Futurama is quite possibly my favorite television show of all time. Although I am eternally grateful for all of its improbable revivals, it still makes me generally angry that shows like The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy are seemingly just going to go on forever while Futurama seems to have been brought back for the last time. (I am, consequently, probably way too happy with the “Family Guy: 12 Laughs a Year calendar” visual gag in the first film.) It’s frustrating, because while many of those shows feel like they’ve run their course (or in the case of South Park, never needed a course to run in the first place and probably damaged our society beyond repair in ways we never could’ve anticipated), I genuinely cannot imagine myself becoming bored of Futurama. Ever. I just can’t.
If you’ll permit me some more totally indulgent whining, I’m also really annoyed that the first six seasons of Futurama (including these feature length films, which were part of “season 6”) were recently removed from Netflix, as Futurama has pretty much always been my go-to “just turn something on and relax” when I don’t want to spend any time actually considering my options. It’s such a unique combination of comfortable and interesting. At this point only a few of the jokes still hit me in the “laugh out loud funny” spot, but more than any other series I’ve formed an enduring attachment to, something about Futurama feels like home.
Using examples from the first film alone, the Futurama jokes that are most likely to elicit a laugh from me nowadays are either the kind of bizarre self-contained ones (“Professional whale keeper, eh? I’ve carried your type before and we don’t get along. Oh, I agree with your values and your goals and your methods, but somehow we just never click on a personal level.”) or the genuinely uncomfortable ones that get more of a cringe-laugh (“Like all rich people, we’re gonna need weapons to shoot poor people.” “In self defense?” “Yes, that too.”).
Bender’s Big Score
To the mandatorium!
I really love all of the Lars stuff, even if it it was pretty immediately obvious to me the first time I saw this what was going on. (Some of the particulars were a delight to discover, but did anyone not figure the broad strokes of it out pretty immediately?) And yet it doesn’t matter. I’m just always roped in by the emotional content in Futurama. It’s funny because it’s not difficult at all to see how the Fry/Leela stuff could easily get into that toxic “friend zone” bemoaning bullshit, but it’s never read that way to me. Maybe it does come across that way to others. I just think it’s handled a lot better throughout the series in a way that respects Leela and doesn’t make Fry come off like a creepy asshole. Again, YMMV.
Bender’s Big Score seems to be a lot of people’s favorite of the feature films, but I don’t think it’s mine. That’s saying a lot, though. Basically I don’t think any of the Futurama films are at a level I would rate appreciably below “excellent.”
Now, everyone get out of the universe! Quick!
The Beast with a Billion Backs
If it weren’t for the fact that I saw this before I had these sorts of things sorted out for myself, I would be pretty taken aback by the fact that something as wildly popular as Futurama could have situational humor derived from things like polyamory and correcting pronouns without me feeling like I’m being laughed at. Especially something from 9 years ago, which doesn’t seem like it’s that long ago, but this still manages to feel really ahead of the curve of where a lot of fandoms (and especially actual commercially-released content) were in these conversations.
It’s certainly possible that I’m just being naive, but as much as The Beast with a Billion Backs does derive situational humor from these things, it also feels like we’re getting an actual depiction of a future whose social values are miles ahead of anything we ever saw in Star Trek. (Minus the utopian socialism that Star Trek nailed and Futurama largely ignored in favor of the drastically unlikely idea of capitalism enduring for another thousand years without self destructing. But, y’know. It’s a comedy series.) When Fry turns to his friends for advice about whether to continue his relationship with Colleen, everyone just sort of shrugs and asks whether he loves her, and suggests that’s the only real determining factor. (It’s a bit ridiculous that Fry finds himself in this situation in the first place, of course, as it’s difficult to imagine someone in a committed polyamorous relationship would start dating someone without mentioning it, but you have to give comedy a little leeway.)
Although Fry decides he can’t handle it and breaks up with her, the film seems to get even less and less judgmental over time as all of humanity finds itself in a relationship with a being who is basically the personification of the human ideal of heaven. And this is where the pronouns come in. There’s a humorous bit where Leela is angrily denouncing Yivo and keeps using male pronouns, only for Hermes to politely interject the correct pronouns each time–even at the point where Leela has rallied everyone to her side and they’re getting ready to angrily confront Yivo. (She says something like, “Get him!” to which Hermes replies, “Get shklee!” while still joining the angry mob.) I’ll admit, I had my guard up a little at this point, but as the episode progresses everyone (including Leela) comes around to using the correct pronouns, even earth president Richard Nixon’s head. And as silly as it is, I like the parts where everyone is discussing “their” (every being in the universe’s) relationship with Yivo in the situation room like it’s a complex high stakes diplomatic entanglement.
Eventually, everyone in the universe achieves total happiness through their relationship with Yivo, and this isn’t presented in a judgmental way at all. Even Leela is genuinely happy before Bender and Fry inevitably ruin it all (intentionally on Bender’s part, unintentionally on Fry’s, as is the show’s usual pattern). What’s more, the narrative ends up ultimately rewarding Colleen by having her be the one being from our universe who stays with Yivo. Yeah, I know I’m probably thinking about this all a little too hard, and what it really comes down to with Futurama is whether it’s simultaneously funny and meaningful (it is), but it was really important to me to understand whether Futurama was laughing at me or laughing with me in this instance, as the former would’ve had me feeling betrayed by a show that has meant so much to me over the years. But, and again you can think I’m being naive if you want to, it really doesn’t feel like the show is laughing at me here. And that really means the universe to me.
Futurama doing Lord of the Rings/Dungeons & Dragons instead of Star Trek. I think more could’ve been done with this concept, but I’m still hella into it.
Into the Wild Green Yonder
The ending of this always made me want to immediately watch like 50 more episodes of Futurama. Sublime.