Let's get right to it:
Midnight Rec: Futurama - Bender's Big Score
For those who don't know, Futurama was the critically acclaimed Fox whipping boy long before the network decided to mess with King of the Hill's chronology and air time every week. The show followed Fry, a slacker delivery boy, who is cryogenically frozen by accident at the turn of the millennium for 1000 years. He becomes a delivery boy for a space delivery crew, befriending a foul mouthed robot, a one-eyed mutant, and other colorful riffs on science-fiction. The series won may awards during its four year run, including three Primetime Emmy's.
Bender's Big Score is the first of four planned direct to DVD Futurama movies. It delivers everything a fan could want of the series. The writing has always been top notch on this series, and the first DVD movie continues the legacy in three major ways: science-fiction parody, backstory expanded within the main narrative, and emotional heft.
First, Futurama pays tribute to science fiction while mercilessly mocking it. The story of Bender's Big Score is the discovery of a binary code by an alien race that permits paradox correcting time travel. This formula is confirmed by Bubblegum Tate and the other members of the Harlem Globetrotters (their own species of super-genius basketball players from another planet, of course). So of course the crew uses this as an excuse to completely disrupt all logical history under the guise that the binary code will automatically correct it.
Science fiction and time travel go hand in hand, though paradoxes normally create the problems. Bender's Big Score eliminates that concern (using real math formulas with an added variable) but hinges much of the plot on the possibility that one way the code corrects paradoxes is to destroy the universe.
Second, Futurama became a more complex series every season, and the writers actually intended it that way. One event in Fry's time may seem very simple at first, but is actually a much planned scheme involving many forces coming together to make the future what it is tomorrow. Bender's Big Score takes it further than I ever thought possible. That fateful pizza delivery to the cryogenic lab, once thought to be the work of a pet-sized race of geniuses, now involves multiple versions of Fry and his robot friend Bender.
It's an elaborate cat and mouse game that permits much unexplored terrain (what happened to Fry's family, his job, his friends, etc.) within the narrative itself. It's not a flashback because the characters involved in the new story are the same characters in the future segments. It's a layered narrative that works because the writers obsess over detail. The commentary track reveals they had time cards and a giant map to make sure every event played out without destroying what was established in the series.
Third, Futurama was never afraid to explore surprisingly mature themes for an animated series. Comedy and tragedy never seemed so close (well, except for Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, where it switches halfway through with a bear crossing the stage). An absurd plot about a holographic space opera can become a heart wrenching declaration of love and devotion (strong enough to formally close the series on TV). The writers didn't shy away from upsetting content because it made the story better.
In Bender's Big Score, Fry is still trying to pursue the one-eyed woman he loves, Leela. But another man enters the picture. Fry can't possibly compete, no matter how hard he tries. He loves and respects Leela enough not to confront her, but still does everything in his power to try and stop the burgeoning romance. This all happening at the same time as a story about a robot repeatedly going back in time to steal the most valuable artifacts ever created in history for a race of disgusting nude aliens taking over the world through spam mail.
So, yeah. It's layered. And the emotional impact is never sacrificed for a gag. The whole series is more or less very good, though this rec is for Bender's Big Score.
The DVD should be dropping more in price since the second DVD movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, is coming out Tuesday. Bender's Big Score is worth every penny and more for series fans. For the unfamiliar viewer, you might want to catch a few episodes first (airing in syndication on Comedy Central).
Labels: Midnight Rec