Futurama: "Zapp Dingbat" (7.5)
Despite whatever cranks on the internet may claim, The Simpsons’ decline was gradual. A disappointing episode here and there became a bad episode practically every time out, until the show was practically unrecognizable. Even though the show still had ambitious episodes, they never really hit their marks. After a while, it felt like The Simpsons’ writers were just there for a job; the passion was long since missing, and every year the plotlines were worse and worse.
Futurama hasn’t gotten as bad as Matt Groening’s other show, for sure, but its return has become sprinkled with episodes that not only aren’t good—it’s difficult to think of how they could be good. “Zapp Dingbatt” is one of those episodes, which has a premise that’s just plain lousy out of the gate, so that the entire rest of the episode is more or less trying to play catch up.
Leela’s parents break up on their wedding anniversary, with the realization that they both dropped their dreams to pursue each other. Leela’s mom moves out and stays with her, and after being taken to a club in space meets up with Zapp Brannigan as he attempts to negotiate with an alien race. Her help keeps an intergalactic conflict from starting, and the two fall in love. Meanwhile, Leela’s father spends his time surfing the sewers with Bender and Fry, because apparently the writers decided he needed at least something of a background. At the end of the episode, Leela’s mom finds out that Zapp’s a jerk and dumps him at the altar for Leela’s father, thus making everything go right back to where it was beforehand.
Essentially the entire episode is about the romance between two minor characters who we usually see just two or three times a season, one of whom barely even has a personality to begin with. It’s understandable that Futurama wanted to make any story that revolves around Zapp into an episode—he’s one of the show’s best characters—but this really wasn’t the one to pick. As the episode rockets towards its inevitable reconciliation finale, it’s difficult to think of how this could’ve gone much better. Maybe fewer gags about the bathrooms of various events around the world, but essentially it was never a premise that the show should’ve made.
Maybe that’s why the execution felt a bit lazy too. There were good bits, and the alien shark race in particular was inspired in its apathy, but it was Futurama by the numbers. What was supposed to be the big surprise, that Zapp actually cared for Leela’s mother, failed to register because you can see it coming so easily. “Zapp Dingbat” felt slight and unnecessary—not a complete waste of time, but certainly an episode no one would miss if it had never been made… rather like most later Simpsons episodes. Here’s hoping the show doesn’t make this a pattern like its older sibling.
•Was all that production work really needed for the lazy Zoidberg-eats-a-fish gag?
•I appreciated the reference to the Star Wars Christmas Special.
•Love Stories About Dinosaurs – why is this not a real book?
•"You weren’t so horrible, just enough to show you care."
“Then once again my lies have been proven true.” – I really do love Zapp Brannigan, he’s maybe my favorite character. I sure hope he’s in a better episode later this season.
•Also, the explanation for why Leela’s father Maurice can save the day is ridiculous in a hamfisted way rather than an enjoyable way, like the show usually does.