So, at the very end of the episode, after all sorts of craziness and butterfly madness (and a distinct lack of visible butterjunk, I might add), Fry emerges from a cocoon as a giant, terrifying butterFry. He saves the day by having sex with a pair of flying drug addicts, but pays a horrible price: being a giant, terrifying butterFry. Leela is worried about his future, and Professor Farnsworth can offer no words of comfort. Fry has all these crazy insect parts now! And his brain no longer functions, which is also presumably a big deal. But just when all hope is lost, Fry’s butterfly shell cracks, and the normal Fry is revealed within, twitching slightly. “He’s back to normal!” someone shouts (I think it was Zoidberg), and the episode ends, instantly resolving a potential cliffhanger by a deus ex machina so blatant it barely deserves the Latin.
I laughed; it was a pretty good joke, and the sort of meta humor the show often excels at. But it points to a problem the series has these days, a problem I don’t really see it shaking any time soon. Fry’s resurrection only really works on one level—ha ha, the writers are being incredibly lazy in resolving the conflict, and they’re pointing out their laziness. That’s not bad (one level is better than none), but it’s a trick you can’t overuse, because the humor doesn’t completely take away the laziness. Do this sort of thing too often, and it becomes as predictable as the very things it’s trying to mock. (Like, in this case, the way every episode has to return to the status quo by the end.) Futurama has made a habit out of anti-jokes, gags which draw attention to an awkward moment or cliche without actually subverting their target. It’s a fine style to have in the repertoire, but it’s easy to overuse, because, well, it’s just easy.
Going beyond that (admittedly abstract) criticism, “The Butterjunk Effect” was passable, but not particularly inspiring. Amy and Leela team up as fighters in the Butterfly Derby, a wrestling/roller derby (well, almost entirely wrestling) type sport which features two pairs of women, each wearing functional butterfly wings, as they try to knock each other out of the sky. The two begin the episode throwing catty insults at each other (Fry punctuates each one with a “meow” noise, annoying the ladies to no end), but end up bonding over drug addiction and their shared love of not losing. In regards to the drugs, most successful derby fighters enhance their skills with nectar, a steroid stand-in, which makes them more muscular, more aggressive, and more masculine. Once Amy and Leela start taking the stuff, they start winning matches, but they also turn into bullies; Leela ignores Fry, and Amy is abusive to Kif, with hilarious results. When they run out of the nectar, they learn the stuff comes from flowers on Kif’s homeworld; while visiting the other planet, Fry runs afoul of a male butterfly in mating season, gets sprayed with pheromones, and becomes irresistible to Leela and Amy, before ultimately turning into the butterFry I mentioned in the first paragraph. Amy and Leela quit the drugs, Fry saves the day via bug sex, and everything as it should be.
For an episode with bug sex, metamorphosis, and hot lava, “The Butterjunk Effect” is predictable, moving from beat to beat with professionalism but no real spark. There isn’t much in the way of stand-out jokes, and while there’s a token effort in the end to give Leela and Amy’s relationship an arc (Leela tells Amy she’s glad they could go through this together), it’s not exactly heart-wrenching or triumphant stuff. As is so often the case with the show these days, the episode knows its beats—Fry is dumb but sweet, there’s casual violence, and a future event that’s basically just something we have in the present with a mild sci-fi twist—but there’s little joy in the playing. It’s like a cover band that’s been doing the bar scene for too long. Nobody wants to go back to their day job, but is that really a good enough reason to keep playing?
- Big thanks to Alasdair Wilkins for covering for me last week.
- Would’ve been nice to spend more time on Amy and Leela getting their asses kicked. (“And while some times they got beaten, other times they got beaten badly.) The show has never been reluctant to throw as many ideas at the wall as it can, but the past couple seasons, it sometimes feels like an act of creative explosion, and more one of desperation.
- “I’m done polishing my ass, Fry. Here’s your toothbrush back.”