(A disclaimer before the review proper begins from this week’s substitute reviewer: I have loved Futurama almost without reservation since the show began. It is one of my favorite animated shows, if not sitcoms of any kind, ever. That being said…)
Worst. Episode. Ever.
Let me explain.
One of the chief delights of Futurama’s anything-goes world is the freedom it affords the show’s writers to take the show and its characters in literally any direction from episode to episode. Want Bender to become a famous chef? Sure. The Harlem Globetrotters are the hoop-playing emissaries of the Globetrotter Homeworld, come to Earth to challenge us to a game of basketball? Why not? Fry ate a toilet sandwich, got impregnated with alien worm eggs, and became super-intelligent? Done and done. The fact that Futurama has drawn its characters so well over the years, and is generally written so smartly, has grounded each loopy concept in emotional and comic reality as well, imbuing all but the the rarest misfire (Bender as space pharaoh comes to mind) with both heart and laughs aplenty.
Even when the show follows The Simpsons’ lead into standalone stunt episodes (like “Anthology Of Interest,” home of the finglonger), the segments have enough snap and cleverness to the writing that the pastiches involved are a delight—a breezy goof sprung from a writers’ room overflowing with great, silly ideas.
And then there’s “Saturday Morning Fun Pit,” which seems less like the result of the Futurama writers having a surplus of weird concepts that just wouldn’t fit in with the ongoing storylines of the show’s final season and more like a strained and unsuccessful attempt to recapture what’s worked in the past. Unfortunately the episode, credited solely to the generally dependable Patrick Verrone (he wrote “The Problem With Popplers,” for Scruffy’s sake), is easily the most laugh-free half hour of Futurama I’ve ever seen.
Taking the form of three bygone-era cartoon parodies, each of which are being watched by a jammies-clad Nixon (the headless body of Agnew still wears a suit), “Saturday Morning Fun Pit” settles into an unimaginative groove and then stays there throughout, seemingly satisfied with making reference to, in turn, Scooby-Doo, Strawberry Shortcake, and G.I. Joe without, you know, adding any jokes other than the most obvious. It’s inconceivable to compare an episode of Futurama to the films of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Epic Movie, Meet The Spartans, please stop), but the three segments here succumb to that benighted genre’s misguided idea that simply making reference to something that’s come before constitutes a joke. Yes, it’s that disappointing.
Look at the Scooby-Doo parody Bendee Boo. Theoretically, there’s still satire to be wrung out of Scooby-Doo I suppose, but, from the groan-worthy name on, this segment brings precious little that hasn’t been done, repeatedly and better, elsewhere. Verrone’s script points out that: Scooby-Doo used repetitive backgrounds and animation, that Freddy improbably wore an ascot, that the gang was of creepily indeterminate age, that the obvious laugh track often reacted uproariously to lines which were in no way funny, that Scooby talks funny, that the show often incorporated poorly integrated celebrity guest stars (including the Globetrotters, who make a return appearance), and that Shaggy seems like a weed-head. Points to the animators for accurately approximating the show’s signature look, I suppose, but how about a few novel twists on the concept? I laughed exactly once, and it was at a conceptual, Futurama-type joke that had no relation to the whole Scooby thing, when an advertised cameo from cloned hoops legend Larry Bird consists of Bird’s voicemail message that he was not interested in being associated with the show. Even surefire guest voice George Takei is given nothing funny to do.
The second segment, “Purpleberry Pond” is of a piece, turning the crew into the denizens of a sickeningly sweet product-placement hellscape simulacrum of Starwberry Shortcake-land. And that’s it. There’s a running gag about how the show is a thinly veiled commercial for sugary cereal, but the target is obvious and well shot-up by now, and the only laughs (two this time) come from the Bender character, unable to remain as sickeningly sweet as the rest, blurting out “It’s funny how we never get tired of the word purple—NEVER!,” and the evil Professor’s repeated, identical threats to the villagers. Oh, and the little homunculus Zoidberg repeating what sounded suspiciously like “Bort,” while not especially funny, is a weird callback.
The G.I. Joe segment should be better, considering that turning Zapp Brannigan into a gung-ho cartoon action hero seems like a can’t-miss concept. It misses. It’s got a few more laughs than the others, mostly stemming from Nixon’s attempts to assuage a White House lawn full of angry protesters by redubbing the violent action with hastily ad-libbed inoffensive alternatives. (“We’re gonna blow them straight to He—CHURCH!,” It’s a surface-to-air TELEGRAM!,” “Ready, aim—NEGOTIATE!”), culminating with some MST3K-style explanations of the onscreen carnage. Here too, though, the gags are flat and the Nixon wraparound conceit careens back and forth throughout with no consistency—I love Billy West’s batshit-insane Nixon, but the character’s actions here have no comic logic. The episode starts out with Nixon just wanting to veg out and watch cartoons, and then he’s taking charge of programming in order to head off the ill-spelled protest signs of a bunch of “dirty hippies”? That doesn’t sound like the Nixon of the year 3000 that we’ve come to know.
As Futurama heads for the final frontier, it’s a shame to have such an ill-conceived episode among the remaining few. With this last season being generally so strong, let’s just call it an aberration and move on.
- Futurama’s millennium-long mockery of Richard Nixon continues as they portray him as some grown man who watches…cartoons! Hey, wait…
- This week’s opening crawl, “Brought to you by Regretto—the permanent clown makeup” made me think of the Insane Clown Posse. You’re telling me some Juggalos wouldn’t be into that?
- Even the angry mob’s signery (usually the source of some freeze-frame-worthy gags) yields nothin’. They’re misspelled, but if there’s a Tea Party joke in there, I didn’t see it.
- It’s fitting that I’m subbing for Zack on this episode since it, like my time on this beat, is a weird little digression. Zack’ll be back next week to carry us home with his excellent coverage of the last Futuramas ever.