NOTE: It appears Comedy Central assigned the wrong images to the wrong episodes. For full enjoyment of this week's review, please mentally swap the above image with the image from last week while listening to Dark Side of the Moon.
So here's something I never thought we'd see: a heartfelt Zoidberg episode. Futurama has done Zoidberg-centric stories before. "Why Must I Be A Crustacean In Love?" and "That's Lobstertainment!" come to mind, although I'm sure there are others. But I can't remember one that actually worked this hard to make us care about the big pink idiot. Tonight's episode, "The Tip of the Zoidberg" had some great gags, and it also managed to get a fair bit of sentiment into the tale of Farnsworth and Zoidberg's first meeting, the yeti that helped cement their friendship in the midst of crisis, and the murder pact that helps to somewhat justify Farnsworth's willingness to keep the most incompetent doctor in the world on staff. I tend to enjoy the show more when it has a bit of heart in it, and there's enough death, violence, and gory slapstick on display to keep this from becoming a sapfest. There's even a montage of attempted murders. It's good stuff.
I'd never really wondered how Zoidberg came to work for Planet Express. We know how Fry, Bender, and Leela came to work there, but we've never seen how Amy and Farnsworth met, and I don't think the Hermes-centric episode dealt with how he got the job at PE; it's easy enough to except relationships as they're first presented to us, unless they're incredibly ridiculous, and given that just about everything on Futurama is incredibly ridiculous, the presence of a large sentient lobster-like alien on the show never raised any red flags. (This is also why it's a little strange that Bob Gale felt the need to explain how Marty and Doc Brown met in Back to the Future. I get that someone asked him about it, and his answer makes perfect sense, but one of the charms of the movie is the way it treats a high schooler hanging out with a mad scientist like it was the most natural thing in the world. Honestly, when I was a teenager, I would've killed for that kind of connection.) But there's a lot of fun in doing a "how the team got together" episode after a show has been around for a few seasons. When they're done well, as I think "Tip" was, it can shed new light on characters and create history that can be used down the line for other jokes or story ideas. Plus, it's fun to see everyone made up to look younger.
In 2927, Farnsworth was still working for Mom, and he and Zoidberg teamed up with a platoon of commandos to track down the elusive and deadly Tirtonian yeti. In between flashbacks to the past detailing their mission, we see Zoidberg acting as his usual incompetent self in the present, mangling Fry's hand, then cutting Leela in two before maiming Hermes and Scruffy, turning Amy into a zombie and making Bender, somehow, incontinent. This infuriates everyone, and they demand Farnsworth fire the incompetent "M"D immediately. Farnsworth refuses, but won't explain why (although he hints at some dark conspiracy that he insists is in no way interesting). Meanwhile in the past, Farnsworth and Zoidberg's platoon gets a bad case of hypermalaria, leaving the two to track down the yeti on their own. In the fight that follows, Farnsworth saves Zoidberg's life (and maybe we get an explanation for how Zoidberg can be a fine doctor in the past but a terrible one in the present: The yeti bites down really, really hard on the poor guy's head; shell or not, that has to hurt), and makes Zoidberg promise that, should Farnsworth ever come down with symptoms of hypermalaria, Zoidberg will kill him. And, back in the present, guess who's sweating, acting crazy, and falling into comas?
Look, there's stuff here that probably won't work for everyone. I like it when the show has some heart (or kidney), and the idea of Zoidberg and Farnsworth, of all people, sharing a bond really clicked for me. So maybe that made it easier to overlook the episode's weaker moments. Thinking back now, I can't really come up with any serious rough spots; I suppose it's convenient that Farnsworth gets hit with a bad case of yeti-ism (which we never hear about until Zoidberg reveals the truth) when everyone finally reaches their breaking point with Zoidberg. And while I understand there's no way Farnsworth was actually going to die from his disease, it's a little sloppy that the solution to his made-up illness was another made-up illness which happened to have the exact same symptoms as the first one. Ideally, the solution to Farnsworth's woes should've had something to do with hypermalaria, and maybe the ending was lazier than it really needed to be.
But, again, the good stuff was good enough that I didn't mind. There's nothing soft-hearted or wrong about appreciating it when Futurama gets some soul. If we can care about the characters, the jokes work better, and the spaces without jokes have a purpose. Tonight was a good example of the show getting in some emotion while still being more than willing to slice and dice its heroes. Not many shows can claim the same.
- The attempted murder montage was brilliant.
- Fry's transition through animated/felt comic characters was funny enough—Simpsons, Garfield, Muppet, Smurf—although it really needed one final iteration to pay off. Maybe if he'd gone Charlie Brown?
- "Shoot anyone who doesn't obey hard enough!"
- "You just had to stop cutting my spine when I shouted, 'Stop cutting my spine!'"
- Zoidberg's first name is John. Mom's name is Carol. (Actually, maybe we've heard that last one before.) Also, I can't decide if the Zoidberg/Mom scene was trying to imply some sort of romantic relationship between the two. If it was… [shudder]