Tonight, filling in admirably for your usual weekly reviewer, Bill Peloquin, is Danielle Gillette. Danielle reviews “The Newsroom” for us at Blast, and she is a sharp critic as well as an eloquent observer. Bill should be back next week, but for now, you’ll have a fresh perspective. Danielle is a Futurama newbie with just a smidgeon of knowledge of Futurama folklore. So bear with her as she navigates this zany universe, putting her own analytical and stylistic stamp on familiar material.
Going into tonight’s episode of Futurama, I knew exactly two things about the show: it takes place far into the future but the main character, Fry, is somehow from, roughly, our time period; and Fry has also become an internet meme.
“Zapp Dingbat” turned out to be a pretty Leela-centric episode, so I didn’t get a chance to really be introduced to all of the characters, but I have to say, I liked what I saw. I was a little confused about the logistics of some aspects of this universe—Specifically, how does Leela look basically like a human when her parents are so heavily mutated, and why doesn’t Zapp’s uniform include pants?—but overall, the episode was enjoyable.
The episode’s plot kicks off when Fry, Bender, and the rest of the gang head to a shabby-looking house in the sewers for Leela’s parents’ anniversary party. Most of the folks there are heavily mutated—one guy has an extra head growing out of his knee! I immediately wanted to know where these mutations came from; it isn’t discussed in this episode, so I assumed it had been addressed previously on the show. It’s also revealed that the sewer mutants weren’t allowed to live aboveground until last year. That seems like a big deal… I wonder, were there protest groups advocating for the rights of sewer mutants? Or am I just thinking way too much about the society within a sci-fi comedy show?
In any case, Leela shows a film she made for her parents that gives us some convenient back story on each of them. Munda, her mother, was an exo-linguistics major in college with dreams of seeing the universe; Morris, her father, was a sewer-surfing, laid-back dude. The film sparks a fight between Munda and Morris about the dreams they gave up for each other, and it ends in the quickest divorce I’ve ever seen.
Munda moves in with Leela and gets her, Fry, and Bender to take her out into space to a bar, hilariously named the “Mos Def Cantina.” (Please tell me you didn’t miss the Star Wars reference infused with a hip-hop homage?) I’m really impressed by the creativity involved in coming up with everything inside the cantina: all the different species of alien, the robots betting body parts in poker, and, the coolest thing of all, anti-gravity pool played with lightsaber-looking cues. Oh, and George Takei’s talking head in a jar? Dare I ask why, or is this just a normal thing on Futurama?
We’re then introduced (or as I’m being told, reintroduced) to Captain Zapp Brannigan, handsome but slightly dim and completely lacking the pants component to his uniform. He’s using a universal translator to negotiate a peace treaty with some shark-headed aliens called the Conquerons, but offends them when he tries to say “congratulations” in their guttural native tongue and fails miserably. Thankfully, Munda’s around to put her college studies to good use and translate on Zapp’s behalf.
The two of them start dating, much to Leela’s chagrin, because as it turns out she used to sleep with Zapp a while back. Awkward! Zapp hires Munda to be his personal translator and she’ll finally live her dream of seeing space.
Morris is in worse shape; he calls Leela up crying, and she, Fry, and Bender go over to comfort him. Bender isn’t much comfort, though, as he spends his time lounging on Morris’ couch smoking a cigar. They end up convincing him to go on his dream tour of all the greatest sewer surfing spots around the world, and this decision cues a montage of the former Mr. and Mrs. Turanga living out their lifetime dreams. Munda translates for Zapp, and the two of them have lots of dangerous canoodling—Zapp runs into a bunch of space junk (including a spying Leela) while driving and making out with Munda, and the two of them unravel a string-based alien ambassador while playing footsie under the meeting table. Morris, Fry, and Bender, meanwhile, surf around the world from the sewers of Rio to the sewers of Dublin, where Bender is chased by surfing leprechauns for stealing their pot of gold.
