Futurama Review: "Free Will Hunting"
Futurama Season 7 Episode 9 “Free Will Hunting” Review
Futurama is a difficult show to review, as I imagine The Simpsons would be, or The Office, or any other once great show that is now a year or two past its prime. During its initial run on FOX, Futurama was one of the best shows on television, expertly mixing blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mathematic and scientific gags with a fully realized cast of characters and a fleshed out mythology and universe. Though the show was a ratings disappointment and was canceled by FOX in 2003, it inspired a small but feverishly devoted cult that helped to get the show brought back for four direct to DVD movies. The success of the DVDs led to yet another revival in 2010 by Comedy Central and is still currently airing with no signs of slowing down. Ever since its initial cancellation however, Futurama has suffered a decline in quality. Not as sharp a decline as say, Matt Groening’s other long running animated television program, but still a noticeable decline. Not every episode is a classic anymore, and the gags, specifically jokes related to the 2012 culture, can feel tired and outdated.
Still though, Futurama is for a most part a still solid show, providing at least a few genuine laughs with each new episode. Last season’s finale in particular was among the best and funniest episodes the show has produced to date. The show is also still capable of nailing the emotional moments, as evidenced by last season’s Bender origin story “Lethal Inspection” which drew an unexpectedly sweet connection between Bender and Hermes, as well as “The Late Phillip J. Fry” which found Fry accidentally travelling through time during his efforts to make it on time to a date with Leela. In short, the show is still good, even if it’s not quite at the level it used to be. And so I’m excited to review Futurama week to week for Geek Smash, both for the opportunity to look at the show in a slightly different light, and because I still have a tremendous amount of affection for this show and for its characters, even if the jokes sometimes fall flat.
So let’s get on with it then! Tonight’s episode, “Free Will Hunting” found the show tackling a subject that to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t really touched before, namely the subject of free will and the question of whether or not Bender-as-a-robot is capable of making his own decisions, or if every crass, craven thing he says and does is merely the result of his programming. Fittingly, the episode kicks off with a fantastic first act that finds Bender learning at breakneck speeds the consequences of his decision to wear his apparently trademarked pair of “nerd glasses”. What ensues is a whole episode’s worth of plot as Bender bounces from college to a gang of Robots to a hospital bed to jumping a squad of girl scouts all in about five minutes of runtime. When he’s arrested for his aforementioned jumping of the girl scouts, his lawyer the always welcome Hyperchicken argues that Bender can’t be held responsible for his actions, that his programming determines every action he takes. What follows for Bender is a walkabout-esque journey of self-discovery that finds him briefly becoming a monk on the Robot Home World, attempting to steal an alleged “free will chip” from Mom, and, finally, attempting to kill Professor Farnsworth. By the end of the episode, Bender has acquired the free will chip, is found guilty of shooting the professor and is, as always, satisfied and pleased with himself.
The episode is built around a solid premise with a clever gag at its core. The idea that anyone might find Bender’s actions to be in any way “predictable”, is a hilarious one that the show takes full advantage of. Unfortunately though, the majority of the episode feels slight and aimless, with Bender’s soul searching journey feeling largely like a series of barely related skits that any one of, if taken of its own and expanded, could have been written into something funnier and more structurally sound. Still though, no episode featuring the Robot Home world and Mom could be a complete bust, and as always, this episode features a great collection of clever quotes and gags, some of them listed below.
-Opening Credits Gag- “Warning: Do not Show to Horses”
-I loved the high concept gag of Bender saying, with only his face in the frame, “I’d like to enroll in college please.” Only to have it be revealed that there has not been a jump cut and that he’s still talking to the sorority robot.
-“We have a rival gang? I hate them!”
-Bender: “Life is about decisions. Make the wrong one and end up in your own pool of blood and urine.” Zoidberg: “Still, to have a pool!”
-Amy seems surprisingly prepared to debate whether or not human beings have free will.
-The shot of the cop chasing the criminal on a track as Bender sulks through the Robot town was a great and clever visual demonstration of the lack of robotic free will. The animation in that sequence was aces as well.
-The Order of Binary Singularity monk reading out of the “Whole Ebook” was clever and groan inducing all at once.
-Apparently, when Fry and Bender deal with trespassers in their apartment, Fry beats them and Bender robs them.
-I’m with Bender. Soul searching is the worst.