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Comedy Central’s FUTURAMA returned with two new episodes last night to kick off the season. Having been resurrected for a couple of years now, the show has gotten back into the groove that made it so great before being cancelled by FOX. Both episodes that aired last night are funny, somewhat ignoring of continuity, and have a heartfelt arc. So, they are classic FUTURAMA.
The first half hour is called “The Bots and the Bees.” Bender (John Di Maggio) doesn’t take a shine to the new soda machine, Bev (Wanda Sykes), very quickly. But after she kills his night with two slutbots, they end up fighting, which turns into lovemaking. Shortly thereafter, Bev gives birth to a son, whom Bender names Ben. While Bender tries to abandon the lad, as is completely in character for him, Bev does so first, leaving Bender to be a single parent.
Bender seems like he usually gets the least amount of emotional development of any of the major characters because he is so callous and self-centered. But “The Bots and the Bees” takes the rare side trip of exposing Bender’s soul. The mechanics of how the baby is made and grows might not make much sense in reality, but the feelings and attachment feels authentic, and that’s far more important. Bender sacrifices everything to be a good dad, even allowing Ben’s memories of his father to be wiped so that Ben can fulfill his dream of being a bender.
It’s sad that Ben will probably not return to the show again. In its infancy, FUTURAMA added new recurring characters frequently, and brought them back repeatedly. Since the re-launch, no one notable has joined the cast, making it seem like Ben is probably destined to be a one-shot player. This is too bad because there are plenty of stories that could still be mined from Bender’s fatherly role, and it would be fun to see Ben interact with the other Planet Express employees’ children. If the plan is, indeed, to abandon Ben as surely as Bev does in the episode, would the creative team please reconsider?
Even in the funniest FUTURAMA stories, the level of depth exposed in the characters raises the series a notch above most of its peers. Other animated shows might touch on the heart, but only FUTURAMA embraces it so completely, developing dynamic, fully realized characters. Yes, this episode is very funny, with lots of laughs, especially during Fry’s (Billy West) B story, where he drinks so much Slurm that he turns bright green, so much so that he becomes a sort of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. But that isn’t all there is to it. It’s this combination of humor and emotion that makes FUTURAMA so great.
It must also be said that the opening of “The Bots and the Bees,” with the Planetary Express symbol instantly bringing the crew back together, even when some of them are battling for their lives against a giant space spider, works beautifully. FUTURAMA likes to go big in season openings, and this one certainly brings the fans back in cleverly, delivering a great bit immediately.
The second half hour, “Farewell to Arms,” is even better than the first. Fry finds some ancient Martian writings under New New York, which Amy (Lauren Tom) is asked to translate. She says that the world will end because of some solar flares. Electronics stop working, so mankind cannot flee the planet in their spaceships. However, near the writing there is a stone rocket ship that can save 30,000 people. A computerized selection process occurs, and certain people are chosen, a varied sampling from which to continue the human race. Upon arriving on Mars, the “survivors” discover that the prophecy actually foretells the destruction of the red planet, not Earth.
Yes, the 2012 story is an obvious target, and changing Mayan to Martian in 3012 in a thinly veiled parallel isn’t exactly brilliant, nor does it feel original. Yet, “Farewell to Arms” works because FUTURAMA so fully commits to the conceit. It’s almost a commentary on the craziness of the 2012, with several characters making comments about how silly prophecies are. In this, it works very well. While many outlets of pop culture have tackled the 2012 story in a number of ways, FUTURAMA has top writers who deliver a high quality episode.
Like “The Bots and the Bees,” soul is at the center of “Farewell to Arms.” This episode returns to the Fry and Lee relationship, which is routinely ignored for long stretches of time. Fry keeps making romantic gestures, but in keeping with his character, they always go wrong. Fry gives up his seat to Mars to save Leela, who is not one of the chosen, and then Mars is almost destroyed. It’s so bad that Leela almost doesn’t let Fry try to save her from Mars, which happens to pass extremely close to New New York, and when she finally does, they both end up with their arms torn off, hence the title of this installment.
Plus, Leela being grossed out about grabbing her own severed arm, which isn’t bleeding and somehow must not hurt, is amusing in the context.
When will FUTURAMA just let Fry and Leela be a couple? The effort has been put in, and the DVD-released movies while the series was off-air took the time to make any relationship between them feel earned. “Farewell to Arms” reminds us of the love between them, which makes the episodes where this chemistry is absent seem a bit off. More follow up to this would be greatly appreciated.
FUTURAMA is funny about continuity, in that sometimes it is abandoned all together, while other times past events matter very much to the present. Let’s hope Mars’ new position, as a close moon to Earth, becomes permanent. After all, this heralds a fantastic Amy episode, as her parents live on Mars, should FUTURAMA pursue this path.
FUTURAMA airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on Comedy Central.