fox” sits at about the middle of the pack (heh) of the current season, as it is a weak story elevated by some funny gags and the presence of guest voice Patrick Stewart, who I’m kind of shocked hadn’t been on the show before now.

The main problem is that the plot never really mattered. Sometimes, that can work for the show; it’s fun to have a laid-back episode with Fry, Bender, and Leela bopping about in the crazy future. And it’s not as though Bender’s efforts to save a robot fox from hunters needed to make some grand statement about the horrors of fox hunting, or the pointlessness of social protest. I just wish we could have got something that had a little more effort behind it than what came across as a series of half-assed shrugs. (You should always shrug with your complete ass, to prevent sprains.)

The Planet Express teams’ uniforms are destroyed, so they go buy some new ones (nice nods to Dune, Star Trek, Spaceballs, and Zardoz—anybody catch what Leela’s outfit was referencing?), and Bender becomes enamored of a fox hunting uniform. He bought the uniform, so naturally he has to join in on the next hunt, in spite of Leela’s protests; Bender is totally fine with killing a biological fox, but when the hunt ends and the prey turns out to have electronic guts, Bender is incensed. For reasons, I guess. I’ve said before how Bender’s utility as a character comes from the fact that it’s possible to believe he’d do just about anything, but he does need at least a little justification for starting up a protest group against robot on robot violence. The joke is, of course, that his actions are utterly useless, but this kind of humor really needs a consistent internal logic to be effective. Instead, Bender is upset because the hunters are hunting a robot fox, although the dogs the hunters use to kill the fox are also robots, and then Bender is mad about robot on robot violence, until he finds out that the head huntsman (Stewart) is actually a robot, in a twist that wasn’t really a twist because, well, duh. There are a couple of gags about how contradictory all of this is, but joking about it doesn’t justify a story that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, doesn’t exist. The robo-fox was cute, though.

“Naturama” fares a bit better, partly for novelty’s sake, and partly because of its format. Structured in three short vignettes (much like last year’s finale, “Reincarnation”), the episode takes the form of a nature program narrated by Phil LaMarr, with the show’s ensemble getting turned into various creatures as the needs of each story dictates. The first segment has Fry and Leela as spawning salmon, falling in love in the ocean, then struggling to stay together when it turns out they come from different (but parallel) streams. In the second segment, Farnsworth is a lonely Galapagos turtle, making the long 100 foot trek to meet the only other turtle who can fill his complex biological needs. (It’s Mom, naturally.) And in the third segment, a group of beta male clown seals (Fry, Farnsworth, Hermes, Kif, and Stereotypical Gay Guy) attempt to subvert the tyranny of Bender’s alpha male, who protects his harem like only a giant, aggressive animal made mostly of blubber can.

“Reincarnation” got a lot of its power from the consistent ingenuity of its various styles. While “Naturama” never wears out its welcome, its narrower focus makes its flaws more obvious; namely, it is evident that there’s nothing all that clever about much of this, and the only real joke the episode has is, as the narrator informs us, “nature is horrific, and teaches us nothing.” There’s a lot of talk about mating, and some squirm-inducingly specific depictions of animals getting busy, as well as the anthology format’s usual freedom with killing off beloved characters. It’s not a classic, by any means, but the show’s commitment to honesty, like the way the salmon all die after mating at the end of the first segment, has a satisfying integrity to it, and even a weird, bittersweet power. Still, the novelty wears thin as the episode goes on, and while the last segment is still pretty funny, the unpleasantness of seeing Bender beat Kif into a flattened corpse isn’t surprising or even particularly memorable. Was it funny? Sure—well, the fact that Bender (as a seal) didn’t realize he’d killed Kif until 24 hours after the fact was funny. But after a while, a willingness to play mean isn’t enough to satisfy. Thankfully, by the time “Naturama” had reached that point, the episode was over, and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

“31st Century Fox”: B
“Naturama”: B+
Overall season: B

Stray observations:

  • Is it just me, or is Bender basically the main character now?
  • “I am descended from Prince Albert’s can.” -His Bendingness
  • “Finally, a uniform I’d be happy to get caught dead in.” -Amy
  • The road sign read “Highway jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.” A Springsteen reference is always welcome.
  • “Those injustices don’t even exist.” “Then let’s find some that do.”
  • “Where’s the ice cream?” “There was a bear.” (I like that the show is letting Leela loosen up some.)
  • “Missed it by that much.” -Farnsworth, paying homage to Get Smart.
  • “You haven’t ignored the last of me.”
  • “Is it weird if I talk about his crazy turtle penis?”
  • “No one ever goes walrus.” (I love how despondent Walrus Scruffy sounds about this.)

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