Dec. 14 – Futurama’s “Xmas Story”

FUTURAMA “XMAS STORY”
Original Air Date: December 19, 1999

Robot Santa’s gonna find out if you’re naughty or nice…

BACKSTORY

After almost a decade of mild success, Fox decided that maybe Matt Groening deserved a shot building another animated TV show. Together with fellow Simpsons writer David X. Cohen, Futurama premiered in March of 1999.

By all accounts Futurama was incredibly popular, however, Fox opted to air it on Sunday nights in the pre-Simpsons 7pm block, where it was constantly preempted by sporting events, most notably, stupid baseball. Efforts were made to build something of a pre-Animation Domination block on Thursday nights, but to no avail. Futurama was eventually canceled in 2003, along with The PJs, Family Guy, and any other cartoon on Fox that wasn’t The Simpsons or King of the Hill.

Futurama creator Matt Groening

Fortunately that same year, Cartoon Network was building a late nite animation block for older kids called Adult Swim, and Futurama led the charge. Not only did the show find a more stable audience and time slot, episodes began beating out new episodes of other late night fare like Jimmy Kimmel Live in th ratings.

Click to enlarge

Direct-to-DVD episodes were strung together into four “films,” and seeing the longevity of the property, Comedy Central bought the show and began airing new episodes seven years after Futurama‘s last made-for-TV episode. The show has since been nominated for 10 Emmys, holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Animated Series,” and has been renewed for a seventh season.

BREAKDOWN

Good God, this Christmas you’d better thank your damned deities that Comedy Central snagged Futurama. It’s always been a show I liked, and watched together with other shows I liked.

Can you tell it’s “XMAS”

But every once in a while you stumble upon that one episode that reassures you it’s quite unlike anything else out there. “Xmas Story” is one of those episodes.

Conan O’Brien makes a guest appearance!

Obviously, you’ve got an incredibly colorful, hyper-surreal world to look at, but let’s remember Futurama gets to dabble in all things awesome.

Click to enlarge the Futurama Panorama!

It’s very clearly a product of The Simpsons’ Matt Groening, but let’s remember, it’s also written by complete and utter geniuses.

It’s Bongo from Life in Hell!

And no, I don’t mean they’re adept in getting a laugh, I mean people like David X. Cohen and the writers went and got post-graduate degrees in all kinds of smart shit before telling the pursuit of knowledge to fuck off in the name of making great cartoons.

Towing the Xmas palm tree

Oh, Futurama’s got plenty of heart, pop culture references, laughs, and everything else that produces yummy funny, but you don’t necessarily have to be into science fiction to love Futurama. However, you’ll get a heeluva lot more out of it the more you know a bit about science.

Lil’ Orhpan Leela is sad on Xmas

I’m not getting on a high horse – I don’t know spit about book learnin’. But on the rare occasion I actually read an article in, say, “Some Fucking Science Magazine” I tend to understand more about one or more Futurama plots.

Santa Claus is killing to town

Wormholes, black holes, time travel, cloning, parallel dimensions – the more I learn about any of these subjects the more I understand Futurama.

Notice they never say “Christmas”

Which brings us to “Xmas Story,” which doesn’t have a whole lot of science in it to be completely honest. Okay… now I’m going to be brutally honest with you. Long ago, back in my “loud atheist” days, I thought this episode was an outright condemnation on Christianity.

Still somewhat lovable in spite of the homicidal tendencies

Here’s the gist: Nobody in the year 3000 knows what Christmas is. As it turns out, 200 years ago the fine folks at The Friendly Robot Company created a Robot Santa who would thereby judge those who were naughty or nice.

The parrot fry bought Leela for Xmas

The science of human behavior, maybe? (No.) Okay, so my stupid brain, back then quick to find religious subversiveness in damn near everything I liked and respected, interpreted this as the writers implying that humans had outgrown the stupid notion of Jesus. HA – how validating!

He knows if you’ve been breathing/He knows if you’re alive…

Secondly, although Futurama’s society is more evolved, the people are still collectively as dumb as any generation, and so my negative outlook on the human species took this as, in lieu of a God, people will take it upon themselves to create THE MOST LITERAL HOLIDAY DEITY EVER. You know, because we’re stupid.

Bender fakes being a hobo for free hooch

“People are so dumb, and I am so smart!” said a young, smug me. Which only made it more hilarious when the Robot Santa/False God went all apeshit haywire, began interpreting everyone as naughty, and spends each and every Xmas reigning just DOOM on the deserving inhabitants of Earth. HAHA!

Nearly loses his life for Leela (and a stupid bird)

Sincerely, I apologize on behalf of… myself. The second episode featuring Robot Santa, “A Tale of Two Santas,” was shelved for over a year due to concerns over Holiday icons presented as murderous cartoons. And publically projecting naïve horseshit like that, onto little more than a clever comedic premise, makes me just as bad as the any Bible Thumper who’d take to a soapboax to complain about the episode.

Singled out by Santa

Obviously, I no longer feel that way, and today with calmer eyes Robot Santa is a pretty fantastic plot device. After all, Christmas is just another winter Holiday centered around the Winter Equinox, notably one of the coldest days of the year.

Nothing says “I love you” this Xmas like donated hair

Whether it’s lighting candles, burning logs, or opening presents, every culture throughout time has manufactured some method of forcing people together indoors in order to protect themselves. Usually with stupid clothing. And in the future(ama) it just so happens to be a giant robot who murders anyone who dares to step out of a heavily fortified structures.

Guard the chimney, you fools!

Instead of ugly sweaters and cracklin’ fires, they fight off their seasonal woes with steel shutters and rocket launchers! Again, what’s not to like?!

You’re all getting DOOM in your stockings

Robot Santa is heartwarmingly thwarted once he miraculously declares one employee of Planet Express “nice” and worthy enough to receive a pre-programmed present: Dr. Zoidberg. HUUWAY!

Nose-So-Bright 2.0

Zoidberg gets a pogostick, which he eventually uses to inadvertently distract, then electrocute CyberSanta long enough for Fry and company to exploderize him out of the building. Talk about a miracle!

Xmas is about Xpressing yourself

Robot Santa would return in two more Futurama Xmas special, although he’d never be voiced by John Goodman again. Tragic…

Shit. I honestly can’t remember… One cross, just to cover my ass.

He’s not the Santa we wanted, but he’s the one the future needs…

Pretty gulddern awesome. One of the most delightfully sinister specials I’ve seen since Invader Zim‘s “The Most Horrible Xmas Ever. I love the Christmas imagery found in  the distant Manhattan, and there’s also something quite folksy, classic, and even traditional about Futurama’s sense of humor underneath all the geeky stuff. I wouldn’t hesitiate to toss on “Xmas Story” again next Christmas, although, this one’s probably better suited for the big kids.

PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us – it helps!)

Xmas Story” is currently available on Futurama Vol. 2 DVD as well as the confusingly labeled Futurama: The Complete Collection. And in case fans didn’t already know, Futurama Volume 6 recently arrived on Blu-ray and DVD just in time for Xmas!

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