I’m not going to bother arguing that The Butterfly Junk Effect was the worst episode of Futurama. Beats me if it was or wasn’t, but it’s a terrible episode and it comes from Michael Rowe who also wrote the robosexual episode, Proposition Infinity, and also Bend Her and Fry Am the Egg Man.
A first step to fixing Futurama would be preventing Michael Rowe from writing episodes for anything that doesn’t have Family Guy in its title.
I don’t care about the argument because The Butterfly Junk Effect was filler. It was there because they had to put something there. There was no internal logic, it wasn’t funny and it accomplished nothing. It aired because Futurama once used to be good and it got picked up because it once used to be good and it airs episodes that aren’t any good, because it once used to be good.
Sound familiar? Look up, Simpsons, The.
1. Hire younger and better writers
I don’t want to be Ageist but Michael Rowe’s bio talks about him working with Andy Kaufman, Rodney Dangerfield and Rip Taylor. That would be fine if he were any good, but he’s terrible.
The average Futurama writer this season is over 50. You can tell that without looking up their bios because Nixon is a recurring gag on this series. Nixon. And Spiro Agnew.
Michael Rowe and Eric Horsted were writers on Coach. Yes Coach. We’re watching a cutting edge animated series written by writers from Coach.
Horsted wrote The Mutants are Revolting and A Taste of Freedom. This season he wrote The Bots and the Bees. I rest my case.
The only tolerable episode this season was written by Dan Vebber who got his start on Buffy and Space Ghost. The moral is fire people who have Coach in their credits. Hire people who have Buffy and Space Ghost in their credits.
2. Change the characters
I’m not saying that Futurama needs hard core character development, but they shouldn’t be the same people they were 12 years ago. Not just for creative reasons, but because characters who don’t change are one-joke characters. That’s what Fry and Leela and everyone else on the show is.
And start killing off and replacing some characters. Do we really need Amy around all the time? Do we need Hermes whose one joke is being Jamaican? It’s not just change for the sake of change, but c for c would also pull the show out of its rut. Bringing in new characters would force established characters to react to them. It would shake up the static setup of the same jokes.
Bring in non-human characters. Have them create problems. Blow up the earth. Again. Do something to seriously change the format.
Ugly Americans was poorly executed, but it still had the energy that Futurama is missing. Futurama used to have that energy because you didn’t know what was going to happen next or how off the wall it was going to be.
Futurama has become sitcom stale. The characters fall into routines. Sometimes they’re just doing wacky things that the show wants them to do that make no sense. That’s how you get a roller derby butterfly steroids episode. But comedy is based on what characters want and what they can’t have. If the characters have no motivation there’s no comedy.
Either Fry is a mentally retarded cretin whose IQ is about Homer Simpson level, or he’s a slacker, but has human emotions and drives. Figure it out fast because Fry isn’t anywhere as funny as Homer and seeing him fall down only goes so far.
3. Drop the Staples
Mom’s Robots, Nixon, Zapp, just drop them. The funny varies and they make the show lazy. It’s like always falling back on “Take my wife, please.”
Find new staples. The old ones keep Futurama from finding and developing new ones. Every time Nixon and Mom show up, it’s “Take My Wife, Please.”
4. What If?
Futurama is a sorta Science Fiction series and its better episodes work like Science Fiction does. They ask, “What if?”
What if the death star was a place where the elderly went into a giant senior center?
What if moon exploration was as boring as Disney and as fake?
What if there were a robot hell and a robot devil?
A good “What If” episode asks a ridiculously smart question. It doesn’t ret con, it doesn’t tackle current events and it shows you something genuinely new.
New isn’t space roller derby. It’s not Leela’s mother moving in with Zapp. It’s not robots having babies like people. But it just might be an alien actor whose ego is also his id and feeds off acclaim.
5. Make 3012 a Darker Place
I don’t mean dark dark. But Futurama’s pilot had suicide booths and career chip implants. Its current incarnation is nicer and more problem-free than our society, except for Nixon. Even the mutants got surface rights by just staging a protest. Robosexuals got what they wanted after a short debate. White Obama was elected after a brief argument.
The future shouldn’t be that nice. It should be a bit strange and unfriendly. It should be a place that freaks us out a bit. Not too much, but enough to make for comedy and new and strange effects. Social problems shouldn’t go away in one episode. There should be a sense that Fry is still in a strange and dangerous world where there might be something as freaky as suicide booths that he was never even aware of lurking in the background.
Fry has gotten too comfortable. The whole series has gotten too comfortable. There are no tensions or challenges. Change that and Futurama might just be a show worth watching.