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Futurama: "The Futurama Holiday Spectacular"

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Oh hey, Futurama's back on? Wow, I guess the new season is starting—oh, it's not a new season. A holiday special, you say? Interesting, there are a decent number of Thanksgiving specials, but the market isn't as over-saturated as Christmas—oh. Ohhhh, I see.

"The Futurama Holiday Spectacular" (Brought to you by Gunderson's Nuts!) may be the first official Christmas special of the holiday season (eh, probably not). Although since this is Futurama and there's a robot Santa with an itchy bazooka trigger finger, it's Xmas, and since this is an anthology episode, it's not just an Xmas special. We also get segments devoted to Hanukkah (aka, "Robonica") and Kwanzaa, featuring a special guest appearance by everybody's favorite Kwanzaa-Bot voice provider, Coolio. Oh, and Al Gore pops up in all three sections, possibly because the theme which unites the show, apart from the seasonal cheer, is the loss of precious natural resources. Nothing quite brings out the Yuletide spirit like inescapable loss and the gruesome deaths of characters we care about.

Unlike the show's more regular anthology episodes, the Tales Of Interest series, "Spectacular" didn't provide a framing story to give context to the madness. This is probably part of the joke; when the entire Earth is destroyed at the end of the Xmas story, before we've had our first act break, it's something of a shock—and if I'd known from the start this was a three-parter, I wouldn't have been quite so surprised. (That said, I watched a screener of this, and I didn't see any ads on TV, so maybe the Anthology angle was common knowledge?) On the downside, it also meant the first story section felt inordinately rushed. Futurama has never been one for glacial plotting, but so much happened in the first five minutes here that character decisions were based on necessity rather than logic. Fry feels blue around Xmas? Okay, that's been established, and while it's getting a little old, no reason not to break out the chestnut one more time. So Robot Santa shows up, kills Scruffy, and tells them they need a pine tree, and we have our hook.

It wasn't bad, really, and there were some great lines (quoted below), but I was relieved when I realized this was more a sketch than a full episode. Even better, once the second segment got into its hunt for petroleum oil—because there's only enough for the robo-skanks to wrestle for four and a half weeks, and Robonica demands a full six and a half weeks of skank-wrestling—it was obvious that the weirdly random plotting of the Xmas story actually had deeper thematic intent. Nothing incredibly deep, but "Spectacular" had a standard structure for each segment: A holiday is mentioned, someone sings a song explaining the holiday, our heroes realize they lack a key ingredient to make their celebration a success, a key ingredient whose destruction is connected to some kind of environmental crusade in our time. (I'm not sure if pine trees are specifically dying out, but trees in general; petroleum oil isn't going to last forever; and, thanks to Mark Wahlberg, we already know the bees are screwed.) Our heroes try and hunt down what they need and die horribly in the process.

"Spectacular" wasn't the funniest the show has ever been, but it did have some great laughs, and the expected share of blink-and-you'll-miss-it geek gags. (I liked the gingerbread house that blew up like one of the houses in the atomic bomb test footage.) Like the Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, Futurama takes great glee in using its occasional "imaginary story" eps to kill of its leads. It's not a bad antidote to the smarmy togetherness of so much of the holiday entertainment we're all about to wolf down, and since each segment was short, none really wore out their welcome. This level of nihilism wouldn't work in the regular series, because the series needs a little heart to hold everything together; if we're discouraged from caring about the characters, the only thing to keep us watching is the jokes and not all of the jokes land. But it was fun to get a little extra bit of the show to tide us over till the new season. Plus, the sight of the main cast trapped in wax and slowly burning alive is about as memorably dark as the series has ever been, and that should help me get through hearing "Christmas Shoes" on the radio one more time, I think.

Stray Observations:

  • "Time Travellers: Only 331 Shopping Days Till Last Xmas."
  • "Something about Xmas just doesn't feel like Christmas." "Santa's coming! Initiate defenses!"
  • "Pine trees aren't barking snakes. They won't just turn up in a salad at Olive Garden."
  • I wonder if we'll see more of the head of Dick Cheney in the future.
  • "Earth is just the way it was before the white man came!"
  • "Not in the hair, please. I just had it did." I'm not certain, but I think Futurama just had it's first ejaculation based joke. Kudos!
  • "Can you make change for a Nobel Prize?"
  • "I don't wrestle dry, Bender. I went to Vassar."
  • Pretty sure the middle section was the best, because more Bender = goodness.
  • "Setting Bachman Turners to overdrive!"
  • "I thought they were selfish, but in the end, it turns out it was I who thought they were selfish."
  • "Oh no! This could be the year without Kwanzaa! Like every year before 1966!"
  • "Hooray, it's Kwanzaa-Bot! Aw, they killed him."