When it comes to Futurama’s cast, Bender is the guts, Leela the head and Fry the heart. Of course he’s more complex than that—which is a blessing considering that every successive season of The Simpsons or Family Guy flattens out their characters—but as the show’s gone on he’s transitioned away from being just a cipher for the 20/21st-century audience. It’s no coincidence that Fry’s involved in practically every episode of Futurama that has emotionally significant notes. He may be stupid, but he has real emotions.
The strange relationship between Fry and the professor takes center stage in “Near-Death Wish,” and it’s something that always yields dividends. By making Professor Farnsworth be, for all intents and purposes, infinitely old, the show is able to create as much backstory for his life as possible. And while there’s some retconning involved here (when Fry was first resuscitated, he was told that Farnsworth was his closest living relative),it’s not too irritating to be able to explore his past in this way.
But for all the episode’s great Matrix-based humor, “Near-Death Wish” never quite hits its stride. I think a lot of this comes from how temporary these two characters feel. It’s a very sitcom-y story, which I mean in the fully pejorative sense: it never has any stakes. Gram Gram and Shabadoo (presumably a reference to The Simpsons’ wonderful name Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo, or maybe Groening just really likes the name?) are found in a literal drawer when the characters need them, and once their little story is finished and the cast is ready to move on, they’re placed back in it—which is part of the problem with Fry’s relationship with the pair. They do something nice for the elder Farnsworths, but they still seem destined to never reunite after this, written off the show for sheer convenience.
Which isn’t to say “Near-Death Wish” was a disappointment. Many of its jokes were fantastic, and the writing had that certain spark that’s less frequent in Futurama’s later years. Its plot twist was also intelligent and felt essential to the overall story being told, which is a rarity not just in TV but in any medium. It’s just that the episode felt like it needed to stick a little too closely to formula, giving us a pat resolution when it could’ve done something more open-ended. Fry really does imbue the episode with some real emotion, but when it comes to an end “Near-Death Wish” feels a little bit hollow.
•So was Mike delivering to a lion or just happened to be in the cage?
•”I’m gonna call them Gram Gram and Shabadoo” – These names never got old.
•Really loved the animation of Fry skipping.
•At this point, Fry only knows how to do self-reflective holophoner pieces.
•I can’t be the only person disappointed not to see any glimpse of Floyd the homeless rodeo clown.