Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
And another thing! After talking so much about animation the last month, I feel it’s only fitting I come back to round this off by looking at the big crossover of this year. No not that one, the other one. Yes the Simpsons/Futurama crossover. Given that this is perhaps the last we’ll ever see of Futurama, is it any good? Or does it destroy everything the show worked for?
So lets get the obvious out the way: Yes I know there is a Simpsons/Futurama comic book. Long story short: In the Futurama universe the Simpsons is a comic book series, and the brains from The Day The Earth Stood Stupid zap our main cast into it. Following on from that the Simpsons family and extended cast are then zapped into the Futurama world, along with many other literary characters. It’s a good crossover, one that brings together the best of both worlds and really works well. Now, granted, it’s been years since I’ve read it, but it has to be better then this train wreck of an episode. As for the other obvious point:
Now I pointed out last time we talked about a crossover, that The Simpsons Guy was a Family Guy episode featuring The Simpsons characters. Well much the same is true here. This is a Simpsons episode featuring the Futurama characters. Which is part of the reason why this episode is so bad. Likewise while The Simpsons Guy works on a ‘lets fulfil every fan’s wish when it comes to putting these two franchises together’ level, this one fails to do even that. But, moving on, lets look at the episode itself.
And I think this episode best sums up all the problems found within modern day Simpsons episodes. Ignoring the ‘humour is subjective’ argument, the most damning problem this episode has is making the Simpsons characters so unbearably unlikeable that you want Bender to kill them. The emotional pathos of the show is lost since I really don’t care if Homer lives or dies. Compare that to Futurama, home of some of the most famously depressing episodes. As such, the scenes of Homer and Bender bending are weak because there isn’t much there to them. Seeing Bender and Homer share the screen is not as compelling as seeing Peter Griffin and Homer share the screen. Likewise nothing really gets done in the episode that hasn’t been done better in Futurama episodes. Essentially the first third of this episode is useless trash that isn’t worth commenting on. So what about the next third?
(Side note: Neat use of Matt Groening’s Life in Hell characters and in turn having the phrase â€œCrossovers are Hellâ€ appear. Cleverly ties everything back together).
But since it takes a good third to get to the good characters, how are they portrayed here? And whether the Futurama cast are on-screen and doing stuff, the episode is good. But what’s really confusing is how the writers somehow manage to write the Futurama characters consistently good and The Simpsons characters consistently bad. I’d say it was like two different writers were writing it, but it’s the same guy. Now, granted, the writer hasn’t written any really good episodes of Futurama (and some pretty dull episodes of The Simpsons), but clearly he’s worked on both. So why is it the Futurama characters are more engaging than The Simpsons characters? Well partly because the Futurama characters are much more varied in personality. They’re allowed to grow, to change, to evolve. Compare that to The Simpsons characters, who are a bit… meh. They don’t really change or evolve, instead being forced into whatever joke the writers find funny. Which is fascinating compared to a group of characters who are consistently written. But I suppose we should address the elephant in the room now more than ever.
The crossover essentially tries to put The Simpsons universe and the Futurama universe together and… Yeah I’m not even going to justify why this is incredibly stupid. The ‘one universe is fictional one is real’ concept from the comics works well. Here it’s just incredibly stupid and is an even weaker justification than in The Simpsons Guy. At least The Simpsons Guy could lampshade it. But here… Ultimately this signals the end for any investment in The Simpsons, since it has canonized the cartooniness. Now I mentioned before how The Simpsons was a sitcom first, animation second, and the strength of the show came from the good writing (with the animation being a way of extending jokes a bit further than they could otherwise). But here, it unashamedly looks at the audience and goes ‘we’re just a cartoon now’. Which is a shame, because it also tries to make Futurama a cartoon. But Futurama was never a cartoon. Sure it was animated, and it could get a bit extreme with its internal logic, but the setting allowed one to accept the cartooniness of the show. Yes it was a bit over the top, but it was the future. That’s what was to be expected. The future is a little different. But The Simpsons was always meant to take place in a somewhat real world. A little bit exaggerated, but otherwise real. But now? Total cartoon. And since it’s a cartoon, I no longer care as much about what’s happening. It’s like when you see Daffy Duck have his beak blown off. Sure it’s funny, but you know he’s fine. He’s going to walk away without a scratch in the next scene. You don’t get invested in the character’s survival. And that’s what we have here. A show that is literally the worst kind of cartoon there is: One that would rather just have a bunch of gags rather than tell a story. Wouldn’t be too bad if the gags were good, but that’s an argument for another day.
But back to the plot, The Simpsons end up going to the future via a contrived reason. And that’s another problem I have with this crossover. Futurama always made sense. Sure, its justification was often silly, future-stuff. But it was still consistent with it. Trying to match that up with The Simpsons being completely uninterested in staying within continuity, and you have a recipe for disaster. Even the time-travelling jokes don’t really work out as well as they have in other, far better episodes.
But to sidetrack for the moment, Homer dispassionately killing a bunch of evil Bart monsters and almost his own son with an apathetic nature to him? Yeah I don’t see how that’s funny, it’s sociopathic and borderline disturbing. Here is a character who is willing to kill so calmly and without pity, it’s hard to relate to him. I mean the old Homer use to be funny because, despite his incompetency, he still deeply loved his family and would do anything for them. Here, he’d probably kill them all for a beer and it’d be a laugh. It’s just another version of the character going off the rails for the sake of a joke. If there’s no character, why do I care?
(Second side note: Nice nod to Butterfingers. It’s a reference no modern fan is likely to get, but pairing that up with the Life in Hell gag shows a sort of nod to all of Matt Groening’s career. Subtle, but enjoyable enough for me).
Anyway the episode ends with Kang and Kodos turning out to be a lesbian couple (though I read the scene as them being gender-netural, which is what I think the writers were going for), before a reminder of the old Futurama opening. And that’s the end of the crossover. So how is it as a send-off? Terrible. Simply terrible. It’s a shame that this is the last we’ll see of the Futurama crew, a show that had characters evolve and change over time. A show that had funny jokes and clever writing. A show that did a whole lot of things right. And there’s still parts of that hidden in the episode. The Futurama characters try their best and stay true to themselves, even if the Simpsons characters are the things holding this episode back. If you take out all The Simpsons crap, you have some pretty good Futurama stuff there. But, sadly, this seems to be the end of a damn fine TV show. If only it was the other way round and The Simpsons was taken off the air instead. Maybe if The Simpsons Guy hadn’t come out first this episode would have been better… But I highly, highly, highly doubt that.
So there you have it. My look at a frankly major disappointing crossover. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.