How I love Futurama! Matt Groening’s other show never had the audience or the acclaim of The Simpsons. It aired sporadically for four seasons, frequently shifting timeslots in an era when “timeslots” were things that people cared about. But eventually people found Futurama: In reruns on adult swim, on DVD when DVDs were things that people cared about. And what they found was a show that was somehow both darker and sillier than its more famous older sibling. The Simpsons is a family show about characters who fundamentally love each other, living in a vividly drawn cartoon city; Futurama is a workplace sitcom about characters who frequently can’t stand each other, living in a multiverse built on flotsam and jetsam from centuries’ worth of far-flung space fantasy.
After being revived by Comedy Central in 2008, Futurama ended again last September—but nobody thought it was really finished. Any TV show that was ever a TV show feels like a going concern now. Which probably explains why the Simpsons/Futurama crossover didn’t even try to be a momentous occasion. There was no sense that this could be the last time we see characters like Bender, Fry, or Leela. Last month’s Family Guy/Simpsons crossover had a mission statement, a clear undercurrent of trying hard to be an ultimate statement about two very different shows. “Simpsorama” just wanted to get to the scene where Bender hangs out with Homer at Moe’s.
The best jokes were all in the episode’s first half. Bender falls through some kind of timehole and lands in Springfield, circa Right Now. He drinks with Homer, bowls with Homer, drinks with Homer some more. There was a meta-joke about how Bender is just Homer with an antenna. But where “The Simpsons Guy” fell down the meta-rabbit hole, “Simpsorama” mostly settled for simple gags, with a hit ratio that was better than Futurama season 6 but not quite up to the standards of Futurama season 5.
At first; the episode tilted on the revelation that Bender had been sent back in time to kill Homer, because the future of Futurama is under attack by demonic rabbits, a couple of which look exactly like the protagonists of Groening’s comic strip Life in Hell. In a weird way, the crossover felt overplotted: The Futurama folk think that Homer is to blame, then Bart, then everyone gets sent to the future, then Lisa saves the day with an elaborate scheme involving Madison Cube Garden. (Few shows were better at stupid puns than Futurama.)
The episode had a plethora of easter eggs for Futurama fans (the dog!) and got a couple of decent laughs out of the interaction of the two casts. My favorite gag: Marge greeting Leela, trying really hard not to talk about Leela’s eye; Leela, greeting marge, trying really hard not to talk about Marge’s hair. Futurama always leant itself to the hyper-engaged internet-age viewer, and we can start discussing how seriously to take the minor-major revelations of the episode’s ending. (Is Ralph Wiggum really dying in 2017? Are Kang and Kodos both women, and is their last name Johnson?)
I’d be intrigued to know what die-hard Futurama fans thought of the show. The episode was very Bender-centric, until it became very Professor-centric; initial series protagonists Fry and Leela got much less screen time. In a sense, this reflects the scruffy charm of Futurama. (Yeesh, this is a show with a character named Scruffy.) The show had off-moments and vaguely-defined characters, but it also had a genuine ambition to match the best and craziest science-fiction. At the end of “Simpsorama,” Bender decided to take the long way back to the 31st Century, going into hibernation mode in the Simpsons’ basement. It’s a weird and lovely little grace note; Futurama always felt (feels?) like a series hiding in pop culture’s basement, a buried treasure waiting to get activated.
“Simpsorama” wasn’t a great episode of The Simpsons or of Futurama, but it was a lovely little celebration, a tip of the hat from the class president to the kid who spends lunch breaks inventing new rules for Dungeons Dragons. Also, Homer twisted the necks off of little green Bart mutants, which isn’t nothing.