Fry, Bender, Homer, Leela (Fox)

Dennis Perkins: Crossovers are inherently unnecessary. Even if they’re not the result of corporate mandate or desperate ratings grab, the best that can be said of a crossover is that it provides two fanbases with a chance to play “spot the reference” and argue about which franchise was given more to do. The shows of the moderately anticipated Simpsons/Futurama crossover “Simpsorama” at least—like the Bart gremlin monsters that provide the impetus for said crossover—share some common DNA.

Unlike the Simpsons’ crossover earlier this season with the Show That Will Not Be Named, the sensibilities of these two shows aren’t so different and, in addition to the common Matt Groening ancestry, the episode is credited to J. Stewart Burns, a veteran of both. And while Futurama is naturally home to more outrageous sci-fi narratives, The Simpsons has ever edged into more and more improbably crazy territory over the years, thanks to the ever-elastic nature of its Springfield. It’s a cozy match, with Bender sent back in time, Terminator-style, to kill Homer—believed to be the cause of a swarm of very Groening-esque rabbit monsters that are destroying future New New York—and then immediately forgetting why he’s there and palling around with his intended target at the bowling alley. But, even when Professor Frink’s fiddling reboots Bender into “kill Homer” mode and the rest of the two casts meet up, everything remains that unobtrusively cozy. For two of the best and boldest animated series in TV history to combine to produce something so simply pleasant has to be counted as a failure.

Homer and Bender do make a natural couple, their sloth and irresponsibility combining into one hard-drinking, power-napping, fire-belching (only on Bender’s are on fire) comedy duo whose personalities mesh perfectly. Dan Castellaneta and John DiMaggio work well together, Homer and Bender’s similar indifference to the big picture giving each the opportunity to be himself while complementing the other. Just as, after the initial shock, Homer doesn’t overthink the ramifications of having a killer robot from the future as his new drinking buddy, Bender, once everyone but Maggie has been swept into that future, doesn’t let the probable global catastrophe caused by his failure keep him from taking his new best baby buddy to the track. There are times when familiarity isn’t a vice, and watching the Homer and Bender show is the best part of the episode for me—even though that lazy chemistry is sort of the problem with the whole enterprise. At least the Family Guy (fine, I named it) crossover gave me plenty of nice, energetic anger to think (and write) about—“Simpsorama”’s benign niceness just evaporated like a losing racehorse hit by Bender’s death ray while I was watching it. As the world’s foremost Futurama expert, Zack, did the big crossover underwhelm you, too?

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Zack Handlen: It made me sad. Which isn’t to say this was soul-destroying; the premise was moderately clever, all the voice actors came back, the casts of the various shows stayed consistently in character throughout. Given the creative state of both The Simpsons and Futurama in its final season, this was about on par. Not particularly inspired, but never grossly offensive, with just enough laughs to keep you from feeling like the whole thing was a total waste of time.

Yet it’s painful to see two shows which, at the height of their powers, were capable of astonishing creativity, humor, and emotional depth, reduced to such a Scooby Doo Meets The Harlem Globetrotters exercise. There’s no reason for this episode to exist, at least not in terms of storytelling. Seeing the Simpsons family interact with Bender, Fry, Leela, Professor Farnsworth, and the rest has a certain automatic thrill to it, like any half-assed Internet mash-up (that thing I like is in the same place as that other thing I like! THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING), but that thrill never deepens or enriches our understanding of these disparate groups. Pairing up Bender with Homer is about as lazy a match as you can get, and when the episode tries to get something like actual feelings from their interactions, it’s embarrassing. Yes, it was sweet to see Homer sharing one last beer with a sleep-mode Bender, but it’s knee-jerk sweetness, like the reflexive “aw” you get when you watch a well made Hallmark commercial. It says nothing, means nothing, and leaves you with nothing, manipulating the audience with a sort of genial half-assedness that’s hard to love or despise.

There were some good gags. The evolution of the rabbit plague into an army of XenoBarts felt appropriately chaotic and violent for Futurama, and Homer’s casual “Why you little” head tearing was darkly amusing. Seeing Lisa teamed up with Farnsworth and Professor Frink scratched some weird nerd itch I didn’t even know I had, and the explanation for how the Planet Express crew ended up back in time was the mix of smart and intentionally lazy that typified some of that show’s best gags. As far as The Simpsons goes, well, the family was present, Homer made a reference to wanting to kill Flanders, and Bart was a little shit. So that all made sense.

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But making sense doesn’t make something necessary. There were plenty of nods to classic Futurama to satisfy hardcore fans, and watching Nibbler devour one of the XenoBarts while Farnsworth was talking in the foreground made for a cute, unobtrusive bit. I was less pleased seeing Lisa use a holophonor to herd the creatures into Madison Cube Garden; it made a sort of sense, given Lisa’s love of the saxophone, but it still seemed like pandering.

