This episode is fun.
That’s the essence of what makes this episode work. We could go into a several paragraph diatribe about the individual components of how to make a trilogy episode work, but it all comes down to how fun the thing is. This episode is non-canon; it doesn’t have to get picky about continuity or recurring themes. It doesn’t have to worry about reaching too far and breaking future episodes. All it has to do is be fun.
So, horrible internet memes finished, let’s get this reviewing started!
Part One – “Colorama”
Futurama just loves to juxtapose the old-timey with the futuristic. They can’t help it. When you have a show like Futurama, these kinds of jokes are just begging to be made. These anachronisms are already a Futurama staple, so such a segment like “Colorama” was inevitable.
The visuals themselves are almost breathtaking sometimes in how spot-on they are. They perfectly capture the bouncy, whimsical style of the early twentieth century animation, with the rounded character re-designs being particularly charming. Moreover, the pacing of the animation felt just right for its genre; the episode would regularly take time outs to have the characters leisurely stroll along to the old-timey music. Fry’s joyful romp across the diamondium asteroid was especially a sight to behold.
In general, it’s a very likeable segment because it is essentially a celebration of animation’s roots. There is nothing particularly mean-spirited or caustic in the satire. It harkens back to a day where cartoons were light and whimsical, where an announcement speaker could morph into a mouth or the moon could conceivably be whistling a sweet melody. In some ways it runs against everything Matt Groening built his cartoon empire on. It’s not realistic or cynical in any way. In fact, it’s the anti-subversive.
This segment also had the luxury of being able to simplify the Fry/Leela dynamic (often a contentious topic lately) into its most simple form. Fry thinks Leela is a beautiful gal, and wants to find something beautiful so he can propose. There’s no angst, no will-they-won’t-they, no romantic complications. The relationship is crystallized into its purest form, which works perfectly in the genre they’re recreating. The proposal is actually a little cathartic for the series, given how much hell Leela puts Fry through each season. It’s almost like a vacation away from their complex feelings toward each other.
(Of course, in the early twentieth century, all of those complex emotions and feelings weren’t even invented yet. So putting them on the big screen was out of the question.)
Congratulations, Futurama. You have created a trilogy segment that not only matches the quality of the previous “Anthology of Interest” episodes but, in many ways, has easily surpassed them. Bravo.
Part Two – “Future Challenge 3000”
In many respects, the second segment feels like the odd man out. The first and third segments are both based on a style of the same medium as Futurama (animation), whereas this segment is based on a different one (video games). The first and third segments are chock full of action, whereas this segment is mostly standing and talking. And, unfortunately, this segment seems to fall more flat than the other two segments.
Granted, the low-key nature of the story is somewhat welcome between the two flashy and high-energy bookends. But there is a limit to how low-key a storyline should go. The initial discovery of the smallest unit of matter (a pixel) is a clever one and fits well with the visual theme, but the idea fizzles out into a theoretical discussion about knowledge seeking. The solution to this conundrum is so ridiculously simple (“Why?“) that one wonders why the writers chose to hang the central conflict on something that could fall apart just by looking at it funny. This segment’s storyline ultimately boils down to, “Professor knows all, depression flows through his soul, Fry asks new question.”
When your entire plot can accurately be summarized in a haiku, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Despite the less-than-serviceable plot, the visuals were very nicely done, perfectly capturing that 1980s Commodore 64-esque look. In addition, the tinny sound effects were pitch-perfect (or something like that), recalling the squawky days of internal PC speakers. Some of the best overall effects in this segment included the background scenery shift, the faux-3D wire frames, and the sadness meter. Unlike the other two segments, “Future Challenge 3000” seemed a little more specific in its reference pool (i.e. doing direct Dig-Dug jokes and the like), though.
