Thursday, July 29, 2010

Return to the Year 3000: Futurama Posts Are Back!

futurama_logo_thumb[3]Those of you expecting weekly write-ups of the new Futurama episodes may have found yourselves disappointed a couple of weeks ago when no recap of the season’s fourth episode was posted. I know I was expecting to do a write-up every week, but I soon found that recapping not-particularly-plot-driven 22-minute cartoons is not as fruitful a pursuit as, say, discussing a one hour serial drama, a one-hour serial drama, or a one-hour serial drama.

I’d still like to cover it, though, and the timing works out so that I can pretend that I was going to do them in three-episode chunks the whole time! I planned it this way the whole time, everyone.

In general, I’d say that this batch of episodes was stronger, or at least more Futurama-like, than the first crop. I still don’t think any of these quite stand with the best episodes from the third and fourth seasons, but they go a long way to justifying the show’s continued existence.

Episode 4 - “Proposition Infinity”

Amy and Kif have an argument and split up, after which Amy begins a robosexual relationship with Bender. Their controversial affair triggers debate over whether robosexual marriage should be legalized, a la the high-profile debate over California’s Proposition 8.

Like the previous week’s “Attack of the Killer App,” “Proposition Infinity” satirizes current events/stuff that happened during Futurama’s extended vacation. However, where the former’s jabs at Apple were a little lazy and uninspired, the latter episode does what the best Futurama satire has done, using the show’s futuristic setting and characters to make a statement about the issues of the day.

This episode hits most other notes right, as well – it’s a nice revisiting of some of the plot elements seen in season three’s “I Dated a Robot,” making another contribution to the show’s sometimes surprising internal mythology. The Bender/Amy pairing does come off as a little contrived, but the characterization is good nonetheless and (surprise!) things are back to normal by the end of the episode anyway.

Futurama-style gags are also present in spades – a ghost boos someone up on a stage, a large digital clock tower loudly announces the current time in a human voice. Add in an excellent guest appearance by George Takei, and you’ve got my favorite episode of the season so far.

Episode 5 – “The Duh-Vinci Code”

The Professor and Fry find a strange blueprint that once belonged to Leonardo Da Vinci, and travel to Italy to get to the bottom of things. Turns out that Da Vinci is not only still alive, but he’s a member of a super-intelligent alien species. The species is so super-intelligent, in fact, that Leo is the dumbest of them all. Chaos, naturally, ensues.

This one’s back to being a little off. It’s a fun episode, and most of the jokes land, but it’s not quite as interesting a conceit as the best Futurama-sci-fi-adventure episodes. The worst that can be said about it is that it’s unremarkable.

Episode 6 - “Lethal Inspection”

Bender discovers that he has a manufacturing defect – he has no backup unit, so if something happens to him, he couldn’t be downloaded to a new body. Angry at being forced to confront his mortality, Bender (with Hermes in tow) vows to find the inspector who approved his manufacture and kick his ass.

I enjoyed this episode for many of the same reasons that I enjoyed “Proposition Infinity” – there’s a strong tie to a previous memorable episode (season two’s “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back”) and some great character moments, paired with some great gags. It’s always nice to see the series do something with Hermes other than letting him serve as a seldom-seen punchline machine.

This episode also brought back a hallmark of Futurama’s best episodes, the ending-that-tugs-on-your-heartstrings. While not as affecting as “Jurassic Bark” or “Luck of the Fryrish,” it shows that the producers and writers haven’t forgotten this vital ingredient of the Futurama blend – losing touch with its emotions is what reduced The Simpsons from what it used to be to what it is now.

Tune in three weeks from now for more recaps! It’s very important that you know how I feel about cartoons.