Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Futurama returns to The Matrix

Normally, I like the more emotional episodes of Comedy Central's Futurama better than the comedy-centered ones, though both have their merits. This week's entry, "Near-Death Wish," kind of balanced things out nicely, even if it stretched the believability of the universe a bit. There was some true character exploration, and throw backs to previous episodes, as well as good movie references.

Obviously, the title of the episode is a play off of the movie Death Wish, though instead of a vigilante seeking revenge, Fry (Billy West) just connects with some old relatives who may soon pass away. You see, Fry is desperate for approval from his great-great...-nephew, the Professor (also West), but the Professor isn't that interested in being a good family member. Discovering the Professor's parents are still alive, Fry finds them living in a virtual world, and builds the family connection he has longed for. This also exposes the Professor's past, and allows him to finally make peace with his mom and dad.

"Near-Death Wish" makes the Fry family connections make sense a little more. We know that the Professor is crazy, and now we see him in his early days, before he got locked up in the mental institution. (Yes, now we need a episode to figure out how he got from a 25 year lock up to working for Mom.) And with the personality that the Professor has, unable to relate even to the people who lovingly raised him, it's no wonder he has no strong connection to Fry, despite their shared DNA.

My only beef here is that the Professor is so often portrayed as close to death, himself, and to have his parents show up definitely pushes what can be accepted as reality, even in this cartoon world. The likely explanation is that the Matrix-esque Near-Death Star must be able to keep old people alive. And I wish we had seen the referenced Floyd and Bender (John DiMaggio) sequence a couple of weeks ago, like when the Nibbler plot seeds were planted early.

"Near-Death Star," besides that obvious Star Wars reference, also makes allusions to Star Trek, and goes on an extended tirade about The Matrix itself. But the best references are those to past Futurama episodes. The Near-Death Star was visited by the characters awhile ago, and even has the same robot guard arm. We get to see Fry playing his holophone again. Hermes (Phil LaMarr) and Zoidberg (also West) seem to have become friends, a toss back to earlier this season.

Also, the clout Fry gets after winning the Clippie Award is just plain hilarious, and who can pass up a guest star turn by Estelle Harris?

The gags, references, and a sweet ending on a farm all contribute to make "Near-Death Wish" a memorable Futurama episode. Watch new installments Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

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