How far can sentiment carry a comedy? How much do we need to laugh to judge something a success? One of the challenges of criticism is trying to keep an open mind about everything while at the same time coming up with some sort of loose criteria for success; I can’t expect everything I watch or read to fit a set pattern, but at the same time, I can’t get just say, “That was eh” and have that somehow be considered a review. “Fry On A Bun” is no classic, and, as is often the case with Futurama these days (I’m going to try and never use that phrase again), a lot of the jokes are more conceptually funny than actually funny. (Conceptually funny is when you recognize something as clever, don’t mind it, but don’t feel compelled to actually laugh.) But it’s sweet, and even if that sweetness plays out in predictable ways, it’s sincere enough that the episode doesn’t come off as a complete waste of time. Really, it’s all about the good will at this point. If the show is able to make me smile and give me a moderately well-earned warm fuzzy, I’m willing to let a lot slide.
Plus, “Fun On A Bun” does have an all out battle between Germans, space-ships, giant sloths, and Neanderthals. It’s hard to argue against that. Professor Farnsworth decides it’s time for the Planet Express team to take a vacation together. Three months later, the group heads to Oktoberfest in Germany, which, much to Fry’s dismay, is a dry, reserved affair. Desperate to get his drink on, Fry downs a spittoon of spat beir samples, much to the dismay of everyone around him; Leela, humiliated, dumps Fry, which comes as a shock to him and (presumably) us, because they were dating? I guess? (I’ll assume this is the writers nodding at all the fan complaints about the couples’ uncertain status. Even if it isn’t, it’s pretty funny.) He wanders off to find Bender, despondent because he can’t make the best sausage. Through a completely logical series of events, they go off to find the frozen corpse of a woolly mammoth for Bender to use as sausage meat; as that completely logical series of events continues, Fry appears to get sucked into Bender’s Meat Muncher, and everyone assumes he’s dead. Leela is distraught, in part because she thinks she ate a piece of her ex-boyfriend, and so she goes to Annie’s Forgettry, a Lacuna, Inc. type shop where a woman removes the connections between Leela’s memories of Fry and her conscious mind.
Fry isn’t dead though; he just got knocked unconscious, lost his memory, got frozen, and woke up in a hidden valley where a tribe of Neanderthals live in peace and sadness. 30,000 years ago, the original members of the tribe were dissed by some homo sapiens and forced into a forgotten valley, where they were frozen away from the world for a very long time. All of these convolutions work to make two things happen: the afore mentioned fight, as Fry leads the Neanderthals against the Oktoberfest group to take back what is rightfully theirs; and Fry and Leela’s delayed but basically “awwww”-ish reunion. The Neanderthal bits before the fight are mostly flat; a few nice details here and here (I like how the sheepskin one of the clan procures for Fry is still bleeding from the fresh kill), but it’s all perfunctory stuff, without much of the sharp detail or twists the show could do in its best seasons. Leela’s brief span as a Fry-less woman is a little better. I especially liked how hard the Planet Express team worked to avoid mentioning anything with “fry” in it, up to and including getting into the escape pod and launching it when the ship was still in the hanger.
As for the rest, the battle had a lot of violence in it, and I always like that. I’m not sure what to make of Bender’s efforts to murder the two chefs above him in the rankings; I’m not saying it’s out of character, but Bender tends to work best when he wants to kill people, but doesn’t actually succeed. Seeing him managing to bump off two people—well, we only saw the one, and he used a charging rhino to do it, but still—I dunno. It was unexpected, at least, and his excitement was amusing. (It helps that Bender was trying to achieve a specific, but childish, goal. And I’m sure he’s killed people before that I’m forgetting about.) But for me, the best part of the episode came at the very end, after everyone has decided to be friends again, and Fry and Leela have reunited. Oktoberfest has returned to its drunken roots (including a Flinstones reference!), and Leela hears the chicken dance. She decides to ask some fun, asks Fry to join her, and he says, “Just this once, I’m gonna let you embarrass me.” And she does. It’s a small moment, but I liked it, because it was a character beat I hadn’t expected. Usually the show has Fry trying to be more sensible to earn Leela’s love; it was nice to see her get to be the goof and him be the “normal” one, just this once.
- What was better—Bender’s “Sorry, Grundy. I’ll have to kill you later for some other reason.” to the pig he keeps in his chest, or the fact that pig looked so miserable it will probably welcome death?
- Elzar had pork in a sarcophagus, but the pork wasn’t mummified. Disappointed.
- “And I do have vague memories of people refusing to breed with me.”
- “Ah, Leela, we meet again, but this time I’m the one criticizing the sausage.”
- “In recognition of your overwhelming victory, let’s call it a draw.”