This Game is Fun on a Bun!
All this to say, Futurama isn't exactly The Simpsons. Stability is not a word it's familiar with. What did the fans see that the networks didn't? This week, we delve into this constantly beloved, very flawed, wonderful show the only way it would have us do so: by throwing a huge party.
"Boozerama": The Rules
1. Drink for Title Drops: That's the full title, "Futurama".
2. Drink for Daddy Issues. If a character mentions their issues with both parents, we'll count that.
3. Drink when they drink.
4. Drink when a character who is not a part of the main crew appears in more than one episode you watch that evening.
5. Drink when a character is presumed dead. The character must have a name.
6. Drink when the crew visits planets that aren't Earth.
7. Drink for a direct reference to 20th century media. Like if a character tells another to turn off that stupid Phish record.
8. Drink for nudity.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when a character has sex.
2. Drink when a character bursts into song.
3. Drink whenever Bender steals something.
4. Drink when a classic rock song is played. Yeah, it's the future, all our songs are "classic", but I'm mostly talking about 1960's-1980's.
5. Drink when Professor Farnsworth explains something scientific, or for general technobabble.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink for characters watching television, transmissions, or projections. Anything on a screen.
2. Drink for body modifications.
3. Drink for homage to 20th century events or people. Like if the characters go to see a band called "Fish". And all the band members are fish.
4. Drink for flashbacks.
5. Drink when Bender uses either of these phrases:
"Bite my shiny metal ass!" or
"I'm 40% (insert substance here)!"
Krissy Pappau: Turanga Leela (a girl can dream, right?) (Medium)
Dijan de Nero: Kif Kroaker (Easy)
Shirley Whiskas: Amy Wong (Medium)
Some Guy: Scruffy. The Janitor (Medium)
Big Moose: Nibbler (Medium)
Seb: President Nixon's Head (Hard)
An Established Universe
More than the world's logic, though, the character logic is locked down early on. In "A Flight to Remember", we meet Hermes' wife LaBarbara and learn that Hermes used to be an Olympic level Limbo champion. We get the first whiff of real sexual tension between Fry and Leela, and the sense that it's there because the both of them are heartbreakingly lonely. We meet Amy's parents and learn that there's extreme pressure on her to get married, which she resists. And Kif and Amy meet after a "Titantic" level (heehee) disaster, have instant chemistry and share their first kiss.
These may all seem like small things, but they all get adequately explained in a 20 minute timeframe and are consistent throughout the series. The best episodes in the later seasons take what's established from the first fifty episodes and expand on them, pitting the characters against ideas or obstacles that they have inherent conflict with. When you think about how few details get lost during the course of ten seasons, you can't help but feel impressed.
Not to say that nothing changed. After all, Zoidberg gets to sleep in first class on the luxury cruise. For reference, he sleeps in a garbage can the rest of the time.
Seasons Change, Time Passes By
It's not that the later seasons are all that bad. They're perfectly serviceable comedies. But they rely too much on the stupid stuff that kept the show on the air and not enough on what made the show special, and what made the fans love it so much.
This is a minor offense, though. Later in the episode, Professor Farnsworth slyly explains how they were saved from destruction by black hole by sliding into a channel in space, a sort of a "Comedy Central" channel.
And then, there's something I really don't want to talk about. But I will.
The Green Coat
That's weird. That jacket's basically part of her captain's uniform. Bender even wears it for an episode when he takes over for her as the ship's pilot. Why would she stop wearing it?
Probably because underneath the jacket, she usually looks like this.
In earlier episodes, Leela's much more developed. She shares a parallel story to Fry; orphaned as a small child, she desperately wants to find her family, who she believes to be aliens from a distant star. She studied martial arts, among other things, in order to assert herself in a society that was freaked out by her single eye, and won captaincy of the Planet Express Ship (honestly, she's overqualified for the job). She struggles with loneliness, cut off from anyone who looks like her and too assertive and strange-looking to date any of the men she finds attractive.
I like this Leela. I like her because she has flaws. I like her because she's shallow, and short-tempered and stubborn. I like that the story saw fit to include a character who is desperately trying to make her way through life while staving off cynicism and bitterness. I like how much she WANTS to like Fry, but can never be okay with how immature and aimless he is. She seems real.
As the seasons go on, her character starts to fall apart a bit. The more Leela starts to come into the foreground as Fry's main love interest, the less the story cares about her established personality. When I see Leela happily agree to stand around and be ogled by truck stop men in "40 Percent Leadbelly", I am struck by how the Leela from eight seasons previous would actively avoid being objectified that way.
This isn't a rant about treatment of female characters in media, not totally at least. This is a rant about consistency. The company intern Amy Wong is constantly objectified by the show and its viewers, but she's set up from the beginning of the show to be, as Shirley puts it, "the sorority girl". She's young and pretty and not much else, and that's fine because her character still gets a fair amount to do. Leela's set up to be a realistic woman, and her casual sexualization over the course of the series irks me. It's why I never quite bought it when she and Fry eventually started dating. The show had put so much stock in Fry's unrequited love that when Leela finally gave in, it felt more like a bone being thrown to the fans instead of something she chose for herself.
After wooing Leela by playing her a beautiful sonata on an instrument called the "holophoner", Fry catches on to the fact that Leela might be more into what the worms made him than who he truly is, so he goes inside himself to defeat the worms and discover whether or not Leela will still love him afterwards.
This episode is Futurama at its best. There's a plot that's constantly moving forward, the characters all act according to their needs and desires, and most importantly, it's not afraid to break your heart. Futurama proved that an episodic animated series could make you examine human relationships, ponder the nature of failure, sort out our own relationships to unattainable idols. There are a few later season episodes that reach this level of pathos ("The Late Philip J Fry" is a good example), but they're buried by dozens of episodes that are all about the gags. I want to see the show where the hero doesn't get the girl and it's nobody's fault and everyone's always a little bit sad. There aren't enough shows like that, and now there's one less.
Drink when Amy falls down or cries
This is more of an early season thing with Amy. They tried to set her up as a klutz and pretend that was her personality...but if it doesn't work in romantic comedies, it won't work on this show.
Drink for gender-bending or opposite sex disguises
This happens more than you'd think, and it's a little off-putting sometimes. In a thousand years, basic gender roles haven't changed one iota. Chew on that for a bit.
Drink whenever a Planet Express Crew Member goes on a date
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). All "Futurama" footage and images are owned by 20th Century Fox and Comedy Central.