Sunday, November 10, 2013

Week 23 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

We're winding down here and I think I'm becoming more satisfied with these entries as I go along. Some of today's post was pre-written many months ago, as it was originally intended to be the first one I started this little series with. And there's a marked difference between what I wrote then and what today me turned that into. The goal was to develop my skills as a writer by forcing myself to just write about lots of different things, and I think I saw for the first time today that maybe it's actually happening. But as always, I report, you decide.

After the break: I've never told anyone I like this episode, not even Scruffy!

Futurama, "The Luck of the Fryrish"
First aired on Fox Sunday, March 11, 2001

"Your brother may be missing but his crap sure isn't" - Mrs. Fry

For three years, I kept telling myself that at some point, when I wasn’t so busy, when I had free time, when I felt like just having a good laugh, I would watch the new episodes of “Futurama” that have been airing since Comedy Central revived the show. And when it was cancelled for the second time back in early September, I still hadn’t gotten around to watching any of them. Which is kind of odd, because it’s a show I really, really love. Maybe I was concerned that the new episodes would change the way I look at the show in some way, which I’m already quite happy with. Its satirical depiction of life in the year 3000 was occasionally quite biting and always very, very funny.

Yet when it came to picking an episode for this list, only two came to mind, and it was because of the sentimentality behind them. The first was “Jurassic Bark,” which closes with the devastating scene of Fry’s dog Seymour sitting outside Panucci’s Pizza from the day Fry disappears, through the seasons and years, waiting for Fry to come back, until the day he dies – set to Connie Francis’ “If It Takes Forever”.

And the other was “The Luck of the Fryrish,” which ended up winning out with me by a nose. Like most “Futurama” episodes, it’s hysterical from beginning to end, even with its gut punch of a conclusion. And the two aspects that I think elevate it above “Jurassic Bark” is that Fry’s motivation here is not really petty as Bender’s seems to be in that episode (more on this a bit later) and it gets to lampoon a slightly different era of the 20th century. “Jurassic Bark” returns to the late 90s and tries to mine a good deal of comedy from territory that was already explored in the first episodes of the series. However the family feud here between Fry and his older brother Yancy is set in the 1980s, and it allows for a series set a thousand years in the future to make some really goofy jokes about a slightly different period of more recent culture – every now and then, the phrase “Rock us, Dukakis!” still pops in my head, and I usually can’t watch “The Breakfast Club” without finding myself saying “Man, I can’t wait until I’m old enough to feel ways about stuff” at least a dozen times, or laughing just a little bit at the soundtrack.

It’s also always really fun (well...for us, not for Fry) when we get glimpses of Fry’s family, and we can see firsthand the type of absurd neglect that made him not all that sad to learn he wouldn’t be returning to the year 2000 anytime soon. And one of the best things about this episode is it very subtly submits the idea that Fry has done so many great things that his family and friends from the 20th century will never know about. Fry bemoans the fact that Yancy-as-Fry went to space and “now [he’ll] never get there” before Leela reminds him that he went there that morning for donuts, among countless other times that Planet Express has traversed the galaxy delivering packages.

In his old life, Fry was mocked mercilessly for dreaming of going to outer space, and if I saw the crudely drawn picture displayed in this episode with the caption “Phillip Fry, age 20” I would probably understand where they’re coming from. But in addition to space travel being so common in the year 3000, Fry is too simple and sweet for him to ever come to the realization that he proved everyone he loved wrong by doing something that would blow their minds, and it makes his victory so much more powerful – because it’s for him and only him.

But of course, the real emotional kicker in “The Luck of the Fryrish” is Fry’s realization that even in a family where he’s misunderstood and ignored, family always loves you, even when it seems they don’t really like you or notice if you’re gone. More importantly, no amount of being ignored by your family can blind them to your potential.

Determined to stop Yancy from continually stealing his more colourful personality away from him, Fry sets out to Yancy’s grave to take back the seven-leaf clover that made “Phillip J. Fry” the greatest success story of the 21st century. And the inscription on the gravestone leads him to realize just how wrong he was about what Yancy thought of him: “Here lies Phillip J. Fry – named for his uncle, to carry on his spirit.”

Fry always knew that Yancy was jealous of him. And really, it would have been hard for Yancy not to want anyone else’s identity considering he never had one of his own – a name passed down from generations, the same exact look as his father, etc. But Fry couldn’t realize the admiration and respect behind that jealousy until he witnessed the physical evidence of a human being, who translated his same drive and passion for life into great success, that Yancy named in his memory.

