Unlike its predecessor The Simpsons, Futurama actually has a pretty miniscule cast, and the show often fields them in a wide variety of positions. Need someone in politics? There’s Nixon. Need someone in the military? There’s Zapp. Need someone evil in any capacity whatsoever? That’s what we’ve got Mom for. You may call it lazy shorthand, but really, it just functions to speed things along to what really matters, not to mention developing characters who would otherwise be bit parts. Because of this, the core of the cast has ended up a great deal deeper than any other non-continuity-based sitcom out there. We know a great deal about Fry, Leela, Amy, Kiff, Zapp and hell, even Zoidberg. The oddity of this group has always been Bender.
“Lethal Inspection” ends up largely about rectifying this problem. His relationship to Fry has certainly developed, especially in the fourth and fifth seasons, but his past has been largely just a series of quickie jokes. We’ve seen two contradictory versions of this, one where he looked exactly as he does today moments after being made (which makes more sense) and a different glimpse in “Teenage Mutant Leela’s Hurdles” where he grew backwards with the rest of the cast. It looks like that’s the party line the show’s going with and it’s a wise choice, considering how many options their original explanation would cut off for future plot possibilities.
That wasn’t the only part of “Lethal Inspection” that worked well. Let’s get through that description quickly, which is easy to do because it’s a comparatively straightforward episode for the series. After a quick Sith War re-enactment at the episode’s beginning, Bender learns that he’s not backed up and is thus just as mortal as everyone else on the show. He then spends the rest of the episode trailing a mysterious Inspector #5 who approved him despite this defect. As the episode ends, we learn that this Inspector was in fact Hermes, who helped Bender through his journey, and that his reason for taking this trip was largely to cover his own ass.
It wasn’t strictly necessary for Futurama to set up Bender’s mortality. Although the possibility of him being backed up makes sense, it’s the type of thing you can ignore without having to suspend too much disbelief. But it does help explain much of his past behavior and lack of empathy towards nearly all non-robots. It’s a humanizing, in the most literal sense, touch that gives the episode a great deal of weight, no mean feat for a wacky sci-fi comedy.
Last week I talked a bit about how odd the pairing of Fry and the Professor was, despite the fact that they’re both main characters. Whereas last week’s pairing was a bit tacked on and was the weakest part of the episode, in “Lethal Inspection” we instead see the pairing given the entire episode and it works wonderfully. It’s a very b-plotless episode, and all the better for this. Judging from this episode and the last it seems like Futurama is intentionally straying away from its old groupings and trying new things. The sixth season is moving off from the repetition of its first two episodes and is all the better for it.
I do have to admit this wasn’t the strongest episode of the show joke-wise, which is frequently the case in with episodes that deal more with the characters and less about making jokes in a wacky world. But this isn’t something I think will bother real fans, as that’s part of what’s given Futurama its cult audience in the first place: that the show gives a damn about its characters. It also should be pointed out that the ending montage has been done by the show a couple times before. Still, in each case it’s managed to pull things off, and even if Leela’s was a bit more moving, this was the best written of the montages and nearly as sweet in its sentiment. So I think it’s earned a pass, and now we can wonder about what Bender spent his time doing between that montage and the first episode of the series. Something tells me we won’t have to wait all that long to find out.
- The Star Wars re-enactment in Futurama is in fact more entertaining than the actual prequels. Of course, everyone else who watched this episode probably already made that observation.
“Bring me my soft chair with the wheels on it.” “The wheelchair?” “I don’t need a wheel chair. The one with the wheels!”
“Thanks to denial, I’m immortal.”
“That’s a calculator. I ate it to gain its power.”