Aside from the whole new pairings project of the last few episodes, the other thing that Futurama has done right lately is ratcheting up the randomness quotient. Let’s face it: while there’s a ton of science-fiction out there, most of it is pretty bad, and that’s just as true with comedy science-fiction as it is with any other subgenre. If you’re a fan of the show, one of the reasons why is because you’re into aliens or robots or time travel in parallel dimensions or what have you. So when thing stay relatively normal for a while, it can be a let down. Futurama is one of the few shows out there where we’re blase about the prospect of another alien invasion threatening to wipe out humanity.
“A Clockwork Origin” has one of those oh-so science fiction-y premises (or SyFy, as the kids and TV networks are saying it these days) that reminds me of an old Futurama joke where Bender explains that he just did the same thing Fry did, only it was more interesting because his version involved robots. On the show’s commentary track, the creators joked that Bender’s line is a kind of ethos for the show. With this episode, well, there isn’t much more to things than adding robots to evolution and calling it a day. But you know what? Sometimes it’s not the premise that’s important, it’s the execution. Any show can have space brains, but few of them will have the guts to turn one of them into a white whale and let Queequeg have at it.
As with any good episode about evolution, “A Clockwork Origin” begins with an irritatingly smug creationist arguing that evolution is only a theory. The Professor gets so frustrated with this sophistry that he decides to leave the planet altogether, and has the Planet Express crew go with him. When he goes to purify the local water with nanobots, his creations get out of line and, after first becoming a low-grade Gray Goo, they quickly begin to evolve. The rest of the episode is given up to living through these few quick days of robot evolution and seeing them play out, with a little additional time spent discussing the implications thereof. Oh, and back on Earth, Zoidberg and Cubert spend time, uhh, hanging about for reasons left largely unclear.
There’s really nothing at all in the way of character development in this episode, unless you include Zoidberg’s somewhat psychotic relationship with his “nephew,” but on the other hand it has some pretty good jokes, many of which involve robot dinosaurs. A lot of the better jokes of the episode are actually visual gags from the look of the robot dinosaurs and robot cavemen, not to mention the idiocy of the “debate” surrounding evolution in general.
For whatever reason, though, the show’s take on the whole concept didn’t seem as sharp is it should have been, and was a little confused about what it was trying to say. That, and a slightly less consistent hit-to-miss ratio for the jokes than on the last couple of episodes kept it from feeling totally right, even if the episode’s constituent pieces felt pretty solid. Instead, what we got was an interesting look at robot evolution, but without as much relevant satire on the topic of creationism as you’d expect, which seems like a lost opportunity. “A Clockwork Origin” was still a good, fun episode, but was a more disposable piece of entertainment than the show can be at its absolute best.
- I couldn’t find a picture for the episode this week, so instead enjoy this sweet photo of a robot dinosaur toy I pulled off of Google. I think it pretty much manages to say it all.
“To the science-mobile!”
“You people are as loud as you are ignorant.”
- Turnips as chicken of the dirt was a sublime joke. Don’t think I’ll ever be referring to them as anything else…
“Your tux doesnt’ fit because you stole it from a boy.” “You mean a man. it was his bar mitzvah.”
- My internet connection grew wonky right after that point in the episode. So now you can have your very own interactive Futurama write-up and put in your favorite quotes and observations from the rest of the episode! It’s like that whole Internet 2.0 (3.0?) thing I keep hearing about, only lazier.