TV Review: Futurama Series Finale (2013)

“Avenge us.”

Futurama

Comedy Central can bite my shiny metal ass for canceling Futurama.  What else is there to say?

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Sure, why not.

I’m sorry to start on such a bitter note, but, wow, this one was a bruiser.  Futurama has a very special place in my heart, and I KNOW that I share this sentiment with thousands of nerds everywhere.  Hi, guys…hope you’re all hangin’ in there.

See, when I was a kid, I grew up as a diehard fan of The Simpsons.  Long before I decided to study and work in communications and media, I knew I was hopelessly in love with pop culture, clever dialogue, creative storytelling, and comedy…especially if it was on a screen.  And, for me, The Simpsons embodied everything I loved about that kind of media.  My dad even took me to see Hank Azaria, one of the voice actors, perform in the Broadway production of Spamalot, and, on that windy winter’s night, Dad waited outside the backstage door with me, just so Hank could sign my print-out picture of Moe the bartender.  And even though I’m not the Simpsons fan I used to be (the recent seasons are lookin’ a little rough), it’s a night I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life.  Mostly because I have the greatest dad in the world.

Anyway, back to the point: as I grew older, I started hearing about The Simpsons having a little-brother-of-a-show that was cancelled just before my time (for those who don’t know, Futurama was cancelled once before in 2003 when it was originally broadcast on Fox).  So, I began seeking out the reruns and old seasons on DVD…and then, the direct-to-DVD Futurama movies were released.  And they were HILARIOUS.  Thus, like a phoenix, Futurama rose from the dead for a younger generation of Matt Groening fans to enjoy.  And thank goodness it did.

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THE SHOW’S PREMISE

There’s nothing more electrifying than celebrating New Year’s Eve in New York City.  But, for Philip J. Fry (Billy West) – a dopey, 20-something year-old pizza delivery boy – life still sucks, even at the turn of the century.  It’s 1999, and while the rest of the city parties the night away, Fry delivers a pizza to a vacant cryogenics lab.  As the clock strikes midnight, Fry accidentally traps himself in a cryonic tube and remains frozen for a thousand years.  He awakens in the year 3000 and opens his eyes to an entirely different city known as New New York – it’s the future, and, boy, what an imaginative future it is.

Civilians and commuters fly through tubes that soar above the skyscrapers and dive beneath the Hudson River.  Intergalactic travel is as easy as hopping a city bus out of town.  And the president of the United States is Richard Nixon’s cryogenically-perserved head.  Need I say more?

Fry first meets Leela (Katey Sagal), the lovely, butt-kicking one-eyed mutant, who connects him with his great-great-great…great-great nephew, the senile Professor Hubert Farnsworth.  Fry also befriends Bender (John DiMaggio), a crude, wise-cracking alcoholic of a robot (who is easily the fan favorite of the show).  Together, the human, the mutant, and the robot decide to work for Farnsworth’s intergalactic delivery company, Planet Express.  With Leela as captain, they form the crew of the now-iconic Planet Express Ship, and the show chronicles their encounters with a wide array of colorful characters during their hysterical missions.  Throughout the series, Fry also struggles with his unrequited love for Leela.

Futurama is a sci-fi comedy, a workplace comedy, and a romantic comedy all beautifully rolled into one…it’s also nothing like The Simpsons.

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WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW.  My analysis of the “second” series finale finally begins…so you’ve been warned, go watch the episode now if you want to see this for yourself.

…are you still reading this?  If so, then you’ve already seen the finale, or you don’t follow Futurama and only know the show from this:

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Hey, no shame at all.  We can’t all be nerds.

THE EPISODE

The seventh season finale of Futurama, entitled “Meanwhile,” begins with a scene that is familiar to any fan.  Fry, Leela, and Bender are spending the day at the amusement park on the Moon – the site of their first delivery as the Planet Express crew.  Fry and Leela are going steady, and Bender doesn’t seem to mind third-wheeling at all.  When they hop on a ride that spirals out of control (thanks to Bender, of course), Leela is seriously injured and, for a moment, Fry is terrified that she might not make it.  Bender – like the wonderful jackass he is – tells him to relax and “live in the moment, baby!”  God, I’m going to miss Bender.

