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Futurama Review: "Ghost in the Machines" (6.16)

July 1, 2011  |  2:55pm
<em>Futurama</em> Review: "Ghost in the Machines" (6.16)

Last week I mentioned that the first two episodes of this season had picked up the pace from last season (or half season, as it may be) and given us a pair of rather ambitious episodes. For week two, we settled in on a more ordinary episode of Futurama. That being said it still heavily involved ghosts and explored a weird aspect of the show we’ve never seen before. But because it stuck around the Planet Express office and didn’t feature new characters, it still felt like it was pretty ordinary, which is one of the best things about the show. Its reality is so flexible that ghosts just fit right into the continuity.

As with one of the other shows I cover here, Community, it’s difficult to draw a line in the sand with Futurama about what constitutes a gimmick episode. And in some sense, if the show isn’t doing something radically different from what we’ve seen before, that’s when it becomes disappointing. It’s not a show like Friends where everyone can just hang around and talk on two sets and create a fulfilling episode; the format pretty much demands a constant influx of clones, space mutants, time travel and now ghosts.

“Ghost in the Machines” is essentially about what happens when Bender is killed and becomes a robot ghost, unable to communicate with anyone else (aside from the Robot Devil) except for through haunting electronics. It’s one of those very simple premises that can easily be spun into an entire episode. The best conceit here is that due to Bender’s inability to communicate, this effectively becomes both the A and B plotlines, since we’re able to have Bender haunting while at the same time watching how Fry and the rest of the crew react. It’s extremely clever and means that the story isn’t diluted into a bunch of minor storylines.

A bit of a slowdown occurs when Fry heads to the Amish planet simply because other than the joke of having an Amish planet, everything else is pretty obvious and easily extrapolated from the topic. Nothing here will surprise anyone. It’s a third act that bunts a little bit, giving us a very pat conclusion from a structural point but one that doesn’t offer a lot of laughter… which is in at least some sense the whole point of the show.

As a whole it was nearly as strong as what we saw last week, and some great background gags like the Robot Devil still singing the same song from the first season and Scruffy’s buffet were memorable and perfectly executed. It’s not an instant classic, but “Ghost in the Machine” delivered on what an average Futurama episode should do.

Stray observations:
•Who dips dorritos in guacamole? Oh, yeah, people who are really high.
•”Heroes don’t do drugs… except for drugman, I guess.”
•”Henceforth, this Saturday will be known as Fry-day.”
•”No, no… well yes, actually.”
•”You always say you’re going to kill yourself, but you almost never do.”
•”He’ll always be with us, as a trashcan.”
•”As his only friend, you should have first pick of bodyparts.”
•The Robot devil reads Life in Hell magazine, a nice Groening reference.
•”I’ll take my answer in any form but a song.” – Shit, the Robot Devil was about to sing
“Anything Goes.” I want to see/hear that
•I can’t say enough how happy I am that the Robot Devil is still playing the same song from the first season.
•”I was attacked in my bathroom by my bathroom.”
•”There’s no such thing as ghosts, you donkey monkey. It’s a robot ghost.”
•Scruffy’s Buffet was perfect as a b-story that appears in the background but we never explore.
•The obamacare/wikipedia thing was a double-play of meh contemporary jokes. Fewer of those, please.
•”I want to go back to robot earth. I mean regular earth.”

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