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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Futurama: “Cold Warriors”

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Well, that was odd.

Admittedly, "odd" is not an unusual look for Futurama, but "Cold Warriors" is odd in a way I wasn't expecting. The structure—the present day storyline broken up with flashbacks to Fry's childhood—is very similar to the structure of some of the series' best episodes, and had me expecting the same high quality level that "Luck of the Fryish" and "Jurassic Bark" managed. ("Luck of the Fryish" is even explicitly referenced in one flashback, in a solid bit of inter-episode continuity.) But while "Warriors" mimicked those episodes' trajectory, in particular following "Fryish's" arc of showing a seemingly bitter family relationship that actually turns out to be based on deep affection, it didn't immediately click in my head the way the earlier episodes did. I think it was good, and I suspect it may have been very good, but at the same time, while I responded to the sweetness of the final scene between Fry and his dad, I wondered if it was too overtly calculated to manipulate my emotions. I wonder that even now. I've talked at great length about how the best Futurama episodes mix biting humor with heart, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to accept any heart they give us, especially if it so obviously follows an old Simpsons' trick: 20 minutes of mean plus two minutes of kindness, and everyone goes home weepy.


The story was a good one: While taking his friends ice fishing (which he and his dad used to do back in 1988), Fry catches a cold. In our time, that wouldn't be an issue, but in year 3000 (and change), the common cold has been out of circulation for half a millennium. So everybody freaks out when Fry starts sneezing, and Planet Express is put under quarantine. All the non-robots in the building soon catch the bug, and Bender, frustrated by their incessant demands for attention and Zoidberg's horrifying snot, escapes to the city, where he promptly infects the rest of the populace. President Nixon panics, brings in Wernstrom and Zap Brannigan, and they decide the only option left is to pull the infected area of the city into space and hurl it into the sun. Farnsworth says he can make a vaccine, but he needs a sample of the virus in its original form—and Fry, since he doesn't want to be ground into paste to provide the sample, remembers something from his childhood that just might save the day.

There are a few minor problems here even before we get to the end. For one, aren't Kiff and Amy still dating? Amy's trapped in the city with everyone else, and Kiff seemed awfully indifferent to the idea of throwing the love of his life into a fiery inferno. Then there's Farnsworth's eagerness to slice and dice Fry. While I can accept the professor is a bit crazy and capable of violence, I'm not buying that the rest of the ensemble would allow him to murder poor Fry. Leela makes a token objection, but Fry insists that they let him die because this is sort of his fault (although for once, it isn't, since how the hell did he know nobody got colds anymore?). And that, apparently, is enough. Fry manages to remember a certain science fair project at the last second, but there's no indication that anyone would've tried to save him if he hadn't; while I believe these people can be jerks, I don't think they'd be that jerky. (Although Farnsworth's disappointed disgust when he can't use his slice-and-dice machine is great.) Beyond that, well, the Barack Obama joke was lame.

As for the good stuff, the focused premise did a good job in focusing the humor in the present day scenes, and it's always entertaining to watch people act like panicky idiots. The flashbacks were as solid as they've always been, and the twist (like "Fryish," there's a twist in the last act—"Bark" had a twist too, but that one came at the very end), which reveals that the day will be saved by the work of Fry's hated rival, Josh Gedgie, does a decent job of playing off our expectations by maintaining story logic instead of pulling a reversal. But it all builds toward an ending that just seems a little off. Leela's comment to Fry about him saving the day, and about how she's sure his father was proud of him, felt like a forced attempt to bring us to a point where the final flashback would connect with the rest of the narrative. The scene where Fry's dad tells his son that he's hard on him because he knows he'll have a tough life works fine on its own, although Fry's dad seems to take an inordinate amount of pleasure in mocking his son elsewhere in the episode. It's just, "Fryish" built smoothly to its powerful conclusion, relying on our assumptions about Fry's brother in order to surprise us with what we already knew: that siblings can be combative but still basically love each other. "Warriors" goes for the same effect, but whether it's diminishing returns or some clumsy writing, it doesn't feel as thoroughly successful. Still, it's an ambitious, consistently entertaining episode that may well grow on me in re-watching; for right now, I can't quite escape the the feeling I've heard this song before.

Stray observations:

  • I'm grading a little higher than the review might indicate, because I'm giving this one the benefit of the doubt for now.
  • I've been ice fishing before. It's cold and tedious. (Mostly because my dad wouldn't give me a beer when I was a kid.)
  • "My teen region is freezing off!"
  • "Don't worry, son, you'll freeze before you drown."
  • "If you're sober, it isn't ice-fishing."
  • "It could kill millions or nobody."
  • "Anything is possible in science."
  • "See you in the obituaries!"
  • Another great montage this week—Fry preparing his guinea pig for space.
  • Buzz Aldrin! "But seriously, there are moon men."

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