Futurama Review: "Neutopia" and "Benderama" (6.14/6.15)

TV Reviews Futurama
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<em>Futurama</em> Review: "Neutopia" and "Benderama" (6.14/6.15)

Now that we’re back for either the second half of Futurama’s sixth season or, according to its DVDs, the beginning of its sixth season, it seems like a good time to take accounting of the show’s rebirth. Well, its second rebirth, after the four straight-to-DVD movies that took the place of its fifth series. However you want to look at it, though, season six was its most inconsistent season so far. There were a few instant classics such as “”The Late Philip Jay Fry, “”That Darn Katz” and "The Prisoner of Benda," but there were also far more fine-but-forgettable episodes than usual, not to mention the single worst episode in the show’s history, "Attack of the Killer Apps"; (which I probably gave too high a rating in my original write-up).

Then again, it makes sense for Futurama to fluctuate more than other shows; it’s simply that its earlier seasons, particularly three and four, really spoiled us. The closest thing Futurama has to a formula is its cast delivering a package on an insane planet and having something unimaginable happen to them that we’ve never seen before, which for obvious reasons tends to lead to widely varying episodes. Depending on how much a premise interests you, it’s easy to find yourself far preferring an alien invasion than time travel less because of quality than because of taste.

Case in point for how different the show can be, both of tonight’s premiere episodes started in the same place: Planet Express is out of money and needs to do something about it. In "Neutopia" this led to the crew trying two different schemes to raise funds before the company’s imminent collapse, first a nudie calendar (with no nudity… so maybe they shouldn’t have called it that?) and then turning into a commercial airline. When the ship crashes into a planet, like a good episode of The Simpsons, "Neutopia" completely ignores its first act and turns into a strange competition for survival between the two sexes.

Here’s where the episode gets truly good and truly weird. Making fun of gender stereotypes with incredible economy, it allows Futurama to retread some thematic material from "Amazon Women in the Mood" while doing something else entirely new. Also around are a pair of rock aliens, whose indifference to their function as plot devices make them memorable and wonderful characters. The episode’s flip back to its beginning is great writing, and overall it was another superb episode. It’ll be remembered as "the one where everyone’s genders switch," but really it’s a lot more than just that.

"Benderama" also begins with a joke about the company’s funds being low, thus they’re cutting back on free food. Then, the professor comes in and all of that business of budget problems from last episode and the first seconds of this one are quickly forgotten so as to never be discussed again (until the next time they need the company to have a budget crisis) and instead the episode focuses on Professor Farnsworth’s newest invention, which creates two 60 percent smaller copies of whatever’s put into it. Why 60 percent, it’s impossible to know, but as usual with this sort of thing the device itself is soon copied when Bender puts it inside himself, thus making for infinite smaller benders until they’re literally at an atomic level pushing together chemicals so as to turn the world’s water supply into alcohol.

The entire episode is half an exploration of the gray goo apocalyptic scenario, in which nanobots take over the entire world by self-replicating, half an exploration of Bender’s laziness. As with the previous episode, this means that while it’s intent on going through a good old-fashioned science fiction premise, it’s still character-based. Its jokes don’t hit their marks quite as much as in the first episode, but of the two it’s more ambitious.

Both of these are what other shows would call gimmick episodes, but with Futurama pretty much everything is a one-off and taking on these strange premises is really what the show’s about. It’s a much stronger start for the second half of the season, and the descriptions for the next few episodes seem similarly interesting, with fewer played out pop culture references and more "what if" concepts that take the show somewhere new. If these two are any indicator, there’s a good summer of episodes to look forward to.

Stray observations:
• "Remember Fry’s idea to offer free deliveries?"
• "That’s actually a really good idea for a woman."
• "Who ever heard of a plane with a woman president?"
• "If you are travelling with a small child, help them to not kill you before not killing your own parents."
• "In your face, decumbent urinators."
• "Never bet against me being stupid." – Fry in a nutshell.
• "Perhaps it is I who has learned a lesson … or something." Futurama is always at its best when making fun of the flimsiness of science-fiction plot devices.
• "I got your distress call and came as quickly as I wanted to."
• "Did you know there are more than two feelings?"
• "Thank god most of our fans are huge perverts." – Maybe too self-referential, but I liked it.
• "My friend, the other rock alien."
• "Aah, marriage. It combines the contentedness of being neutered with the occasional sex of being not."
• Amy on the professor’s newest invention: "I like how it’s not killing us so far."
• Great scary door intro, but it wasn’t quite as fast-paced as previous ones. It was more of an actual Twilight Zone episode than rapid-fire parody of them.
• "Robot, experience this tragic irony for me."
• Why is one pair of benders gold?
• Turns out that yes, there are tiny hooker bots
• "Well… that was dumb."