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Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

Futurama commits clownslaughter

The first season of the resurrected “Futurama” has been disappointing. The first broadcast seasons had me in stitches once the show found its feet after its first four episodes. The episodic movies were OK – they did win the show its reprieve. But since? Meh, as the kids say these days.

I was watching the new crop of episodes that have come out this summer, and I was struck by the laziness in “Law and Oracle“, first broadcast July 7. I’d put the season and date but that show is either season 8 episode 4 or season 6 episode 17, depending on where you look. Its production code is, oddly, 6ACV16.

From plot to jokes, the writing is lazy. The plot is a mash of “Police Academy” and “Minority Report”, with seasonings of “Tron” and “Star Wars”. The plot resolution comes in the form of a deus ex machina: a character without a previous line of dialogue appears and becomes an expository crucial cog.

As for the jokes, here’s a clip:

YouTube Preview Image

There are two jokes there, if you exclude the “Minority Report” setting. The first is the name of the oracle:

SCIENTIST

…We call him Pickles.

FRY

On account of it’s like he’s floating in a jar?

SCIENTIST

Exactly.

Fry’s line is a setup. Having the scientist respond “Exactly” or “Yes” is only an explanation point on Fry’s observation. To confirm his suspicion puts him on an intellectual level of the scientists, which may seem funny, but isn’t. The rules of the show dictate that he’s not the brightest star in the sky. Scientists in the world of Futurama are mad and Rube Goldbergesque, but they are not dumb.

It took me all of one shower to figure out a better response that’s truer to the show in more ways than one.

SCIENTIST

…We call him Pickles.

FRY

On account of it’s like he’s floating in a jar?

SCIENTIST

No, I named him after my wife, who’s a head in a jar. Her name is Pickles.

Here’s another that just occurred to me:

SCIENTIST

…We call him Pickles.

FRY

On account of it’s like he’s floating in a jar?

SCIENTIST

What are you? Twelve?

Or:

SCIENTIST

…We call him Pickles.

FRY

On account of it’s like he’s floating in a jar?

SCIENTIST

No, I just like pickles.

My lines may or may not be winners, but they’re not lazy and they remain within the rules of the show.

The second joke is even worse.

SCIENTIST

Green is larceny. Black is fraud. Red… homicide.

FRY

What’s pink polka dots?

SCIENTIST

Clownslaughter. It happens more often than you’d think.

How on the nose is that? One of only four balls stands for clownslaughter. That fact alone shows the audience that it happens more often than you’d think. Unfortunately, the writers had to add that very statement to save an otherwise too ambiguous joke. It’s on the nose. What they should have done is reworked it.

SCIENTIST

Green is larceny. Black is fraud. Red… homicide.

FRY

What’s pink polka dots?

SCIENTIST

Clownslaughter. That one’s sponsored by the Bumbo Lardbottom memorial chair of criminal psychology at NNYU.

(Where NNYU is New New York University.)

Or:

SCIENTIST

Green is larceny. Black is fraud. Red… homicide.

FRY

What’s white with the red circle?

SCIENTIST

Clownslaughter.

This one makes the joke visible, as the ball resembles a clown face. The scientist’s response holds up better as the punchline. You don’t need the on-the-nose bit that follows.

Your turn. Can you write better than this crop of “Futurama” writers? I bet you can. Leave your attempt in the comments.

Bonus admission:

“The Silence of the Clamps”, the episode that followed “Law and Oracle”, was probably the best of the new episodes.

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