Futurama: "31st Century Fox"/"Naturama" (6.12/6.13)

TV Reviews Futurama
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<Em>Futurama</em>: "31st Century Fox"/"Naturama" (6.12/6.13)

WIth that, another season of Futurama is finished, along with my conflicting feelings about this season—and all seasons since the show’s return to Comedy Central. Unlike its big brother The Simpsons, Futurama hasn’t been actively bad and has avoided self-parody. I enjoy every week’s new episode, and have no regrets about watching them, and there are many other long-running cartoons that I’ve long since dropped. Still, there were very few great episodes in the season, and the show’s continuation no longer feels at all vital. Futurama is at a weird point where it’s not tarnishing the show’s legacy, but neither is it really adding anything new. Most shows that hit as many episodes as Futurama has start to feel like they’re phoning it in, but with Futurama I never get that sense. It’s just that the spark is rarely there anymore, despite the effort and the passion still being put into the show.

“31st Century Fox” is one of those episodes that seems to get almost everything right but never quite clicks. It centers around a strange fox-hunting story, which gets stranger when it turns out that the fox is actually a robot fox and thus Bender cares about it. But while Bender’s explorations into the weird world of robot ethics have been interesting on occasion in the past, here they feel pretty rudimentary and largely just there in order to keep the plot running. It’s not long before Bender’s being hunted like the fox before him while the fox has pissed off the rest of the Planet Express Crew.

The episode ends with almost a literal shrug, where Leela decides that she’s kind of okay with the events that happened before, though she’s not really sure why. That’s the attitude these recent seasons have taken, willing to run with an idea for a while before ultimately hitting the 21-minute wall and stopping dead. The show’s movies were a great strain on the crew, but it’s been equally difficult for its writers to get back to telling stories that fit easily into the cramped confines of television. Patrick Stewart and (presumably) Frank Welker both give good performances, and the fox itself is well-designed, but it’s largely just another way for Bender to yell about robot rights. It’s a good enough episode, but that’s really it.

Two years ago the show began making the 13th episode of each half-season run into a three-part compilation thing that can exist outside of the show’s normal continuity and do something completely strange. I consider “Reincarnation” (once again, why wasn’t it named “Reanimation”?) to be one of the best episodes since the show’s return, while this year’s “Naturama” was… well, far and away the strangest.

Each segment was made as if it were part of a nature documentary being narrated by Phil LaMarr. It begins with salmon and then continues to the Pinta Island Tortoise and The Elephant Seal, and while clearly best watched (and perhaps written…) while incredibly high, they manage to succeed regardless of what state you’re in. It’s really just three amusing vignettes seemingly made on a lark, and the entire affair seems almost like an idea rather than a full-fledged episode. Still, some of jokes are pretty great and it’s pleasant to see the show go somewhere new, even if it’s not really a direction anyone hoped for. Oddly, the first third of the show is probably the weakest, despite being written by the most veteran of its writers—the other two were written by first-time writers who’d been working as writers’ assistants—and are genuinely pretty great.

The essential theme of the entire documentary seems to be nihilism and the futility of life, which few shows do as well as Futurama. But that doesn’t make it feel more cohesive, and as the episode ends, my main thoughts weren’t about the episode itself but rather what the hell the writing staff was thinking.

I’ll be back to watch Futurama again next season, but it will be more out of habit than anticipation. The show’s consistency is impressive, but I rarely want to talk to my friends about episodes in the way I used to—the show’s “you have got to see this” factor is rarely there anymore. At this point I’d be fine with the show ending at the end of this 26-episode run, not because I’ve grown to dislike the show, but because it feels like the talented people behind it would do better work elsewhere. And yes, part of why I’m saying that is the hope that they hit the next 13 out of the ballpark to prove me wrong.

Stray observations:
•Sad to admit there were a few garments I didn’t know the references for, Leela’s in particular. What was that?
•“There are two sides to every shameful act.”
•Nice Springsteen billboard
•It makes no less sense for the 31st century police to have horses than the 21st century police.
•”Those injustices don’t even exist.”
•What are the robot foods, umm, for?
•”And so the endless circle of life comes to an end. Why did they live and why did they die? Meaningless.”
•”For in the end, nature is horrific and teaches us nothing.” – Wouldn’t all nature documentaries be improved with voice overs like these?
•Hermes just looked like snuffy in the last part.
•I liked the nibbler fish. That’s the only glimpse of him we’ve seen in ages.