Yesterday's Futurama gleefully smashed together parodies of such modern sci-fi classics as Minority Report, Avatar, Tron...and, uh, Police Academy. It also turned Erwin Schroedinger into a supervillain and gave us the most ridiculous police chief ever. Now this is Futurama.
I'll admit, the beginning of "Law and Oracle", which sort of pointlessly retreads Fry's delivery boy origins, didn't inspire me with hope. The sequence is meant as a quick way to establish why Fry is bored with his job and wants to find a profession with sweet perks and constant promotions - which the police force of the 31st century has in spades - but it doesn't really work as sudden motivation for an arbitrary plot development. (I'd point to the beginning of "War is the H Word", in which Fry and Bender join the army in order to get a 5% military discount, as a much funnier way of getting characters to switch jobs.)
Anyway, because being a cop is apparently ludicrously easy in the future, Fry quickly gets through the academy and is partnered up with URL, one of the show's two recurring cop characters. Fry and URL prove to be a surprisingly effective team, and their walking tough guy cliche of a police chief (who is, incidentally, a woman) promotes them to the Future Crimes division. All is going well until Fry discovers Bender is planning a major heist that seems fated to end with someone dying.
"Law and Oracle" is probably my favorite episode of this new batch of Futurama episodes, and that's mostly just because I happened to find it very, very funny. It helps that the show hadn't really delved into cop tropes before outside of Smitty and URL cameos, so the material here feels fresher than some of what we saw in the last few weeks' episodes.
Outside of all the sci-fi stuff, one thing Futurama does really well is take a well-worn trope and ratchet it up at least three levels past the point of complete absurdity. The police chief is a good example of this, as she's introduced with a gloriously graphic monologue about female body parts and then grows steadily more over-the-top until it's revealed that "the big load" she had to drop was actually a baby. I'm not sure what any of this is referencing, and that's kind of the point - the whole thing feels gleefully strange for its own sake, and I found the sheer shamelessness of the character pretty hilarious.
Then there's URL. I'm kind of amazed it's taken twelve years for URL to finally get a major role in the episode. It's a laudable bit of restraint on the show's part, because he's clearly Futurama's coolest character. Between the constant one-liners, awesomely deep voice, freaky sex life - hell, even his street clothes are pretty sharp - URL proves a very fun character to hang around with, and he's arguably a far better robotic friend for Fry than Bender ever was.
I guess we should run through the various movie parodies. The Police Academy riffs were pretty good - I liked Fry pointing out that sound effects aren't as impressive when a robot subs in for Michael Winslow - but I'm glad the episode quickly dispensed with them. The Tron stuff felt pretty familiar - for better or worse (definitely worse), Family Guy kind of cornered the lightbike parody turf a decade ago - but any sequence that ends with an extended riff on Schroedinger's Cat is fine by me.
I was probably most leery about the Avatar parody, if only because the show was so weirdly on-the-nose about it. Hell, they even called the planet Pandora instead of even vaguely disguising it (they could have gone for a nice double reference by calling it Pandorica, but c'est la vie), but it actually worked all right as a sort of general mockery of the 3D craze. It wasn't a great sequence, but the final caption "Put on 3D glasses one minute ago" sold me.
But most of the episode was taken up with an extended Minority Report pastiche. While the episode could have probably done a more specific parody of the movie, I loved the resolution, which neatly tied together the Maltese Liquor's ability to kill human brain cells with the special abilities of the prophetic robot. It was a nice bit of plotting in a season often marred by lackadaisical storytelling, and it even raised some interesting questions about what it would actually be like to have precognition.
"Law and Oracle" is not a masterpiece, and I'll admit that I'm a bit hard-pressed to explain why I liked it as much as I did, as might be apparent from this review. This just happened to be an episode where I found pretty much every joke after the first three or so minutes amusing, whether it's zombie Scruffy, the various failings of the sound effects robot, the chief's mounting vulgarity, Leela and Bender finding out they can't stand each other without Fry around, Erwin Schroedinger reimagined as a cat-torturing criminal, or the sudden appearance of a leathered up Hedonism Bot. Actually, that last one probably doesn't need any explanation.
I suppose it simply goes back to the fact that, at its most basic, this is a comedy show, and sometimes comedy can make you laugh even if it's hard to put one's finger on why one episode works and another doesn't. For me, this episode just worked - I laughed out loud more during this episode than in the last three combined - and I'll gladly take that result, at least for a week or two. Of course, I imagine there won't be unanimous consensus on that point. Comedy is subjective, after all...