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Futurama: “Stench and Stenchibility”

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Dating’s hard. It’s especially hard for Zoidberg, who’s an alien, disgusting, and a disgusting alien. The last we heard about his love life, there was egg fertilization and mass deaths, so it’s impressive to see him in “Stench And Stenchability” diving right back into the game. Less impressive is the show’s decision to give the lobster-like doctor a horrible, horrible odor. It’s not like he hasn’t smelled bad in the past, but for most of the run of the show, Zoidberg’s biggest liability is that he presents a comprehensive package of disgusting traits: He lives in a dumpster, he eats anything, and he has a face that looks like Cthulhu with a sense of humor. To narrow everything down to a toxic odor that’s suddenly so intense it’s practically a super-power is stretching things a bit too far, especially when its done primarily to justify a relationship that is basically a classic male geek fantasy. It doesn’t matter if you’re ugly and you stink: Somewhere out there is an incredibly beautiful cartoon woman who doesn’t have a sense of smell, and will, once you save her from a mugging, appreciate you for who you are, even if she never really has much of a personality.

That’s a little harsh, especially considering the episode’s overall geniality, but something about this whole set up is a little too sweet for my tastes, and not quite funny enough to justify itself. Guest star Emilia Clarke (Khaleesi from Game Of Thrones, yes that’s not her actual name, no I don’t care) voices Marianne, a sweet flower-seller who falls for Zoidberg’s questionable charms. She’s fine, although all the role really calls on her to do is have a charming voice. Which is, again, fine, and Zoidberg’s willingness to sacrifice his brief glimpse of happiness isn’t a terrible plot. When he realizes there’s an operation he can perform that will give Marianne her smell back, his friends tell him not to mention it to her (because I guess in the future nobody does research about anything?), for fear that if she did get a new nose, Zoidberg’s funk would end their affair forever. But Zoidberg’s probably the most selfless member of the Planet Express crew, and after a series of curiously scent-themed dates, he decides it’s his job to do what’s right.

That’s sweet, and the episode gets a bit more interesting in Marianne and Zoidberg’s final scenes together, when she isn’t bothered by his smell in the slightest, decides she hates flowers, and takes up a job as a garbage-woman. At least there’s some hint of a personality, something that makes her a little more interesting than just “pretty girl with the well-known pretty actress’s voice.” It’s nice to see Zoidberg finally get some permanent happiness, especially given how close the show is to the end, and the final shot of the two of them riding off together in a dump truck (with the self-aware pun already acknowledged) is lovely. But it’s lazy to have that happiness come from someone so vague, with the writers simply relying on some stunt casting and a nice design to get the point across. The story only works at all because the ending is so good-natured; up until then, it’s boilerplate, and only occasionally amusing.

The subplot, which hinged on Bender’s boundless ambition and willingness to do nearly everything to achieve that ambition, was more interesting. Any time Bender gets suddenly obsessed with some new goal, the results are usually pretty good, and the sheer depths of his drive to win a meaningless tap-dancing prize were fun to watch. That his greatest competition for the prize, a little girl named Tonya with a heart condition, turned out to be as villainous as him wasn’t a huge twist, but as with Zoidberg and Marianne, the story benefits from a subversion of expectations. Tonya wins the prize, but dies of a heart attack; Bender decides to tap dance on her body, and his pounding manages to bring the little girl back to life. Realizing that they’re both crazy evil, they decide to team up, which is its own kind of twisted heart-warming conclusion. Maybe “Stench And Stenchability” would’ve benefited by switching the A and B plots, so that Bender’s tap-dancing got more focus (although in retrospect, it seemed like they both got about the same screentime). As is, it’s an okay episode with a shaky start that works largely because the end is near; and it’d be nice to see the final credits roll knowing that all these characters will go out with a smile.

Stray observations:

  • While it’s great that the show addresses sex so directly, I’m not sure I want to think what “mating” with a human is like for Zoidberg. She seems to survive the experience without any serious injuries, at least. Maybe they just held hands for a while?
  • “Something’s come up. It’s vomit.”
  • “Ooo, I like the way you hit.”
  • “After weeks of searching, I’m happy to introduce you to the five people willing to participate.”
  • I assume Tonya breaking Bender’s leg was a Tonya Harding gag, which has to earn some kind of award for inverse topicality.
  • Nit-pick: Marianne claims the reason she doesn’t mind Zoidbeg’s funk is that “I never learned a good smell from a bad smell.” So why is she so grossed out by flowers? (Maybe that’s another choice on her part, actually; when she woke up, she could smell the flowers and Zoidberg, and realizing they were diametrically opposed, decided to mark the one she really cared about as “good.” That’s not bad, really. I just wish there’d been more of a sense of who she was, and why she’d make such a decision; as is, “Zoidberg’s a nice guy” doesn’t quite cut it.)