Season Analysis: It’s not like the 2012 output of Futurama was bad or anything, it’s just that there wasn’t anything about it that really excited me.
One of Futurama’s major strengths has been its ability to take social and political issues of the day and demonstrate how they could continue to crop up 1,000 years from now, such as the endlessness of political debates (the 3012 debate is the 3,012th debate of the 3012 election) and mathematically unsound economic policy (candidates are asked point blank if they believe they can lower taxes and fix the deficit). The biggest target of this episode is the birther movement, in which the Earth citizenship of Senator Chris Zaxxar Travers (running against the head of President Nixon for President of Earth) is called into question. Futurama adds its sci-fi bent to the social commentary, as it turns out that Senator Travers cannot produce his “Earth certificate” because he is a time traveler who has not been born on Earth yet. Eventually, in true Futurama fashion, what started as a takeoff of the political issues of the 21st century became its own thing, with time travel paradoxes and erasure from existence.
Season Analysis: The second half of season 6 did not feature any outstanding efforts to stand among the series greats, but it was easily consistently strong enough to justify its continued existence.
“Neutopia” takes on one of Futurama’s favorite themes: gender relations, perhaps its most favorite non-future-specific theme. Regarding human affairs, gender relations are a timeless matter, and this episode takes the fitting approach of dealing with the show’s male-female conflicts as poorly as they have always been dealt with. The male characters are frequently sexist, blatantly and casually so, as if their sexist attitudes simply represent the way things are (“Ladies, here are your demeaning, skimpy stewardess outfits”). But there is hope, in the form of a bored rock creature alien, who removes the elements of gender from the Planet Express crew with the goal of teaching them … well, it’s not quite sure what it means to teach them. His attitude is most clearly expressed in lines such as, “So far I have learned nothing. But that’s probably as much my fault as it is yours,” and, “Perhaps it is I who have learned a lesson. Or something.” “Neutopia” does not have much to say about gender relations in general, and it basically does nothing to affect the underlying gender issues on Futurama, nor does it care to. But it is a funny episode, in that its blasé attitude regarding its ostensible concerns is its own statement: a society that is unwilling – or profoundly unable – to examine its own prejudices is a big joke.
“The Prisoner of Benda”
Unlike its animated brethren The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy, Futurama does not reflexively target whatever elements of culture it can find in its crosshairs (although it can be successful when it does do that, as evidenced by one of the other top episodes of the season, the “eyePhone”-centric “Attack of the Killer App”). As it takes place one thousand years into the future, it should not be too surprising that it is most comfortable with episodes that operate within the confines of its own particular universe, with classics such as “Roswell That Ends Well” (Fry becomes his own grandfather), “The Sting” (Leela makes her way through bee sting-induced coma dream worlds), and now “The Prisoner of Benda” serving as prime examples. With all the body-swapping that took place in “Prisoner”, every character had a chance to shine, and that can only be gratifying to viewers of a show that has a sizable main cast. One principal result of the swapping was that characters ended up acting silly, in silly ways that had not previously been possible for them, particularly when Zoidberg and Robo-Hungarian emperor Nikolai – in the bodies of Fry and the robot wash bucket, respectively – destroyed Fry and Bender’s apartment, while attempting to assume the lives of Fry and Bender. Throughout the episode, I laughed while simultaneously my brain was tickled, a combination I cannot deny.
Next up: The Walking Dead