Though Fry might not have ever been a billionaire business mogul or the guitarist in a rock band, Fry has still accomplished much more greatness than he realizes and it makes for a really beautiful ending where both Phillip J. Frys end up in parallel. When Fry was frozen on December 31, 1999, his family realized quickly he was missing and considering he never came back, they must have eventually concluded that he was dead. Phillip J. Fry II was named to carry on the spirit of the original Phillip J. Fry, but he was also named to finish a life that was never completed. Yancy passing on that name acknowledges this unrealized potential and most importantly, it confirms for Fry that no matter how much they fought, how much it seemed his brother hated him, Yancy gets the last word in their relationship, and it’s, “I always believed in you.” And really, Fry needed to hear that a lot more than if it had been a simple “I love you”. Love between family members is unconditional – it exists whether you realize it or not. Respect is a much more powerful feeling because it fluctuates, and it’s certainly never unconditional.

Never more happy to be wrong in his life, Fry leaves the clover behind and kneels at his nephew’s grave with tears in his eyes, as Bender and Leela head out of the cemetery to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. And that, folks, is about as perfect an ending to anything I’ve ever seen.

Last week I talked about closing moments that reshape the entire preceding episode, so the question that needs to be asked here (glossed over earlier) is this: knowing how “The Luck of the Fryrish” ends, does Fry come off as an asshole in his accusations of Yancy? I don’t feel that he does. Fry is certainly wrong, but his perspective, like all things with a sibling, is only his own and it doesn’t necessarily reflect fact. And like your viewpoint on a sibling, sometimes it spends a long time stuck in the past. Fry is still relatively young, albeit probably a little older than I am, but my take from the flashbacks is that Fry had not yet moved out of his parents’ house and had probably never shaken the sense of sibling you get from actually living with them. Both in our 20s, my older brother by five years and I haven’t lived together for quite a while and naturally our relationship has matured and changed as a result. We have more common interests, slightly more intellectual conversations, and I certainly don’t remember the last time we got into a “fight”. 

Fry and Yancy only had that relationship technically in death, but it’s a testament to their distinct legacies of greatness that they got a very rare and special chance to bury the hatchet – or in this case, the clover.

Odds and ends:

- I really love the transitions between Fry's childhood and the present day (or "i.e. the future" as the episode points out). Going from the spaceship being flung off baby Fry's mobile to the Planet Express mid flight is kind of hypnotically beautiful, and the final transition from newborn Phillip J. Fry II to astronaut Phillip II on his gravestone is pretty tremendous

- Fry’s mom lets his dad name him - she picked dinner last night

- “I’ll have a horse Coke.” “Horse Pepsi okay?” “Nay.” It’s the little things. Speaking of "Futurama" being the master of dumb jokes, I like whenever they tweak turns of phrase to fit the futuristic setting, as in Leela telling a happy Bender, "Well, someone's in a good mode".

- The manhole covering the entrance to Old New York features the characters of the Fox animated comedy "The PJs," in reference to that show's opening title sequence. In response, Fry was animated into an episode of "The PJs" as a missing person on a carton of milk. High five, Fox cartoon comrades.

- Wisconsin did indeed win the Rose Bowl 17-9 on January 1, 2000, as Mrs. Fry claims in flashbacks

- Things Fry always wanted to do in Manhattan but was afraid to: yell “Howard Stern is overrated,” knock a payphone off its hook, jaywalk. Memories of Fry’s old neighbourhood: the bench where he found some old shirts, the fire hydrant the kids would light on fire in the summer, the corner where a guy with a bushy beard handed out a poorly Xeroxed Socialist newsletter one time

- An especially stupid Fry moment: “71st Street? Never heard of it. Downtown could be in any direction.” Walk one block, Fry. On a related note, Fry, Bender, and Leela arrive at the Newkirk Avenue subway station, which according to my research puts Fry’s childhood home in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Midwood. The gag of Fry’s house being a complete shit hole in the past just as in the future is great, but probably doesn’t need Bender hanging a lamp on it with the “Father Time really took its toll on this place” line

- Fry hides the seven leaf clover in the "Breakfast Club" soundtrack vinyl sleeve inside his "Ronco Record Vault". Ron Popeil had previously guest starred on the show as one of "Futurama's" many celebrities as heads in jars, so I like this hat tip. Seems odd that it's basically just a safe with a fancy logo on it, but I suppose that's the joke. An even better joke, and one that "The Simpsons" and "Futurama" always pulled off so well is Fry's "I still remember the combination! (turns dial)...three!"

- When Leela posits that the seven leaf clover might have disintegrated during the 1000 years that Fry was frozen, he is skeptical because "everything else in here held up okay." Bender: "Except 'Sports' by Huey Lewis." Zing!

- One of the show’s best lines ever from Billy West as an aging British rocker in Phillip II's band "Leaf Seven": “Phil came in, right? Strummed out this tune, yeah? And I said, that’s a number one record.” Perfect delivery. "Leaf Seven," incidentally, was "known for their hypnotic rhythms, driving bass lines, and memorable hooks." Fry: “That’s what I’m known for!”

Next week: What's that, you say? There are only four "Lethal Weapon" movies? Think again.