Anyway, Leela survives, and Fry realizes that he could never live without her.  He tells Bender that he’s going to propose but wants everything to be just perfect.  Meanwhile, Professor Farnsworth shows off his latest invention: a time-traveling button that, when pressed, rewinds the entire universe by ten seconds.  Fry nabs the device and, through the manipulation of time, crafts the most beautiful and elaborate diamond engagement ring.  When he finally asks Leela to marry him, he tells her to meet him on top of the “Vampire” State Building at 6:30pm if her answer is “yes.”  We soon learn that Fry intends to celebrate their impending engagement by watching the sunset with her as many times as they like, with the help of Farnsworth’s button.

But, by 7:00pm, Leela is a no-show.  Distraught, Fry decides to kill himself and jumps off the top of the building.  Mid-fall, he notices a gussied-up Leela walking towards the building; he realizes his watch is half an hour fast, due to all of his time-traveling.  In an attempt to save himself, Fry presses Farnsworth’s button, but he’s sent back to just after he leapt off the building.  Since the button has a ten-second recharge period, Fry is trapped in an endless loop of falling from the skyscraper, as Leela watches on in horror.  Meanwhile, Professor Farnsworth catches wind of someone messing with the universe; Bender rats Fry out.  Inside Farnsworth’s “anti-time-travel chamber,” the Professor, Bender, Amy, Zoidberg, and Hermes plan to rescue Fry.  But, after a small series of explanations about ripping the space-time continuum, the Professor steps out of the safety chamber and suddenly vanishes when Leela grabs a hold of the time-traveling device.  The others emerge from the chamber to stop Leela and Fry from doing anymore damage…but, with one more click of the button, time wigs out and freezes the entire universe.

Leela saves Fry from falling to his death – but, around them, the whole world has stopped.  They are left completely alone, and, at first, they’re terrified because the button is broken.  But then, Leela tells Fry that she’d marry him “even if [he wasn’t] the last man on Earth.”  They spend the night together in the Bronx Zoo, and, in the morning, they “marry themselves” (with their frozen friends as witnesses).  After the ceremony, Fry is frightened by a sudden streak of blue light that flashes above them; Leela suggests they just embark on their “very long honeymoon” and worry about it later.

The episode then proceeds to a wordless, poignant sequence of scenes from Fry and Leela’s honeymoon.  We watch them walk through a wintry wonderland somewhere in the world – even the animation shifts from its usual, cartoony “Groening” style to a lovely image of Fry staring at a falling snowflake that is frozen in time.  We watch them cross oceans on foot…they walk all the way to Paris to kiss on top of the Eiffel Tower.  We also see Fry and Leela begin to age…decades are passing, and they are still alone in the universe.  Meanwhile, the blue streak of light continues to reappear sporadically.

Finally, as an elderly couple, Fry and Leela retire to the top of the Vampire State Building to fondly remember their engagement day.  Suddenly, Professor Farnsworth emerges from the blue glimmer, as it appears one last time.  We learn that he’s been floating in limbo throughout time and has been trying to contact Fry and Leela.  In a matter of seconds, Farnsworth repairs the button and tells the couple that, if pressed, the button will now take them all back in time to before the device’s invention…the catch is, they will have no memory of what transpired.

Fry gazes at Leela: “What do you say?  Wanna go ’round again?”

“I do.”

*Then, my roommate and I promptly exchanged glances and practically burst into tears.  Futurama, look what you did.

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THE GOOD

First of all, if you follow the series, then this is the episode you’ve been waiting for.  No, fans weren’t waiting for the show to end…fans were like, OH MY GOD just be together already!!!

Like I mentioned before, one of the show’s reoccurring plot lines involves Fry’s romantic feelings for Leela.  In the beginning, you were waiting for them to kiss.  And, when they did, it was really about damn time.  But, the writers were clever in maintaining the intrigue of their relationship – because we all know that once two star-crossed lovers in a sitcom FINALLY get together…they also get really boring:

Jimandpambaby

OH YOU TWO.

And, why do these cute ‘n’ happy TV couples get boring?  Because there’s no more conflict, and you end up watching episode after episode of two people who are just deliriously happy with each other…and yeah, it gets dull.

But, throughout Futurama, the conflict remained consistent because the writers wrote Fry and Leela’s romance as an on-again/off-again thing.  As Billy West, the voice actor behind Fry, once said in an interview: they were “window-shopping for each other.”  Sometimes they’d kiss, sometimes they’d date other people.  Occasionally they’d have a one-night stand, occasionally they’d refer to each other as boyfriend/girlfriend…sometimes you didn’t know what was going on with these two.  The point is, episode by episode, the nature of Fry and Leela’s relationship would change…well, at least on Leela’s end.

