Well, I guess they finally got around to dealing with the Fry and Leela question, didn't they. Only took them about a gazillion years.
I don't like being late, but I'm not very good at arriving anywhere on time. Maybe there are people who can do that, but I'm not sure I know any. Most of my friends and relatives are either chronically late or chronically early, as though the actual time of any scheduled event remains indeterminate until one of us actually arrives on the scene—Schrodinger's Calendar, or something along those lines. It's not surprising that Fry is late for most things, because that's in his nature; he's rarely cruel, but often negligent or short-sighted, or, in the case of tonight's episode, "The Late Philip J. Fry," just plain unlucky. That makes him easy to identify with, because no matter how hard you try, at some point in your life, you will be late for that one moment that could've changed everything. And maybe you won't even know it's gone.
…Er, yeah, I'm not completely happy with that paragraph either, but man did I dig this episode, and that doesn't always bring out my best writing. Right now, I'm sitting in my apartment, over-tired, buzzing, and if I had my way, I'd just invite the lot of you over to just, y'know, enthuse. Time travel! Killing Hitler with a laser! The End of the World! Time travel! Caverns! And so on. (At this point, some of you would already be eying the door, which I would've already locked shut from the outside somehow, because mwahaha.) I thought last week's ep was swell, but I couldn't quite shake the feeling that a large part of my enjoyment hinged on the final three minutes. It's not so much that the ending was similar to the final sequence of "Leela's Homeworld" (it was to a degree, but it was different enough that it worked for me; the show has a habit of using pieces of the past to reflect on the present, and the model is effective enough that it didn't feel cheap). It's just, maybe I over-rated the episode because of those final minutes. I don't regret doing so, because this isn't brain surgery, and because I really, really liked those minutes. But… I dunno. I am enthusiastic man. I can make mistakes.
"Late," though, rocked all the way through. The jokes were solid (my biggest criticism of the current season is that it hasn't brought the funny as consistently as I'd like, but I didn't think that was a problem here), the characterization was strong, the emotional beats were earned and affecting, and the high concept delivered. One of the reasons this show is a great as it is when it's really clicking is that it never skimps on the science fiction. Yeah, a time machine, we've been down this road before ("Roswell That Ends Well," for one, which even gets a hat tip here), but there's enough variation here to be original, and more importantly, it takes that extra step with the concept to make it more than just the cliche. In order to avoid paradoxes, Farnsworth invents a time machine that only travels forward. Something goes wrong when he tries to test it out (and I love how there's no explanation for him falling—it's Farnsworth, of course he's gonna fall), and the only way back is to keep going ahead. There aren't many series that could show you the heat death of the universe without blinking, of that short list, I think Futurama has the edge over According To Jim.
Plus, we get some good Fry and Leela face time. The writing on Leela hasn't been as solid this season (her tryst with Zap Brannigan was a misstep), but she seems more herself this time around. It's never out and out stated, but you get the impression that she and Fry are trying to figure out some kind of relationship. They just haven't settled on what that is yet. I like this level of connection, and if it means we can keep getting moments as sweet as Fry's video card, or Leela's slow-drip message, I don't mind staying at this level. It's easy to draw a line between this episode and "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings," and I can't really imagine this level of relationship fitting in with any of the episodes in the original run. So there is some kind of progression here. It may not be as clear as some fans would like, but it works.
The structure here is smart, unsurprisingly. There are jokes about paradoxes, and there's even an implication that the heroes end up in a universe that isn't the one they started in. (Although I'm not quite sure about that, which I'll explain in Stray Observations.) That it takes two go-throughs of time is just the kind of commitment to detail the show excels at, and the final shot, which blends a quiet, romantic moment with Bender burying the mangled corpses of the past version of our heroes (I wonder if that will come up again?) is just the right tone to end on. We got a lot of obvious shout-outs here, from Planet of the Apes to The Terminator to the future where it's all hot babes and oils and such, to, of course, the original Time Machine itself, but they're cleverly done. It feels like we're back in the sweet spot here, mixing high and low comedy with sharp ideas, and a surprisingly uncynical sincerity. Everything old is new again, I guess, and that's a very good thing.
- The possibility that the universe simply goes on repeating itself precisely (ish) isn't a new idea. I wonder if anyone on the show's writing staff has read Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question." (You totally should read it, by the way, although I've kind of spoiled the ending here.)
- I want more Hedonismbot, dammit. Although that nice house in the suburbs he's marrying is a total sublet.
- "No! I can throw up on a stripper anytime. Tonight, I wanna not throw up. On you."
- "Time? I can't go back there!"
- Best Planet Of The Apes joke I've seen in a while. And the "In The Year 2525" parody wasn't too shabby, either.
- "Has anyone seen Fry's ass? It's late for a date with my boot."
- "Everywhere I looked, there were piles of bodies. And then the explosion struck!"
- You heard it here first, folks—2012 is a lie. The world really ends in 1,000,000,000.
- Best excuse to drink ever: "Let's say the three of us grab a six pack and watch the universe end?"
- "That was the old Fry. He's dead now."