The worst, though, was the brief glimpse of Fry’s dog Seymour waiting outside a Springfield storefront. In addition to making no goddamn sense (Seymour is in New York), this is a sloppy, cheap attempt to exploit one of Futurama’s most emotionally affecting episodes. There’s absolutely no reason for it; it’s dumb writing, it adds nothing to the story, it’s not funny, and, at best, only serves to make the audience think about a time when they actually cared about these characters, instead of just being mildly satisfied to remember they exist. Bad enough to watch something you used to love fall into decline; worse still to see it cannibalize its better self.

What about you, Dennis? Was there anything here that didn’t make you regret watching it? (Apart from that being your job, of course.)

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Dennis: Oh, that damned Seymour “joke,” I guess you’d call it—it wasn’t the wet slap that was Mr. Bergstrom’s abortive cameo on The Simpsons last year, but it was, as you say, the laziest sort of pandering. It can’t actually cheapen the power of “Jurassic Bark” (soon to be reviewed by Zack) because it doesn’t do anything but exist. It’s the sort of “reference equals joke” pitfall that riddles crossovers like this, deployed to, in theory, head off the most obvious criticism, but which just serve to make Zack very, very tired and sad. Kicking things off with the legend “A Show Out Of Ideas Teams Up With A Show Out Of Episodes,” as Zack point out, just calls attention to how perfunctory the show feels. (The same with Bart and Lisa pointing out the tenuous design similarities between Homer and Bender, and Zoidberg spotlighting the desultory nature of the lines given to most of the characters.) Then there are the references to the holophonor, Hypnotoad, “El Barto” graffiti, the Canyonero (now a hybrid, getting 11 mpg), Blinky (in the future, he can fly), and Bart’s Butterfingers, each appearance eliciting nothing more than a numb, “Oh, there’s that thing.” Honestly, I don’t know who is actually amused by these sorts of references and not, as your ever-diligent reviewers, just totting them up for a head count.

Also, unlike a really great Futurama episode, “Simpsorama” doesn’t bother to craft an interesting, convoluted reason why Springfield and New New York seem to be the same place. Or why the humans of the past are yellow. Or how the fact that, in a non-”Treehouse Of Horror” capacity, at least Frink and the barflies now know that there are robots, time travel, and Zoidbergs in the world. Or anything else for that matter. Futurama’s sci-fi milieu has been fertile ground for its writers to twist reality into some very interesting temporal and dimensional pretzels, but here both shows are just plunked on top of each other for some easy, if reasonably comfy, laughs. (They didn’t even bother to “flashy-thing” all the Spingfielders, Men In Black-style at the end.)

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As to your question, I drifted along more or less contentedly through the episode once I gave up hope that it was going to be anything challenging. There are some funny lines from characters (especially Farnsworth) that resonate with their best. The Professor’s way of omitting the background of an insult like his response to Homer’s offer of help, “Yes, you and Fry can bumble around together while the rest of us give up and make peace with our various deities” is classic Farnsworth absentminded callousness. Like, you, I found the Farnsworth/Frink/Lisa super science team-up amusing (if brief)—as a Lisa enthusiast, the fact that Farnsworth recognized ”the annoying girl”’s potential value gave me what I needed. And I’ve never gotten sick of Hank Azaria’s Frink schtick, so his extended digression on people who make extraneous noises was suitably…bloingy. And while the ending got to me a bit more than it did you, Zack, the idea of Bender camping out in the Simpsons’ basement for the next 1000 years (like in the Burns-scripted “Roswell That Ends Well”) just means that his inert body will pop up in the background every once in a while—like the head of Xtapolapocetl—and be just as funny.

Zack’s rating: B-

Dennis’ rating: B-

Episode rating (shockingly): B-

Stray observations:

  • Bender has no use for the Three Laws Of Robotics: “You think robots care what some hack science fiction writer thinks? I killed Isaac Asimov on the way over here. Well, Isaac somebody.”
  • “A Show Out Of Ideas Teams Up With A Show Out Of Episodes.” I’m not sure lamp-shading mediocrity really fixes anything, but that did make me snicker. (ZH)
  • “Remember when this country didn’t suck, ‘cause I don’t.” -Bart
  • Homer’s beer stockpile is “Duff Basement.”
  • In the future, there’s ”Duff Holo-beer” which promises “all of the rage, none of the calories.”
  • Moe calling Bender “Blade Rummy” is a solid burn.
  • “What happens to Homer Simpson in the future?” “I don’t know—you die?” “Oh my God, he’s telling the truth!”
  • “Sure! That’s why I came to your time. For all you know.”
  • “Ah, motherly love—why did we outlaw that?”
  • “Nice knowin’ ya meatbags. Have fun turnin’ to dust!”
  • Kang and Kodos’ last name is…Johnson? And they’re both female? Let’s stick that in the “questionably canon” file for now. Along with the deaths of newscaster Linda and poor Scruffy. (His headless body is seen sweeping up, but still.) (DP)
  • And don’t get me started on the statue claiming that Ralph Wiggum dies in 2017. (DP)
  • All right, I’m positive those were science jokes written inside Bender’s head. Anybody get them? (ZH) ”I only got the one about pooping.”—(DP)

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