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There is never a moment in the series when you doubt that Fry is absolutely in love with her.  There’s also never a moment in the series when you doubt that Fry is an absolute IDIOT.  The character is dimwitted, lazy, and incredibly naive…the typical recipe for a Matt Groening protagonist.  So, you can understand why Leela would want to keep her distance.  Deep down, we all know she can do better.

Regardless, you can’t help but root for Fry, and, for that, kudos to the writers.  His undeniably sweet and genuine nature makes you say, “go get ‘er, pal.”  So what if his brain no work good.

I was personally won over in the fourth season, when Leela falls under a deep coma, and Fry stays by her side every minute…for WEEKS.

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Who cares if basic addition is a profound mystery to him…that’s real love!  Evenwas mad at Leela for friend-zoning him.

Anyway, I’ve made my point.  In my book, the series finale gets major points for tying up Fry and Leela’s story in a beautifully satisfying way.  The characters loved each other all along, and their love was strong enough to stop the world around them.  And, should the series rise from the grave once more, the episode’s ending leaves room for everything to start all over again.  Can’t get much better than that.

Well, now that we’ve established that Futurama is kinda dramatic for an animated sitcom (told you it’s not like The Simpsons), let’s talk about the LAUGHS.  Because, at the end of the day, Futurama is a comedy…and it’s actually really funny, I promise.

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It’s clear from the synopsis: the series finale is an emotionally charged episode that focuses heavily on Fry and Leela’s relationship.  It’s not written for laughs so much as it’s exploring character development.  And, for a lot of fans (myself included), episodes like these are more than welcome – for special occasions.  But really, most of the time…weddings, and suicides, and comas, and growing old together a lá Up are not typical subject matter for Futurama.  Mostly, it’s a quirky, zany, hilarious show.

And, while the comedy isn’t the focus for this episode, it’s definitely there.  I will say, we got one last GREAT scene of everyone treating Zoidberg like a scapegoat, while he sputters something to the effect of, “Hooray!  I have friends!” Also, I recently decided that these two are the same character:

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Stretch?  Well, I don’t think so.

And I won’t spoil my favorite joke of the night, but When Harry Met Sally fans will not be disappointed.  Now, when it comes to the rest of the comedy…it’s time to get a little nit-picky…

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

GIVE ME MORE BENDER.  That is my only big, negative note about this episode.  But hear me out.

Yes, it’s a Fry/Leela-focused episode, we all know this now.  But if you search “Futurama” in Google Images, this is what you will always see first:

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Fry, Bender, and Leela…the three of them, front and center.  Without a doubt, this trio MAKES the show.  They are the three main characters, they’re featured in every episode, and they’re almost always together…almost.

As for Bender himself, come on – he’s the breakout character!  He has the best lines, the best catchphrase, the best character flaws…he’s selfish, he’s insulting, he’s greedy, he’s horny, he’s drunk, and he’s wonderful.  On a personal level, Bender is probably my favorite cartoon character of all time.  Case and point.

Also, he’s a ROBOT.  It’s everything you could want in an extremely funny, original, anti-heroic character.

So then, why was he in so little of the series finale?  Yes, we had two or three good moments with him in the beginning of the episode (“My little meatbag’s growin’ up…”), but, honestly, it ended there.  One of the most important characters in the show didn’t even get a last, memorable line at the end of the episode.  I couldn’t help but ask myself: why couldn’t they have had the entire Planet Express crew reappear with Farnsworth in the blue streak of light?  Much less, why couldn’t Bender have disappeared along with the Professor, and then make one last appearance before the show ends?  For me, it was such an unsatisfying goodbye to the series’ most beloved character.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Nevertheless, there’s a ton of good stuff here you just can’t ignore.  The dialogue between Fry and Leela is beautiful – as always, the writing is good.  There’s adventure, there’s science fiction, there’s romance and sentimentality…maybe a little less comedy than I would’ve liked…but there’s a lot of heart.  In almost every episode of Futurama I’ve ever seen, there’s always so much creativity and effort put into the plot, the characters, the script – it almost floors me.  That’s why I’m so upset that a show like this is down-and-out yet again.  Especially when Comedy Central continues to air new episodes of thoughtless junk like Tosh.0.  Not funny.

But, I have hope that a series this good can’t stay down for long…and, if the end of the series finale is any indication, the creative team behind Futurama shares my view too.  With any luck, the Planet Express Ship will fly again.  Til then, farewell Futurama – see you in the future.

4.5/5

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One thought on “TV Review: Futurama Series Finale (2013)

  1. Pingback: Reading Digest: Meh Edition | Dead Homer Society

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