Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Futurama: "Attack of the Killer App"

Illustration for article titled Futurama: "Attack of the Killer App"
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I don't really like Apple computers. I don't mean the company. I mean the actual computers. I think this makes me some kind of tool, but I'm not really sure; all I know is every time I got stuck using a Mac at the computer lab in college, programs wouldn't load, I'd end up trashing documents without saving them, and the mouse always sucked. (It had one freaking button. Who even does that?) For years, the "Microsoft is the EVIL EMPIRE" meme made me feel very scared and alone. I mean, it's not just that I'd much rather be John Hodgman than Justin Long—I can't even fathom someone who would choose otherwise. I'd listen to my friends mock Windows' vulnerability to viruses, and I'd hold my PC close to me and pretend I'd show them all. Real love doesn't need elegant design or cool logos or hipness. Really. It doesn't. Shut up. Stop looking at me.

I'm always leery when a show like Futurama tries pop culture satire. Some series can pull this off. At its best, South Park can be astonishingly timely and yet somehow not feel instantly dated. (At its worst, it's like having your grandparents tell you why this country is going to hell. Your incredibly filthy grandparents. The ones with the scat-munching jokes. Or is this another I'm-alone-on-this deal?) One of the appeals of Futurama is that it has no problems working current concerns into its futuristic setting. Sometimes that can fall flat, though, and for parts of "Attack of the Killer App," I wasn't really feeling it. The iPhone/Twitter jokes (eyePhone/Twitcher) were suspiciously lazy, the sort of mid-level punning you'd expect from a Dreamworks animated kid movie. Ha-ha, the lines are long for the new technology, aren't they? Ha-ha, it really is delightfully banal the things some folks like to post online.

Still, the viciousness was nice. It warmed my cold PC-loving heart a little (even knowing that probably everyone who works on the show has been using a Powerbook since birth, regardless of the temporal anomalies this might cause), and I've also been infatuated enough with the other gizmos Apple produces to be in on the joke. I've had an iPhone for a couple years now, and an iPod for longer, and even as broke and tech-ignorant as I generally am, I get really excited when I hear Steve Jobs is about to unveil a new way he intends to separate me from my money. I'm on Twitter constantly, and I've had follower wars with friendly antagonists. (Well, all right, just the one, but I won the crap out of it.) So I could relate to the silliness. I'm just not sure pointing out that, hey, sometimes tweets are stupid is really all that good a gag. The timing and voice acting is good enough that I laughed, but really, if the sharpest commentary on online culture you can make is, "People like stupid stuff," maybe there are other topics more worthy of your time.

What worked here? There's the usual great dialog, which I'll save for Stray Observations. Mom's plot to turn the populace into product-buying machines was fine, and the fact that there was no concentrated effort to defeat her was very much in keeping with the show's commitment to undercutting expected resolutions. (Showing the phone zombies shuffling behind Fry and Leela's tender moment was a predictable but excellent touch.) The plotting was stronger than "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela," although not quite as surprising or fun. Fry and Leela's storyline had a definite Homer/Marge feel: Fry does something unbelievably stupid, and makes up for it by doing something unbelievably stupid. The real difference is that Leela resolves the problem on her own—the resolution is a little too easy, but it works okay.

What worked best, though, were the random bits. Like Infosquito, or the two-headed-goat, or the quick Flexo cameo, or the time on the Third World (In The Anderes System). Leela's Susan boil was incredibly mean-spirited, but so out of left field and bizarre that it worked. It's quite clever, too, given that the media obsession with the real Susan Boyle wasn't that she was talented, but that she could sing at all. The pieces are all there to get me to keep watching, but I'm missing the really great hooks the show used to come up with. Did we really need Mom behind yet another evil plot? There's no extra layer here. Leela's sudden, random infamy might've made a better focus, honestly. I'm not sure if the boil gag could've held up that long, but at least it would've been braver than simply repeating a bunch of existing consumer complaints with the serial numbers filed off. Maybe I'm expecting too much. This was funny, generally, and I'm glad the series hasn't lost its teeth. It's just, I miss the writers' habit of biting off just a little more than they could chew.

Stray Observations:

  • Leela's "I unsubscribed yesterday" was nice. Jokes have been done on the subject before, but it never stops being hilarious just how upset we can get when we lose one of our semi-imaginary electronic friends.
  • Wikipedia To The Rescue: Bender references August 6, 1991, the date the World Wide Web went live.
  • "These old Doomsday devices are dangerously unstable. I'll rest easier not knowing where they are."
  • "Is there an app for kissing my shiny metal ass?" "Several!" "Oooo."
  • "They cut off one of my dimensions!"
  • "Not swimming in barf might ease my conscience."
  • "And now to create an unstoppable army of between one million and two million zombies!"