Futurama: "The Duh-Vinci Code"
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Futurama: "The Duh-Vinci Code"

I was actually talking with my roommate earlier tonight about Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code. I've seen the movie, but couldn't get past the first couple pages of the book, and we were discussing how Brown managed to take some research and some adventure game-esque puzzles and turn it into a media empire. I don't really get it. I mean, I get how the puzzles can make for compulsive reading; it's why I put up with Michael Crichton novels for so long. It's not a bad structure for hooking an audience. You present a big question, and on the way to answering that big question, you throw out all these little questions that make the story impossible to put down, even though the characters are flat, the dialog is ridiculous, and the story riddled with implausibility. It's not about art. It's about connecting to the nerve endings in our brains that always finish the last two beats of "Shave and a Hair Cut." 

I just don't get the fascination people have with the book even after they've read it. Dan Brown was never my flavor, and, while it's probably a few years too late, it's nice to see the absurdly overwrought machinations in his work mocked. "The Duh-Vinci Code" isn't as vicious a parody as its source deserves, but it is pretty funny. Sometimes Futurama episodes go for the throat when you aren't expecting it. Other times, they just cram as many good (and bad) jokes, pop culture references, and one-liners into a plot that can be charitably described as "over-stuffed." "Code" is the latter, and it is very, very silly. There's a mild attempt at depth with Fry's concerns over being the stupidest person around, and that pays off well enough in the finale, but I wouldn't call this a particularly deep twenty-plus minutes. It's just fun, occasionally surprisingly, and maybe a little lazy.

It's probably not a good idea to try and draw too many parallels between this show and The Simpsons, but it's unavoidable here--Philip J. Fry's fluctuating idiocy works on the same comedic principle as Homer's. If the writers can make a joke out of Fry or Homer being astonishingly dumb, they'll do it, and who cares if the characterization isn't consistent. At least here Fry hasn't grown appreciably more stupid since the first season. "Code" uses Fry's inability to grasp basic concepts for more than just background laughs, instead making him aware enough of his weirdness to give him an inferiority complex. Farnsworth doesn't help, because Farnsworth isn't really the helping kind, but he at least tries to connect with his great-etc uncle by giving him a quick tour of the mentor room. One bit of slapstick later, and Fry's inadvertently located a design for a lost invention of Leonardo Da Vinci, and we're off to the races.

There are some solid concepts in this episode. The Da Vinci Code gags have mostly been done before (Futurama is probably the first to bring robots into the parody, but I'm sure everybody's made fun of the pointless of much of Brown's riddles by now), but a lot of them work, and the pace is brisk. Revealing Leonardo Da Vinci himself to be an alien? Feh. Revealing Da Vinci to be the dumbest alien on his home planet? Not too shabby. Revealing the re-discovered lost invention to be a doomsday machine that Da Vinci wants to use to get revenge on everyone who mocked him? That's enough to justify the twist.

I'm just not sure the two pieces really fit together that well. I wouldn't have minded more time spent on either plotline--a more in-depth deconstruction of the modern thriller archetype (take controversial subject, add authorial stand-in for lead, provide potential romantic interest, throw in a few ridiculous elaborate puzzles, stir till blandly satisfying) might've been fun, and a full ep on Planet Vinci could've gotten more gags out of the ridiculously intelligent populace. Or maybe it would've just played like a re-heated version of "Mars University," I dunno. Futurama has always been willing to go all out for storylines, and sometimes that works well. Here, while this isn't a bad episode, the somewhat disconnected plotting makes it feel like a series of gags instead of a cohesive whole. The gags are decent, but it'd be nice if we got a little something extra. (Although this might play better on the re-watch.)

Oh, and since this keeps coming up in the comment section, on Fry and Leela: I don't think it needs to be addressed on the series, really. I wouldn't mind it if the show did decide to try them dating, but the continuity on Futurama has always been odd. Episodes are constantly referencing other episodes, but the writers aren't afraid to contradict themselves in the pursuit of a good joke. (Nor should they be.) The characters don't do much growing or changing here, and while we've had some absolutely amazing moments devoted to Fry's love of Leela, I don't think those moments are diminished by not always being the focus of the way the two interact. I like that it's loose, and I feel that if David X. Cohen and the rest want to deal with the issue again, they'll do so in their own time. Generally, I like shows that build on emotional relationships, but the rules are different here. Although I'm starting to wonder if a little more cohesion might do the show good.

Stray Observations:

  • One thing I love about the show: even when the plotting is ramshackle, they never fail to bring it in the presentation. 
  • I would watch a game show hosted by Morbo. "Prepare for pleasantries!"
  • "His intelligence is just a little... differenty."
  • "Who will hug me if I achieve something?" 
  • "I suppose if I have an Achilles Heel, it's because I bought it at that same auction."
  • "My god, look!" "My god! I'm looking!"
  • "Didn't we use to be a delivery company?"
  • A little something for the 'shippers: "Pssst! Leela, wanna join the mile-deep club?" "Sure, why not?"
  • "The markings indicate how many paces we're supposed to take! One... Okay, we're there."
  • "Trevi! It's the Trevi Fountain! There can be no question!" "But Professor-" "There can be no question!"
  • "Note how the perspective lines draw your eye straight to his dong."
  • "How's your football team?" "Learned."
  • "You two make me ashamed to call myself an idiot."

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