The second half of Futurama’s sixth season has been marked with a return to consistency. Even the weaker episodes were by no means unwatchable and had some great moments while the stronger ones held up well with the show’s original run on Fox. However, it’s been lacking in the type of lightning-in-a-bottle episodes that we saw even during the first half of the season, the type of series-defining episode you have to show to everyone you know because they’re just that good. That is to say it was lacking in one of those until now, because “Reincarnation” is not only one of the best episodes of Futurama, it’s one of the best episodes of television to air this year.
“Reincarnation”’s premise is simple but effective. For no particular reason, each third of the episode is a complete, self-contained Futurama story animated in a different style. And not only is the animation different, but the stories are written to fit each of their styles, such that each of them feels completely natural. So natural, in fact, that in every case I was left wishing to see a continuation of each of these shows, all of which were still Futurama and relied upon familiarity with the show to make much sense, but were also essentially their own thing.
The first of these approaches was old-fashioned animation, with a style indebted not only to the Fleischer brothers (its primary source) but also to Terrytunes, Walter Lantz’s animation and to a lesser extent early Warner Bros. Anyone familiar with the old cartoons will have spotted numerous references and in-jokes. This isn’t the first time the show’s done an old-fashioned cartoon homage, in fact “The Beast With A Billion Backs” begins with an extended-length parody of “Steamboat Willie,” but it’s never done anything this extensive. Neither, to my knowledge, has anyone else, and while its simple love story is the weakest of the three, the animation is beautiful and it perfectly captures the loose feeling of those early films.
For its second segment the show shifts to the style of early ‘80s video games. The story here revolves around Professor Farnsworth succeeding in his search to find the true, smallest particle in the universe and then about the fallout from that discovery. As with the other segments this one is littered with in-jokes, but what I found particularly great about it was the way it captured not just the style but also the type of insane story an early adventure game would have. The show did a video game-themed segment before, which also worked wonderfully, but I prefer this one because of the way it situates itself in time, limiting the jokes to a very specific group of games rather than the entirety of the medium.
The show ends with an anime parody that’s just as spot-on as the first two. Here it’s a typical Futurama alien invasion story, just with an anime twist, but that makes perfect sense given what’s being parodied. South Park did something similar in 2004 with its episode “Good Times with Weapons” but while funny, it never quite clicked for me despite a few really great jokes. Its style observations were just too easy and there was a sense that the show’s creators had watched a few anime shows but had only really scratched the surface. What we had here was a much more integrated parody that also (unlike the South Park one) looked spectacular.
Both of Futurama’s Anthology of Interest episodes were excellent and “Reincarnation” continued that tradition, offering non-stop gags and enough ideas to fill three whole episodes condensed into a single great one. There’s also a striking difference between this and “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular,” which was enjoyable but nothing particularly special. Here it’s obvious that care was lavished upon every frame and it shows, making the episode a love letter to both to animation history and to Futurama’s fans. A great way to end the season and a great way to make us all start anticipating season seven.
•”Next time you see a lowly salamander, don’t step on it, for it might be you.”
•Child Labor syndicate
•”Have you tried getting her pregnant?” “...so far I’ve only succeeded in getting Amy pregnant.”
•Professor Farnsworth doesn’t actually look that different as a 1920s cartoon.
•I’m happy about the return of diamondium. Whenever the show remembers it’s own past I’m always a little pleased. This can be harder for Futurama than other shows because its past is so long and weird.
•”Nothing in the world can fracture diamondium, not even God 1 and God 2 put together.”
•Nibbler as Swee’pea is great.
•The live-action/animation combination work with Fry on the moon looks just like Fleischer work. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Can’t help but wonder how expensive this episode was.
•”You’ve won those rounds, but I’ve got an ace up my hole.”
•”A man can sneak off to do two things.”
•The greyscale rainbow is such a nice touch.
•”Is my eye playing trick on me.”
•”Good news, multiplayers.”
•”That’s some cheap ass matter.”
•”Things only rhyme below ten to the -10 angstrom.”
•”It’s a mirror into Scruffy’s soul.”
•”I like physics, but I love cartoons.” – This would explain why him and Groening have had so many collaborations throughout the years.
•”I watch TV—it’s the next-best thing to being alive.”
•”Powered by dump trucks of flaming grant money.” – So, basically Cern.
•”Medical dance crab with lesson.”
•”Perhaps they speak perfect English, as do we.”
•”I am puzzled, for we don’t know what mouths are.”
•”I fear our only option is thrilling space battle.”
•”That device was a gift from my ancestors. Go on.”
•Soo… why wasn’t this episode called “Reanimation?”