When Futurama is parodying a genre, it’s usually a mixed blessing. Its parodies are usually tight and pretty spot-on. The show’s writers almost always know how to make an exciting version of a genre, but that’s because they also stick pretty closely to formula, more intent on parodying the idea than in bringing something really revolutionary to it. In this, Futurama has replaced its forebear The Simpsons as the best spot for these things, playfully poking fun at movies and TV through reasonably good genre parodies that are good for quite a few laughs. But the downside of this is that unlike more ambitious science-fiction or emotionally charged episodes, they tend to be unmemorable.
It doesn’t help that “Viva Mars Vegas” is also an instance of Futurama pulling out its chart of character stories, realizing that Zoidberg and Amy have never been the co-stars of an episode and going all out on that idea. Amy’s a tricky character to make interesting, and her sudden ability to create a foolproof heist plan is a bit out of character. But then again, when in the midst of a parody like this, that sort of question falls to the wayside, and the important thing is to keep the plot moving swiftly.
Speaking of which, one thing I do love about this plot is how long it takes to get going. Once the heist is in gear, it moves at breakneck speed, but the entire first half of the episode, which is largely more enjoyable than the rest, doesn’t concern itself with this. Zoidberg randomly obtaining millions of dollars and then taking it to a casino works well because Zoidberg himself is enjoyable to watch, as is the casino parody itself.
Another thing that worked wonderfully was the sheer simplicity of the heist. Most of the cast had no real part, and instead was left creating strange, outlandish characters to distract the mafia boss. I was happy that the heist itself didn’t overwhelm “Viva Mars Vegas,” that in fact it had far more motivation than almost any real heist movie.
The end of the episode, though, in which Amy gives the hotel back to the native Martians, felt hamfisted and completely unnecessary, and made about as much sense as Zoidberg and Amy finding friendship out of all this. Futurama, unsurprisingly, finds their representation to be difficult to handle, but this felt like strange pandering. Post-heist, “Viva Mars Vegas” has the same problem as actual heist movies: what now? Practically speaking the mob can just return and take the Wongs’ house as easily as they did the first time, but that’s probably worth overlooking. The ending stops all of the episode’s momentum so completely that it significantly hampers what had been happening over the previous 20 minutes.
Zoidberg is an odd character, in that he’s Futurama’s funniest creation, yet he requires a peripheral role. A few gags here, some jokes made at his expense there, and he’s amazing, but in the middle of things he tends to overwhelm. Amy’s almost the same way, and because of that an episode that worked out always felt like it had to strain too hard for its jokes to work. Zoidberg is so wacky that writers feel the need to give him nonstop jokes, even if many of these should’ve never made it past the readthrough. There were some really indelible parts of “Viva Mars Vegas,” and while the show gets close to pulling everything together, it can’t quite pull it off.
•I know it’s been around online for a bit now, but that animation-free intro remains amazing.
•Why the Jar Jar Binks people?
•”God didn’t get to be God by giving away money.”
•”Now that’s the God I know.”
•”Thanks, tissue ghost.”
•I really liked the flipbook charts
•Bender’s texas billionaire is one of my favorite of his characters… but Hermes’ prince of Nigeria was maybe even better. And Farnsworth’s ‘young Internet billionaire’ is just as good. That whole sequence was brilliant.
•I was really of two minds about Zoidberg’s song. I’m generally a fan of Futurama’s music, but this one just didn’t quite do it for me, even though it gave me a few chuckles.