Matt Groening’s television shows, and in fact all animated television shows other than South Park, are naturally bad at commenting on current events. The time between their initial pitch and their airing is frequently the better part of a year, during which period their references will fall flat. Usually, the more specific the reference, the worse the result, and the episode I like to trot out as the worst one Futurama has ever made, “Attack of the Killer App,” falls victim to this. Based around a dumb pun about Susan Boyle’s name, everything related to it is a train wreck.
However, Futurama has proven particularly insightful when it’s going for broader social trends, and its dystopian cynicism for American politics in particular has lead to some great episodes. The Simpsons has a similar point of view towards politics (as does Life in Hell), but since that show has to be at least tenuously grounded in reality, it can only take the dystopian aspect so far. But Futurama, with the advantage of the future, can go all out. After all, it resurrected Richard Nixon to be the president of earth—what could be bleaker than that?
“Decision 3012” centers around the imminent presidential election campaign in 3012, with Nixon’s job possibly on the line. On the one hand, he’s a terrible president, but on the other hand, he’s at least a known quantity. Also, all the opposing candidates are equally idiotic, with one exception. Leela, hoping that pretty much anyone at all will defeat Nixon, takes him under her wing, and the two of them work on dramatically improving his campaign. Before long, he’s become the frontrunner, and Nixon is worried he may lose. He turns to the dirtiest dealer he knows for help: Bender.
Unfortunately for them, the new candidate’s 100 percent clean, and has pretty much nothing they can smear. Nothing real, that is, but that doesn’t mean they can’t pull out the way his middle name sounds like it’s alien and use that to question whether he was born on earth. He was, but it’s more complicated than that, given that technically he hasn’t even been born yet and was sent from the future to oppose Nixon.
The time-travel portion of the episode is where “Decision 3012” stumbles a little bit. The political satire is so funny and direct that changing tones into a large Terminator homage felt off, even though the jokes worked. It was just strange, and the third act felt a little bit more pasted on than the cleverly worked-out first two.
Regardless, the episode felt far more on its game than either of last week’s. Futurama was pulling for something new, an interesting twist on re-election campaigns and commentary about some of the more ridiculous opposition towards Barack Obama. That it had to resort to time travel, which of late has become a bit of a crutch for the show, doesn’t take away from the fact that it didn’t feel like a prefunctory episode. Not everything worked, but it certainly had the ambition that’s often lacking since the show’s revival.
•”I promise to cut taxes for the rich, and use the poor as a cheap source of teeth for aquarium gravel.”
•”Nixon’s the worst president in history. And alternate history.”
•”Thank you, senator. A thoughtful and lucid answer. You will be destroyed.”
•”The environment: yes or no?”
•Good old quaker thuggery. – A tactic that’s won many elections throughout the years.
•I rather love the way the Harvard Law transcript would look unprofessional for an elementary school.
•I hope half of Nixon’s time in office was spent watching squirrels and hoping they’d fall.
•Bender to the head of Nixon: “This guy’s as human as you or me.”
•I’d rather the show didn’t completely depict Kenya as a jungle run by animals…. but I really loved that lion who made his own zebra entrance.
•”Who’d have thunk it. He was born, alright, just like you said.”