When Futurama began, it had a rule against time travel. That may be hard to believe now, considering how much time travel has occurred in the last few seasons, but it makes sense. Introducing time travel is such a pandora’s box that it threatens to overpower the rest of the show. Why wouldn’t a character always just travel back in time to fix whatever random problem just occurred, or if it’s so casually available, why doesn’t the cast pull a Back to the Future and have everyone win big on the stock market or sports betting?
All three prior instances that the show toyed with time travel effectively tied things up nicely and have in fact resulted in three of its best episodes (if you consider “Bender’s Big Score” one episode). “All the Presidents’ Heads” is the first time that casual, easy-to-access time travel has been introduced, and the result is more of a mixed bag.
Fry apparently has a night job working in the head museum, and he agrees to throw a party there for all the ex-presidents. The rest of the crew joins in, but after Professor Farnsworth finds out one of his ancestors was an enemy of George Washington, they learn that the material used to keep heads alive in jars can take you back in time and set out to stop him.
The significantly better half of the episode concerns what happens in colonial America and, later, English-ified 31st century America. We meet Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, and get to see what Futurama would look like if it became effectively steam-punk. It’s a silly chase after the old(er) Farnsworth, but that’s fine, and the jokes are quite good here. Some stretches in logic are necessary, but it worked well despite being a high-concept “Futurama does colonial America” episode.
What doesn’t work well is the mechanics of getting to the time travel, nor the end of the episode. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s an intentionally awful method of travel. That being said, it wasn’t awful in an interesting way like the rock aliens from “Neutopia,” it was just dumb and felt lazy. There was a certain lack-of-effort feeling to these sections, and while there are some obvious thematic reasons for making the method revolve around the Head Museum, it didn’t really justify how poorly this came off. Then there’s the way time travel is still readily available to any character, which is a particularly bad loose end.
It’s one of those episodes where all the time was spent on jokes, many of which were great, while the story itself was largely a disappointment. Of course, laughter is always the most important thing for Futurama to deliver, but it’d be nice if they spent a little more time making the story function better.
•”It’s six o’clock, time to deliver that human heart tomorrow.”
•That Fry is mistaken for Lars is a really nice reference to the movies, which frequently seem to be both in and outside of the show’s continuity.
•What determines the placement of the presidents’ heads?
•There are a lot of recent presidents to spot in the episode, many don’t seem to be jokes. They’re also not writers; are they animators, friends, something else?
•Walter Mondale as President is also something I’d just prefer to never have happen.
•”The effects of jar juice aren’t fully understood.”
•My girlfriend: “Leela’s outfit shows a lot of elbow.”
•The Franklinator is an amaing weapon. My favorite thing in the episode.
•”There’s only like 40 people who do anything right now.”
•Bender’s baby shark Franklinator is even better.
•Speaking of which, why were the Franklinators not used in battle? Which is to say, why did they unexpectedly disappear?
•Declaration of Dependence
•Nibbler’s here again. I still want an explanation of how he got back in the universe, even if it’s in an alternate timeline.