Futurama reveals the lighter side of child exploitation

Yesterday's Futurama showed Leela exploring her creative side and launching a children's show...which inevitably led to an entire planet being plagiarized and orphans being used for cheap labor. It's almost as though Futurama has bad experiences with the TV industry!

"Yo Leela Leela" finds Leela returning to her childhood orphanarium to entertain the kids, a task at which she fails spectacularly with an unbelievably half-assed story about a tank-topped, one-eyed princess who goes to an orphanage to tell some kids a story. (Like I said: Unbelievably. Half. Assed.) She promises to make it up to them, but her attempts to write at the office fail due to her noisy coworkers. (Bender got commissioned as a tugboat!) She flies off to another planet to find some peace and quiet, and she returns with an adorable story about "Rumbledy-Hump", a magical land where five fantastical friends go on mild adventures and sing educational songs.

Futurama reveals the lighter side of child exploitation

The kids love it, and so does the show's resident shady businessman (at least when Greasy Joe is busy), Abner Doubledeal, who commissions Leela and the Planet Express Crew to make a full-length and, more to the point, very cheap children's TV show out of her story. This immediately takes off, rocketing an increasingly egotistical Leela to the greatest possible achievement in entertainment: being slurmed at the Old People's Choice Awards. (She also wins an award, but really...it's the slurm.) But Bender discovers the horrible truth: Leela's fantasy world is actually a very real alien planet, and Leela soon recognizes her hypocrisy, and she tries to teach the impressionable orphans the right lesson before it's too late.

"Yo Leela Leela" is another fun, solid little episode. Futurama has tried ridiculous parodies of the entertainment industry before - there's "That's Lobstertainment!", which doesn't enjoy a particularly good reputation but is decent enough if you can tolerate dangerously high levels of Zoidberg, and there's the absolutely batshit "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV", which features Bender and especially Calculon reaching new levels of narcissistic lunacy. I wouldn't say Futurama has ever made a great satire of TV and movies - the Bender episode is probably the best of the three, but that's mostly for Calculon - but I did enjoy this episode's basic message.

Futurama reveals the lighter side of child exploitation

That message, of course, is that all children's TV is fundamentally evil, made by heartless bastards and built on a solid mix of theft and orphan enslavement (although Abner Doubledeal would call it "adoption", I guess). Leela becomes increasingly desperate in her attempts to do the right thing in the face of adoring children who think her misdeeds weren't even wrong. (Yeah, you may need to read that one again. Sorry about that.) The story is one that really plays well to Leela's traits, particularly her conflicting impulses to do the right thing and to prove that she's good enough at any cost.

It also allows us to see more of the Orphanarium kids, whose ongoing deprivations reach new heights in this episode, as they're reduced to eating books and raiding garbage for aluminum. And I always enjoy David Herman as Warden Vogel, who hits a remarkable middle ground behind child abusing jerk and easy-going, good-natured bureaucrat.

Futurama reveals the lighter side of child exploitation

Honestly, while I enjoyed this episode, it was a pretty slight entry, and I don't have that much to say about it beyond the fact that, yeah, it was pretty good. (The fact that I'm smack in the middle of Comic-Con probably doesn't help my analytic abilities.) I'll just end up by saying that the one really stand-out moment in the episode was the big distractions sequence, which is a great moment in sustained farce. Also, Bender as a tugboat? That's just too awesome. And, with that, I turn the rest of the conversation over to all of you. I'll be back next week with more.