Most of the time, when talking about Futurama or any comedy, I focus on the story and the characters. It’s not just because these are the easiest part of each episode to dissect, but rather it’s based on the assumption that if the story and characters are done well, the jokes will be fine. I only do weekly reviews on shows I like, and for comedies a lot of that comes down to personal sensibilities—I don’t really expect the jokes on Two and a Half Men to resemble those on Louie, or even Lucky Louie . The problem with “Calculon 2.0,” though, was one that’s only become an issue in later season Futurama: its jokes and humor, the fundamental building blocks of the show, didn’t click with me at all.
The episode had a strong, if not particularly wonderful premise, with Bender and Fry intent on resurrecting their favorite actor Calculon (who died last year in what at the time seemed like a clever throwaway gag) because they don’t like the actor who replaced him on All My Circuits. Soon, through the magic of science, they’ve resurrected him, only to find that during the intervening year his terrible acting has gone out of style. He’s unable to find work, and even his one-man show, in which he performs as HAL 9000, tanks so completely that he’s become a Hollywood pariah. From here, it’s a complicated plot to get him back into TV, only to have him die again at the end of the episode.
That’s a lot of plot, to the point that there’s literally no side-plot, so either you’re heavily invested in all of this or the episode’s a bust. Unfortunately, Futurama’s Hollywood satire has never been very sharp, and while the plotting is clever, it consists mostly of old material repurposed. Yes, Calculon is a bad actor. Yes, Hollywood is full of hollow show business executives. Yes, science in Futurama is like magic. It would be easy enough to just cut these parts together form old episodes. Worse, though, is that these jokes are rarely allowed to just be. Rather than having the science act as magic for a recycled but decent-enough gag, Futurama feels the need to have Hermes pointing out what’s happening to the viewer, in case they somehow missed a joke that already had the subtlety of a glacier landing in the Sahara.
In contrast to last week’s episode, “Calculon 2.0” was the first time this season where Futurama has felt lazy. The episode was weirdly hollow, like Community’s fourth season, almost an imitation of what the show could be. It was also simply hard to really care about any of what happened. Calculon is a very one-note character, and even Fry and Bender don’t particularly like him; they just want to be distracted by television as usual. As a result, his story feels kind of pointless, going through all the old motions, especially when he heads back to the grave again. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, and I laughed a bit, but once it finished I felt like Bender and Fry watching All My Circuits, a wasted chunk of subpar entertainment having taken up the last half hour of my life with nothing to show from it.