Have you ever tried to watch kids' television as an adult? I mean, on your own time, without children in the room. It's strange, strange stuff. Young people follow a different sort of visual language than grown-ups do, and they lack the irony and the inherent distrust of anything that's too openly simplistic or good-natured. Unless they've been treated miserably, kids trust what they see, and they love all of it unconditionally, because they don't know any better not to. It takes a long time for that to wear off. So long, in fact, that part of me is still utterly convinced that the Muppets are real, and that Sesame Street is an actual place I could get to, if I put some effort into it. Which may be why I started to suspect early on that Leela's supposed creations, "The Humplings," weren't as fictional as she claimed. Or maybe it's actually because the episode structure made it very, very obvious.
It's probably the latter, but I don't consider that a mark against "Yo Leela Leela," another strong episode that put Futurama's one-eyed moral center in the spotlight. (I never thought of this before, but it's kinda funny that the show's conscience is someone with no depth perception. But hey, if she can pilot a ship...) "Yo" followed a pretty standard sitcom arc: a well-meaning character stumbles onto fame, turns incredibly arrogant in the face of sudden wealth and popularity, only to be humbled in the end when she realizes who she really is, and what really matters. At least, that covers roughly three-quarters of the ep, right up until the point that Leela finally confesses her big sin--only to find that, in the end, nobody much cares, at least not for very long. Continuing a general trend this season of competence over risk, "Yo" doesn't have that many surprises, but the writing is funny, and the series manages to get a few quick jabs at children's programming, which is always appreciated.
Plus, it's nice to give Leela a full episode focus, as she hasn't had one in a while. During a trip to the Cookieville Orpahnarium, Leela improvises a story for the little ones, and it goes horribly, horribly bad. Determined to impress the children and bring some light into their life, Leela sets out to write a new story, complete with life lessons and colorful characters who speak in simple, declarative sentences. Her second story time goes much better than the first; so much better, in fact, that a Tickleodeon studio executive, who'd just gotten done testing potential shows out on the orphans ("Popular Slut Club," starring what looked to be eight year-olds; "Captain Mega Meat and Bottomless Boy"; and "Extreme Toddler Wrestling"), signs her up on the spot. From there, it's a short jump to incredible fame and fortune, as Leela and the Planet Express crew dress up in silly costumes to teach kids what should and should not be licked. But there's a dark side to fame, and Bender eventually stumbles across Leela's horrible secret: "the Humplings from Rumbledy-Hump" are real creatures on a real planet, and Leela's "writing" is simple transcription of their adorable adventures.
Which isn't really a shock or anything. Leela's insistence that she can only write on a special planet makes it obvious early on that something's up, and about the only twist "Yo" could go with is to make the supposedly imaginary characters non-fictional after all. And to be honest, the episode could've used one last twist on the aliens themselves to really work--the Humplings are indeed as sweet and innocent as they seem (although apparently quite homophobic), and "Yo" didn't get as many laughs out of the contrast between their innocence, and the rest of the universe's boundless cynicism. I suppose I'm grateful that nothing outright awful happened to them; from the moment they showed up on screen, I was expecting they would suffer some terrible fate, just because Futurama really likes killing the heck out of nice things, but the writers went a different route.
While the ending we got wasn't knock-it-out-of-the-park strong, it was still a solid triple, subverting our expectations and denying us the catharsis you'd normally get in such a storyline. Leela realizes she's made a mistake, and brings everyone to the planet Rumbledy-Hump to confess her sins. They're horrified at first, but once the studio exec (Abner Doubledeal) realizes he can make even more money off the creatures if he just films them as a reality show, everyone forgets that they cared. The Humplings are happy for the modest income Doubledeal's show brings them. The orphans are all adopted to work for Doubledeal, and they all seem very excited about it. Leela is left knowing that something is wrong here, but no one will listen to her. She had her big sin, but it's meaningless in the end, apart from her losing her brief moment in the spotlight. No one learns any lessons, and no one is mutilated or has sex with an ancestor. So it's about half a great Futurama, which isn't half bad.
- The Humplings are broad enough to poke fun at a wide variety of kid show characters, but they seemed mostly a riff on Teletubbies. Remember when that show was a big deal?
- "Miss Leela, I have a question?" "Yes?" "That story was bad." "That wasn't really a question." "That wasn't really a story."
- "Oh. Is the organ-harvesting clown here?"
- "He gives me a warm feeling in my eyeballs!"
- "These costumes are gonna make it hard to go to the bathroom." "I'm not having any problem."
- "If it's alive, don't lick it."
- "But before we go, let's do everything we just did two more times."
- Bender had sex with Robot Hannah Montana!
- "It's like catching an evangelist in a whorehouse. That was the best Christmas ever."