Miles Klee: Becky! I was half-watching Fellini’s Satyricon last evening, and there’s this mini-rant from a Roman poet about how Nero’s empire doesn’t produce art or theory, or anything to stimulate the national synapses. Where have all the philosophers gone? Pretty sure they’re writing for Futurama, our animated authority on matters of bioethics, transhumanism and quantum fates. And as luck would have it, my DVR was recording the Futurama reboot at that very moment.
Becky Ferreira: Miles! Are you suggesting that historical periods that under-represent philosophically have just fallen victim to (TRADEMARK KLEE BUZZWORD COMMENCING) chrono-displacement? I am completely on board with the notion that philosophical ideas from all ages have fallen into their various metaphorical cryogenic refrigerators to re-emerge on Futurama. The writers are amazing at asking, both of reality and nonreality, the question (to quote Fry in last night’s “Rebirth”), “Why is those things?” Most prominent among them for me last night was the ever-resilient Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? theme (sort of), featuring Robot Leela’s existential crisis. My heart rate up about 3000% at seeing two Leelas fight.
Miles: It’s tragic that I’ll never have an opportunity to use the phrase “and then she went all Blade Runner,” but that’s not going to stop me from killing conversations with it. Indeed the Philip K. Dickian overtones of “Rebirth” were heart-turning if you stopped to think about them-for starters, there’s the proposition that anything assembled from your DNA, your memories and a heap of stem cells (“Aren’t those controversial?”) is you. You are nothing but data. Your entire personality can be extrapolated from your behavior in the bathroom. The original characters are all dead, their continuity of sentience an illusion. It would be chilling if there weren’t a dancing robot involved.
Becky: Dancing robot = essential! Bender is a great mirror for the human/mutant/crustacean/otherwise carbon-based characters because despite being a collection of scrap metal and circuit boxes programmed to do one menial job, he is generally the most unpredictable one in the bunch (though Farnsworth may have won that title last night, especially when he invoked the Chamber of Understanding. I WANT ONE OF THOSE!). The other main characters are less erratic: Fry wants Leela, Leela wants respect, Zoidberg desperately wants any kind of social or emotional acknowledgment… am I making some kind of point about how the humans are more robotic than the robots? I might be. Anyway, it’s something the writers play with a lot, and chucking a Robot Leela and Robot Fry into the mix was like putting the idea in boldface. Though Robot Leela was identical to carbon-based Leela, there was still something so uncomfortable about her making out with Fry, because we humans aren’t so simple to reproduce, right? However, it was totally hot when Leela and Robot Fry made out to the point of lovesplosion.
Miles: Only the saddest and scoliosisest of nerds would be aroused by a cartoon depiction of androids tongue-kissing, but that brings us to the show’s maybe greatest strength, something it appears they haven’t lost: the emotional core. Does anybody else do bittersweet like Futurama does? You and I have argued a bit over which of the Fry-left-some-loose-ends episodes jerk the most tears (I still say “Jurassic Bark” is twice as devastating as “Luck of the Fryish”); lately, though, I’ve been thinking about Fry’s unlikely friendship/cohabitation with Bender, which entails the occasional discomfort or outright disaster. Yet they constantly enable each other and pursue self-destructive urges, Bender’s rapidly shifting agenda a perfect complement to Fry’s mid-20s apathy. We all know that people and machines are going to start blending into each other-a “Prop 8” episode later this season will tackle the issue of robot-human marriages-what’s funnier is the notion that one day soon, only machines will harbor such a thing as intent.
Becky: Whoa whoa whoa. Before I deal with the rehash of our bittersweet debate, I demand an apology for calling me and my ilk the saddest and scoliosisest of nerds. Way harsh, Klee. Are you really asking me to defend myself for being emotionally involved with Fry and Leela? WITH FRY AND LEELA? Are you really telling me I shouldn’t be moved while watching one of the rare occasions when Leela’s love for Fry is plainly stated instead of hinted at? Seriously, if your heart wasn’t overflowing with vicarious lovesplosions during that scene, then I’ve got news for you: you are already a robot. Cut your arm open, see the wires and scream for a full day just like Robot Leela. Meanwhile, I could die happy knowing that such outsized expression of her devotion to him pulled the ol’ heartstrings, the same way Bender could die happy having tricked Fry to perform mouth-to-ass resuscitation. I’m really packing a lot of episode references in here! Is anyone other than me proud?
Miles: Just bursting with pride.
Becky: Anyway I’m going to finally concede that “Jurassic Bark” is more soul-crushing than “Luck of the Fryish.” I watched them back-to-back recently (yeah, I had some Kleenex handy) and I think the big difference is understanding the loss. Fry gets to realize how his loss affected his brother and the bittersweetness is kind of just a poignant mix of his regrets and reciprocated fraternal love. Seymour just thinks he’s been abandoned. He lives a life of total loyalty and dies not only unfulfilled but unaware that Fry cares about him. It’s like… why not just punch a newborn otter right in the face? You’ll get more or less the same sense of guilt and despair.
Miles: Plus there’s that “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” sound cue to buoy our spirits in “Fryish.”
Becky: Yeah, the ol’ Simple Minds salve does wonders. It’s true that Fry and Bender are sort of the B-story love plot of the show-their relationship is as complex as Fry and Leela’s, if not more. Last time we talked about the Seymour/Yancey episodes, you brought up the idea that fate had somehow screwed up Fry’s existence by placing him in the year 2000, where he was miserable, rather than in the year 3000, where he has a robot friend and a cyclops crush and is generally thrilled and involved in life-so fate messily corrected its error with the (BUZZWORD COMMENCEMENT PART 2) chrono-displacement. Bender is the first character Fry meets after being unfrozen, right? They have immediate chemistry basically because they’re both total misanthropes. Maybe that’s what all our future robot friends will be like-just people we can be around so we don’t have to be around people. Does that make me sound deep? I hope so. I need to sound deep because I’m not sure I made a point there.
Becky: Also, P.S. Did you think the cyclops-eating alien in “Rebirth” was identical to the Terry Gilliam monster that eats a bunch of knights at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail?
Miles: I wouldn’t put the Python reference past them, seeing as last night’s second-helping episode, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela,” was mainly devoted to certain classic or dated tropes (a suicide attack on a “Death Sphere,” civilization unable to serve its own best interests, the Flash Gordon-like “Transcredible Exploits of Zapp Brannigan” framing). This wasn’t even the first time Leela has been in the Twilight Zone-ish position of Eve next to a repulsive Adam, but the biblical spin was a nice counterfactual for the being-born-from-a-vat MacGuffin of “Rebirth,” and it was fantastic to see the Genesis scenario turned on its lady-baiting head with the reveal that it’s artifice fashioned by a dude desperate to get laid. Meanwhile, the V-GINY satellite, an unholy amalgam of military intervention and cultural censorship, was obliterating indecent planets, cutting to the quick of the U.S. situation: wanton violence and sexual repression are two corners to the same Rubik’s cube.
Miles: All told, my thirst for satire and math jokes was sated. But not my thirst for Zoidberg one-liners.
Becky: Agreed. It was a perfect episode pairing. “Rebirth” provided both the philosophical headiness and the plot twists of great episodes like “Roswell that Ends Well” while “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela” was a weaker but still great pastiche of styles and references and jokes and a healthy dose of Zapp Brannigan. We’re back… to the Futurama!