This is probably a necessary evil, given the genre. Futurama is not a video game, so you can’t write an animated segment about the genre without getting at least a little referential. Otherwise, it would just look like a seven minute game of Pac-Man. They could have written another story related to video games, but that territory had already been tread in the second Anthology of Interest episode. The only new way they could really tackle it would be to adapt a standard story into the video game style, and then throw in as many references as possible. This is what happens when you’re forced to cross into another medium.
In fact, this segment kind of makes you want them to do a faux-retro video game now, just so they can complete the parody.
Part Three – “Action Delivery Force”
(Before going into discussing this segment, it’s worth noting that this author knows next to nothing about Japanese animation. I am familiar with many of the conventions and stylistic choices, but have never gotten into the genre.)
And yet, the “Action Delivery Force” parody works, even for a anime troglodyte like me. It is written broadly enough that even the layman can understand what they are going for, so he/she can quickly realize, “This must be an anime convention that happens often.” You don’t have know that the Cubert appearance with the seal was a reference to “Speed Racer” to appreciate the moment. It’s funny because it 1) comes out of frickin’ nowhere, 2) dazzles us with animation, and 3) quickly disappears. Later on, you don’t have to have to be an anime scholar to realize, “Hey, they’re just showing a montage of one Zoidberg dance move” yet still find the story/visuals disconnect hilarious.
I personally have no idea if that happens frequently in anime. I’m guessing it does because of its inclusion. But it doesn’t matter to me. It’s still funny because of the logic behind the joke.
What really makes this parody work is that Futurama, in an odd way, is already kind of written like a dubbed anime. The show certainly loves dazzling the viewers with flashy visuals each and every week and the crew often goes on larger-than-life adventures, both fairly common anime standards. In addition, the writers have certainly demonstrated a penchant for awkward dialogue jokes. Remember “I‘m literally angry with rage!” from the Star Trek episode? Or “That’s the opposite of what I want!” from Lethal Inspection? They sprinkle this kind of dialogue in all the time. So hearing Fry tell the Professor bluntly, “You and I are enemies now” already kinda fits the mood of the show.
“Action Delivery Force” is almost a perfect marriage of the ridiculous wackiness that is Futurama with the ridiculous wackiness that is anime. It’s a match made in heaven.
Part Four – “Them Final Concludin’ Thoughts”
Overall, “Reincarnation” does exactly what it sets out to do. It deftly satirizes three distinct genres, adds serviceable stories for them, and cranks the fun levels to eleven. One could argue that this episode basically amounts to Style Over Substance, and perhaps there is merit to such an argument. Still, it is important for a television show, especially in its fifth or sixth season, to allow itself to be frivolous and silly. To say, “Wouldn’t this be a fun idea?” and then actually do it.
So maybe this episode isn’t the crème brulee of Futurama episodes. It doesn’t complex characterizations, motivations, and emotional factor that other great episodes have. It’s missing all those layers. But so what? No one wants to have crème brulee all the time. Occasionally, you just want to go to your pantry and just grab a Twinkie.
It may be simple, but man, does that hit the spot.
Part Five – “Just Go Home Already”
This being the end of the season, I am contractually obligated to write a final paragraph giving a final thought on it. And by “it” and “the season”, we mean the second half of Season 6.
(As if the Futurama season numbering wasn’t confusing enough.)
Overall, overall, overall, the second half of Season 6 has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, delivering hits and misses in regular fashion. The writers still managed to give the viewers something new, and expand the backstories of its regulars (“The Tip of the Zoidberg”, “The Silence of the Clamps”, “Cold Warriors”). There have been a few moments where the series has felt a little long in the tooth, but that’s going to be inevitable upon reaching the 5th/6th/7th season. And luckily for the show, it had finished its sixth season run with two generally great episodes in “Overclockwise” and “Reincarnation.”
Raise your glasses and water bottles, readers. Here’s to another year.
[Futurama will return next June! In the meantime, you can catch Jims reviewing the third season of Community later this month. So long from the world of tomorrow! -Ryan]