I really love this show. I’m still thrilled that, after it was originally cancelled, we got the four movies, this season and some kind of season after this. But that doesn’t mean every episode is gold; every TV series trips once in a while. I got to preview the summer premiere episodes “Neutopia” and “Benderama,” and from what I saw, this week is going to feature some of the weaker episodes I’ve seen.
I wrote about this episode on the last CartoonClack after seeing a short clip involving the crew switching genders. I was excited to see how the men would deal with being women — especially since they seemed to enjoy the change in the clip.
The thing is, most of the episode wasn’t about them changing gender. About 80% of the episode focused on the men treating the women like stereotypical men. As a modern woman, I don’t really get offended by those kinds of jokes; I know the characters treating the women that way are idiots and aren’t supposed to be taken seriously. But we’ve already had an episode that makes fun of these stereotypes … “Amazon Women in the Mood,” which included the amazing performance of Bea Arthur as the Almighty Femputer (“That does not fempute!”). “Neutopia” felt like they just took the jokes that weren’t good enough for this 3rd season episode and smushed them into a plot. And the stereotypes for women felt very old hat — at one point the women are stranded in the desert, and what do they start hallucinating about? Shopping malls. And they were all having sales! You see? Because women be shopping? You know how they do that? And how people think that’s funny? … Yeah.
If you’re going to poke fun at gender, do something new. Rehashing the same jokes practically every sitcom has done at one time or another is cheap. There’s also a scene near the beginning of the episode where they literally force the women to pose for a sexy calendar. Yeah, I’m sure the fanboys will enjoy it, but it’s also really, really creepy because they’re forced to do it. At the end of the episode we get to see something similar happen to the guys-now-turned-into-girls … except they’re into it. Sure, some of that last montage is pretty cringeworthy and unsexy (Professor Farnsworth is not sexy at all), but I guess I think the writers missed the point by making it seem OK for women to be used like that at work as long as men are used that way, too … but only when they’re also women, apparently. Yes, I know it’s a cartoon. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be funny. But when it comes to controversial topics like sex and gender, Futurama usually makes some sort of statement in a very smart way. This episode didn’t feel smart … it felt lazy.
More than that, the actual gender bending part of the episode felt tacked on. Right before it happens, the story arc seems to end — the men and women come to a truce and realize they both need each other. But it’s like the writers realized they needed another 8 minutes for a full episode so BAM! … gender swap. Adding this on threw off the pacing of the episode, and even a comedy needs good pacing.
I’ll say it right now — this is the better of the two episodes. First, we got a Scary Door. If you’re hesitating on watching this episode, at least watch it for the Scary Door “episode.” The ever-changing opening title of the show within the show is always a treat.
The main idea of the episode is pretty simple: Bender decides to replicate himself to do work for him using the Professor’s latest invention, but every duplicate is only 2/3rds the size of the one being duplicated. Soon the lazy duplicate Benders start making duplicates of themselves, and so and so forth. This was a pretty funny episode, but this was also a flawed episode. Like “Neutopia,” the main storyline got resolved, but then a sidestory got started towards the end. This one tied back to the extra Benders and was pretty damn funny in itself, but it still felt like it was tacked on because the original story wasn’t long enough. The added plot could have been its own hilarious episode, but it was wasted as the 3rd act of this episode.
Patton Oswalt is great as an ugly giant Planet Express makes a delivery to in this episode, but that’s mostly because Patton Oswalt is great in almost everything he’s in. He was given a bit of a throwaway role, which is a shame.
Look, this doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Futurama. If you recall, the first half of the season started with a couple of the weaker episodes of the whole series. Later in the season we’ve gotten some fantastic episodes, some on the emotional side and some that are just silly. I have no doubt the last half of the season will have great episodes … just not these episodes.
And while I do think these episodes weren’t great, that doesn’t mean you should definitely ignore this week’s offerings. While the stories were weaker, there are some very funny jokes dispersed in the episodes, and I did laugh during some bits. I’m just hoping the rest of the season picks up quick.