The fun times are brought to a screeching halt when Leela finally confronts her mother and tells her not to see Zapp anymore. Leela’s convinced Zapp is using Munda only as a means to get back with Leela. Plus, she can’t deal with the mental stress of thinking that her mother is having sex with her ex-boyfriend, which is totally understandable.
On the boys’ side of the after-montage, Fry is at the doctor’s office getting a whole lot of vaccines to protect him from anything that might have been in the sewer sludge (including “leprechaunorrhea,” which I thought was hilarious). Morris is too chilled out for Leela’s taste after his surfing adventure; she wants someone to get mad with her and break Munda and Zapp up.
To test her theory that Zapp is only using Munda to get to her, Leela tells him to meet her a few minutes early for a group dinner and attempts to seduce him by wearing pink lingerie and dancing briefly on a laser stripper pole that drops down from the ceiling. Zapp proclaims his love for Munda, who overhears as she arrives, and he proposes on the spot.
After an unspecified period of time, we see the gang piling into a spaceship in fancy dress to attend Munda and Zapp’s wedding. When Leela protests that she’s not going, Fry sits down with her and delivers the Serious Advice of the episode—maybe this isn’t about Zapp, maybe it’s about Leela and her struggle to deal with her parents’ divorce. “Maybe Zapp’s not the only one who’s marriage material,” he says proudly after Leela thanks him. “You’re getting there,” she says with a kiss on his cheek. Are they supposed to be a couple? Or are they in a perpetual will-they/won’t-they type situation?
Leela apologizes to her mother before the wedding, and the ceremony begins with a rolling timpani version of the Bridal March (think drums from the “2001: A Space Odyssey” music meets wedding). Zapp, who still doesn’t appear to own any pants, is all set to officiate his own wedding ceremony with the help of a mirror when the Conquerons arrive to sign the peace treaty. He leaves the guests with the comedy stylings of Richard Nixon’s head in a jar (okay, so it is just a normal Futurama thing. Are there more famous heads in jars? And how do they get places?) while he and Munda go to negotiate.
Zapp is trying to get the Conquerons to sign a declaration of war under the impression that it’s a peace treaty so he can attack them and claim self-defense, but Munda refuses to translate his lies. She breaks up with him and tells the Conquerons the truth which, of course, causes them to declare war.
They attack the ship immediately, knocking out the main power grid. The auxiliary navigation system is out on one of the wings, and has twenty keys to operate at once. Luckily, Morris has stowed away in Leela’s ship to win Munda back, and he has twenty toes. So, he puts his surfing skills to work, and gets them away from the Conquerons long enough for Zapp to video over to them and apologize in their native tongue himself. They shrug, accept it, and head out. For a shark-headed people, they sure give up the hunt easily.
Morris and Munda kiss and make up, each promising to let the other live their dreams, and Zapp marries them in their second speed record-shattering legal ceremony of the episode. They float off into space on a rocket-fueled surfboard dragging cans and a “just remarried” sign behind it.
I feel like this might not be the most typical Futurama episode out there; it’s very focused on Leela and her family issues, and with that whole gang at the writers’ disposal, I’m sure their adventures usually focus on more than just one of them at a time. The humor was clever, though, and it was a good mix of visual gags and jokes through dialogue. I’ve included a few of my favorite lines from tonight, below. This is definitely a show I would check out again, but in terms of reviews, Bill should be back as usual next week for the next new episode of Futurama.
Favorite One-Liners from “Zapp Dingbat”
-Zapp: “Leela, you never told me you had a mother!”
-Morris: “You mind if I call you ‘dude,’ princess?”
-Zapp (after proposing to Munda): “I think a motel room might be in order… Leela, here’s forty dollars.”
-Fry (trying to convince Leela to go to the wedding): “There’ll be chicken or fish circle one!”
-Zapp’s assistant (during the Conqueron attack): “All weapons are disabled and you can’t return ice cream cakes! We’re doomed!”