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Fear of a Bot Planet

July 8, 2012

Original airdate: April 20, 1999

Written by Heather Lomard and Evan Gore; Directed by Peter Avanzino and Carlos Baeza

From one of the best of the season to what is probably the worst. “Fear of a Bot Planet” is not so much bad, as entirely unmemorable. And by that I mean I forgot it even existed. It’s your standard Bender-centric – here, Bender feels that he specifically, and robots generally, are unappreciated and discriminated against. But Futurama‘s never really been a show that deals with these kinds of political and social themes all that much, at least compared to The Simpsons or South Park. And when they have, the mutants or Zoidberg have usually been a more effective outlet. Robo-discrimination episodes are not bad per se – and I get that this is meant just to be a light-hearted satire – but to me they have always lacked the spark this show usually has. Especially because Bender’s caring about an issue seems out of character. All he really cares about is himself. But I’m a mammal, so what do I know?

Anyway, here, the crew must make a delivery to Chapek 9, a robot-only world, where humans are killed on site, so Bender must make the package hand-off. He refuses, claiming it’s the holy robot holiday of Robanukah. But he’s already used up all of his days off for Robunzah, Robamudan and a bout of Roburculosis. As a resentful Bender goes down to the surface, Fry and Leela decide to throw him a surprise party to show how much they care. However, Bender sends them a message showing him seemingly being captured for working with humans, so Fry and Leela dress up as robots to go down and save him. They blend in quite well, until Fry has to pee and Leela sneezes and their cover is blown.

They duck in to a theatre, and witness a wonderfully inaccurate robot horror movie, with the human as the monster. This is great on so many levels and sets up one of the episode’s other great themes, the ‘us vs. them’ scenario, where the robots’ hatred of humans emerges only from irrational fear. The robots gather for the daily human hunt, and this one has a special guest: Bender. Yes, Bender’s no longer captive, and is instead inciting the crowd with talk of human annihilation. But the 146,000th human hunt ends in failure. Bender’s efforts aren’t very serious: he feeds the robots misinformation and is in it only for the money, fame, adulation and abandoned robot porn. Indeed, he’s so happy, he refuses to go back with Fry and Leela, who he thinks only view him as a machine.

The other robots return and Fry and Leela are captured, tried and convicted of the crime of being humans (despite Leela’s protests that she’s an alien) and are sentenced to perform menial tasks. But their trial turns out to have been a sham. The robot elders, who really run the show on Chapek 9, decide that Fry and Leela must be killed and instruct Bender to do it with the ceremonial killamajig. Bender refuses and explains that humans generally are harmless cowards, and these humans in particular are his friends. The robot elders of course know this and merely construct humans as a scapegoat to distract from their own failures, lugnuts shortage and corruption. The three escape, Bender remembers to deliver the package (which contains the robots’ desired lugnuts) and they are able to fly away, before celebrating ‘Robanukah’ together.

So yeah, it’s not so much bad, but pretty forgettable and not so much the worst of the season, but the “least-good”. The pacing was kind of off-kilter and there were a few noticeable plot holes (Why did the main robots not put Fry and Leela to death themselves? If they didn’t know about the corrupt robot elders, and planned on killing them in the human hunt, why did they even bother with the trial and then not sentence them to death?) But the main problem is Bender. He’s a selfish jerk, and that’s fantastic, but it’s not fantastic when he’s a whiny selfish jerk. It’s not a massive issue here, but it becomes far more tiresome later (round about Season 3).

Trivia and Quotes

  • I can’t really comprehend or appreciate any of the blurnsball jokes as I don’t care/know anything about baseball. But I agree baseball looks boring.
  • “Oh I get it, make the robot do all the work./This is the first actual work you’ve ever had to do around here.”
  • “Look Bender, I respect your diversity to the extent the law requires.”
  • What’s nice about this take on discrimination is the point that often supposed cases of discrimination are quite illogical. Is it really discrimination to expect robots to do the jobs humans built them to do?
  • “So this planet is completely uninhabited?/No, it’s inhabited by robots/Oh, kind of like a warehouse in inhabited by boxes”
  • “If only I had two or three minutes to think about it.” – Ah ad break jokes. Shame they don’t work on a DVD. Not shame enough to wish I had adverts on my DVD. But, you know.
  • Fry and Leela pretending to be robots provide some of the episode’s highlights. Fry doing the robot to show how much of a robot he is great.
  • “Man, we look stupid, we should have gotten store-bought costumes./Yeah but there wasn’t a Woolworths in this quadrant.” I love jokes that acquire an entirely unintended meaning through time.
  • A lot of good stuff on Chapek 9: the robot guards, the computer judge with loading bar and freezing, the Tetris building blocks (“Hey, watch it, don’t drop that there!”) and “got milk? then you’re a human and must be killed”
  • The design of Chapek 9 is fantastic. I’m not sure whether it’s based on anything (I get kind of a Fritz Lang vibe from it) but it’s exactly how a robot-only planet would look and feel.
  • “What sort of robot turns down a free blast of searing hot resin?”
  • “My God, he’s become evil…I mean eviler.”
  • Leela protests that she’s not actually a human… we all know how that one turned out.
  • Silence! The robot elder’s are great and their origin story and reasoning is hilariously nonsensical.
  • “Elders, execute function ctrl shift kill”
  • Is Fry and Leela running with their arms stuck out in front of them a reference to something? I recall someone doing that in one of the first four episodes as well.
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