Good news, everyone! Futurama bounced back in a big way last night, crafting an episode full of incisive social commentary, big laughs, and great character moments. Best of all, it showcased Bender and the Professor at their unhinged, irrepressible best.
After last week's underwhelming episode, "Proposition Infinity" was a welcome return to form. This might be right around the upper limit of what new Futurama can achieve, and if that's the case, then I'm more with OK with that. If nothing else, it's set a pretty impressive new benchmark for the 2010 series, and things bode well that "Attack of the Killer App" was just a regrettable blip.
"Proposition Infinity" follows the unlikely yet oh-so-hot romance between Bender and Amy. Despite a millennium of social progress, the world still considers love between a robot and a human taboo, and they draw the ire of the Professor (among others) when their love is revealed. Bender and Amy end up fighting to legalize robosexual marriage, and their decision to put Proposition Infinity on the ballot reveals a dark secret from the Professor's past.
Part of the reason the episode worked so well was that it centered its conflict on the show's two funniest characters, Bender and Professor Farnsworth. (Zoidberg is also up there, but previous attempts suggest he can't quite carry an episode and is better left in the background.) Although the two characters seem too out there to work in a larger social commentary, this actually worked in the episode's favor. Recalling the incredibly (and intentionally) muddled anti-television message of "Bender Should Not Be Allowed On TV", Bender was far too corrupt and self-absorbed to be an effective mouthpiece for even a worthy cause, and that helped keep the episode from becoming didactic in its approach.
Even so, there really isn't mistaking the show's point of view, and there's definitely no mistaking what the episode was really about. The ad opposing Proposition Infinity was an absolutely brutal (and completely deserved) evisceration of an infamous commercial opposing same-sex marriage. One line in particular had the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and was all the more hilarious for it: "If robosexual marriage becomes legal, imagine the horrible things that will happen to our children. Then imagine we said those things, because we couldn't think of any. As a mother, those things worry me."
The episode also revealed the two biggest opponents of robosexuality - the Professor and Preacherbot - as closeted robosexuals themselves. The robot preacher fared particularly poorly here, but he was probably at his worst when bellowing, "The only lies worth believing are the ones in the Bible!" What the episode's satire lacked in subtlety - and yeah, it was pretty lacking in that category - it made up for tenfold in its unsparing viciousness. Also, the sight of Preacherbot getting turned on by a bunch of robots rolling around with human dolls is simply flat-out funny, regardless of political perspective.
Indeed, a big part of the success of this episode was just how funny it was. Bender and the Professor spent the entire episode trading brilliant, absurd one-liners, and I'm still not sure who I would declare the winner. Bender's shamelessness and malice somehow made this line to Amy even more hilarious: "You know that floor safe where you keep ten grand? There's five grand in there! DON'T. MAKE. ME. WAIT." In fact, senseless brutality seemed to be a major theme of the episode (and the whole series, honestly), and the Professor and Leela's exchange with the cattle prod made me laugh more than any other moment this season. Although I did love the Professor's dodderingly senile memory: "I thought our love would last forever. But then, forty-three years later..."
Actually, great lines were well-distributed around pretty much everyone in the episode, with the possible exception of a mostly sidelined Fry. (He still hasn't really gotten a decent showcase this season, actually.) Leela didn't get much to do either, but Katey Sagal absolutely nailed her one classic line: "So, Amy, how can I put this delicately...why did Kif drop you like a sack of yesterday's turds?" Zoidberg's line about only one consenting adult and Hermes's belief that we're talking about legalizing lots of things were also fantastic, and a reminder of the strength of the show's core ensemble.
But honestly, the best part of this episode was maybe just the sheer, insane scope of its ideas. After some pretty tepid shout-outs to the iPhone, Twitter, and Susan Boyle last week (OK, I'll stop criticizing last week's episode starting...now), this week featured a digital clock tower that angrily bellows the time, thunderstorm martinis, pickled winds and weathers, an emotional wine bucket, the dread disease Circusitis (it affects children of all ages!), and a ghost married to a horse. (Seriously, a ghost married to a horse.) Oh, and Larry the Murder Burglar, who deserves a return engagement if only to hear his wonderfully disturbing name again. This is the sort of gleefully weird material that reveals Futurama's deep love for the goofier side of science fiction, and I always love seeing what they come up with next.
Now, lest you think I've completely abandoned my critical faculties, I should point out the episode isn't perfect. The resolution of the episode, with Bender dumping Amy for a couple robot floozies and Kif winning Amy back, is probably a necessary reset - I don't think Amy and Bender's relationship would work on the show long-term, though it could have lasted a few more episodes just fine - but it still feels like a cop-out. It doesn't help that they have to get back to the status quo in about twenty seconds, so what happens feels more like the outline of an ending than a proper conclusion.
In fact, breaking up Amy and Kif in the first place, though obviously necessary for the episode, felt more than a little contrived, particularly since it seemed to come out of nowhere. That shouldn't necessarily be true; after all, Amy and Zapp Brannigan slept together in The Beast with a Billion Backs, which definitely strained her relationship with Kif. But the episode steadfastly avoids invoking prior continuity - indeed, the one time they bother explaining a possible continuity problem, Bender mock-snores out of boredom - so their conflict feels manufactured and unsatisfactory. It's a minor thing, I suppose, but it isn't great psychologically when the beginning and the end of an episode are its two weakest parts.
Still, "Proposition Infinity" is a triumph for the new Futurama, and just the sort of episode that leaves me convinced that the show's revival was completely worthwhile. I leave you with my favorite Bender line of the night, which isn't really relevant to anything in particular but does seem rather profound. To wit: "The truth is often stupid." And with that, I blow some cigar smoke in your face, meatbag. Futurama is back.