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Non-Review Review: Futurama – Bender’s Big Score

If only all cancelled shows had the same good fortune as Futurama. After being taken off the air, the show was shopped around a bit, before coming back as a series of four two-hour movies (which could, conveniently for the network, could be split into sixteen episodes – four episodes per movie). The first of the movie’s – Bender’s Big Score – seems an interesting choice to open the specials. Rather than being framed as a re-introduction to the series, designed to attract new fans and effectively act as a second pilot for the show, instead it’s clearly intended as something of a valentine to existing fans.

It's good to be back...

Of course, it might have seem patronising to attempt to structure the story was a second pilot for the show – the characters are arguably familiar to mainstream audiences – but it seems almost counterproductive to use the opening of the new arc of a relaunch so completely built around the existing subplots of show, particularly when the original finale – The Devil’s Hands Are Idol Playthings – served as a wonderful farewell to the series.

The movie delivers us cameos by the bucketful – Quanza Bot, mafia droids, Richard Nixon, the Harlem Globetrotters, Al Gore (repeatedly, even as “emperor of the moon”) – and even references to numerous other stories (the doomsday device, for example, or their time in Roswell). Hell, the vast majority of jokes in this movie seem to exist solely to reference previous moments in the show’s long history – we find out, for example, who destroyed New York during that montage from the first episode, or how Fry’s dog Seymour ended up flash fossilised. These are lovely moments for long-term fans of the show, but I can’t help feeling that anyone tuning in for the first time (or even a casual fan of the original show) might make of it.

This might be less of an issue if the movie had a stronger, more linear thread running through it. Instead, it seems like a variety of cool concepts, movie references, and throwbacks which were haphazardly assembled together. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it evokes effectively the sort of scattershot greatness which was one of the more endearing traits of the original television show – but it does distract a bit. Even with everything going on, the movie feels more like a clump of four episodes than an actual two-hour film. Which is a shame, because – well, what’s the point in having a new format if you’re just going to do exactly what you did before?

Leela bursts Fry's bubble...

The episode is intentionally structured around flashbacks and flash sideways (and even flashbacks within flashbacks – though the show isn’t afraid to parody its own rather convoluted writing). This approach pays off with a wonderfully emotional finale – which, while it doesn’t match the power of episodes like Jurassic Bark, still proves that the series arguably has a much stronger emotional core than its sister series, The Simpsons. It’s actually wonderfully touching, and the twist and revelation make the show feel like it’s actually a finale (offering hints of closure on certain threads) rather than an attempt at a new beginning. It’s a really weird dissonance to have – a new beginning that feels almost like a retrospective conclusion.

The show’s wit is still here, to a large extent. It’s not always gut-bunchingly hilarious, but some moments just hit the spot perfectly. It isn’t the most consistent of the four specials, nor is it the least funny. Truth be told, the movie is going to make-or-break based on its capacity to forge an emotional connection with its audience – I am very skeptical that it can do so with viewers not already familiar with the property, but it seems like a reasonable reward to long-time fans.

Despite its flaws, the movie is fun. It’s nice to have the cast and crew back together, and it’s still a wonderfully entertaining, sharply-observed show. However, I can’t help but get the feeling that perhaps The Beast With A Billion Backs might have made a better introduction to the season of movies – it favours capturing the spirit of the show, rather than engaging with the emotionally tangled subplots.

The climax of the episode is strange, drawing in a rather obvious Star Wars reference as a means of sticking an action sequence on the end. It “feels” wrong – far too conventional fare for the series. It does, however, look impressive and there are one or two jokes which work, but it doesn’t seem like a Futurama moment, rather a beat taken from any generic science fiction series and played entirely straight without a hint of the spark or creativity that makes the show seem so ingenious.

Bender’s Big Score certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s probably more entertaining than I am making it sound. In a way, it’s simply nice enough to have the Planet Express crew back, knowing that better things lie ahead of them.

4 Responses

  1. I did love this, especially after the apparent development hell it was in for a bit. The best of the movies, definitely.

  2. I also liked this one the most. It had the most heart of the DVDs.

    • Yep, it was really a valentine to the fans, but it felt strangely like a conclusion rather than a story of itself. I probably would have liked it more had I seen it towards the end.

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