At its core, Futurama, like a lot of science fiction, is about saying “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” and then exploring the consequences. The difference is that Futurama is willing to talk about the craziest possible circumstances, whereas someone like Philip K. Dick treats things a great deal more seriously. While they don’t do much as far as character relationships go, a lot of my favorite Futurama episodes occur when they go to a planet of liquid people or what would happen if you had a robot as a buddy (OK, a lot of the episodes explore that idea).
The great thing about “The Late Philip J. Fry” is that it manages to both do the wacky sci-fi angle and also really develop the show. Since the end of the last “season,” we’ve all been waiting to hear more about Fry and Leela, who’re nominally together but have gone for half a season without ever actually doing anything as a couple. The episode picks up with Leela’s birthday, where Fry is late to lunch. To make it up to her, Fry asks Leela to dinner, skipping out on a party (orgy?) being hosted by hedonism bot.
Despite his best efforts to actually arrive somewhere on time, Fry is waylaid by the professor testing his newest invention: a time machine. Longtime Futurama fans may know that, despite the show’s previous sojourns into the past, time travel is something it’s long been against, and with good reason. When you can go back in time, you can break all sorts of continuity rules, and so each time they’ve taken a trip there have been rules preventing future trips. The first time this happened it was accidental and thus uncontrollable. When time travel returned in the first movie, it was one-way, thereby preventing too much abuse. With “Late,” we’re given the opposite: a time machine that can only go into the future (which, when you think about it, is just a logical extension of the cryogenics that kicked off the show in the first place).
So here the episode splits in two. In the more prominent half, the Professor, Fry and Bender are stuck far in the future after the Professor accidentally send them to 10,000 A.D. rather than one minute in the future. The Professor decides they’ll just keep skipping through the future until they wind up at a society that has invented time machines that can go backwards. This never happens, but when it becomes clear that this is impossible the gang goes to the end of time to see what happens and they find out that time is in fact cyclical, or at least a derivation wherein the same things happen when the big bang kicks off again—you can discuss amongst yourselves whether or not that’s the same thing.
Meanwhile, back on earth we see that Leela takes over Planet Express and turns it into a big success, but she remains lonely. Yes, that includes marrying Cubert, which I assume would in fact make a person lonelier than being single. A card that Fry was recording and slipped out of the time machine goes back and reminds her of him, but this doesn’t have many real consequences besides proving that she loved him. Eventually Fry and co. jump through time back to where they were originally and Fry and Leela have their romantic night together after all.
So there’s some sweet stuff in there, but the highlight of the episode is just the craziness of the future. That’s the highlight of the show in general, but here we get to see the writers’ imaginations really run wild. Highlights include a future ruled by giraffes, a giant shrimp who uses mer-hicks as bait and perhaps the best song the show’s ever written. Hell, they even shoot Hitler with a laser rifle.
The episode was also very reminiscent of my favorite sci-fi author Douglas Adams in a lot of ways. The logic that, in the future, they’ve surely invented whatever it is we lack is a standby of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as is the concept of sitting around drinking while the end of the universe happens for your pleasure. It felt like very light homage, and it’s hard not to believe that Adams would be happy with where the show took things.
“Late” was definitely the best episode of the season so far, and ranks with the best the show’s ever done. Nearly every episode of this season has been better than the last, and it looks like it’s finally reached the peaks it’s hit in the past. As of now, I think any doubt about the Futurama’s reboot should be pretty damn well silenced.
- I really love Bender’s jug band. it’s also a nice callback to his previous time playing a washboard alongside Beck only, what, 6 or so years ago.
- Happy to see they reused the show’s previous birthday song, too.
“I can throw up on a stripper anytime. But tonight, I want to not throw up. On you.”
- This episode is pretty well filled with callbacks, now that we’re mentioning those things. It’s the most fan service we’ve had since the first of the movies.
“The three co-workers I liked are all dead!”
“I could eat … and fertilize.”
“I’ve got a feeling this is exactly the point in time we’re looking for… Nope.”
“What say the three of us grab a six pack and watch the universe end.” – I feel the same way some evenings.
- I’ll say it again here, Killing Hitler with a laser rifle is awesome. It makes no sense at all, in any way shape or form even for a sci-fi show with an alligator pope, but who cares. I think I speak for all of us when I say it’s living the dream.