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Mars University

July 18, 2012

Original airdate: October 3, 1999

Written by J. Stewart Burns; Directed by Bret Haaland

“Mars University” is your average, funny, stand-alone episode of the show. It’s definitely stand-alone because the plot principally revolves around a new character who never appears again. Having such a focus on a one-time character in the eleventh episode of the show seems kind of an odd choice. We do get Fry’s envy and the Professor’s paternalism in relation to it, but at this point in the series we still don’t know much about the Professor, Hermes and Amy, though they have all been explored somewhat in “The Series Has Landed”, “A Big Piece of Garbage” and “A Flight to Remember”. But we know nothing about Zoidberg other than that he is incompetent and a bit gross (in fact, Zoidberg doesn’t even appear in this one). My point is that, at this stage in the series, devoting an episode to a largely inconsequential character seems out of place when there are permanent characters with whom nothing has been done at all. This is a comment rather than a criticism, because this episode is by no means bad.

Said new character is the Professor’s experiment: a monkey called Günter who is given intelligence and able to talk with aid of a special hat. Günter is enrolled at Mars University. Meanwhile, Fry is incensed after learning that his status as a certified college dropout doesn’t have the same ‘kudos’ it had back in the 20th Century, so resolves to apply, and then drop out of Mars. It’s the perfect Fry plot: it’s such a pathetically dumb idea, yet Fry couldn’t be prouder of being a failure (“You won’t last two weeks/Aw, thanks for believing in me”). When the Professor arranges for the two to be roommates, they develop a mutual dislike due to their differing intelligence levels. Fry envies a monkey; seems about right. To show Günter up, Fry releases his more naturally monkey parents at the college’s parent’s weekend reception (“Oh dear Lord! All over the dean!”). Günter was a jerk, sure, but it’s a uncharacteristically dickish move from Fry and it reminds Günter that, despite his intelligence, he still feels out of place and unhappy. The pressure gets too much for him and, during a test, Günter throws off his hat and flees to jungle (“Why, why, why didn’t I break his legs!”). Fry, Leela and the Professor journey in to the jungle, resolving to let Günter decide whether he wants to be intelligent, or remain living like a regular monkey. Before he can make a decision, the three are swept into a river and Günter is the only one who can save them. He successful puts the hat back on (after working out that it doesn’t go on his ass), saves them, but falls off the waterfall himself. The hat breaks his fall but now only operates at 50% capacity. Without his super intelligence Günter actually feels happy and, to the Professor’s horror, transfers to business school. Which is a happy ending to a funny, albeit at times pretty bleak, story.

The episode’s subplot also has a plethora of laughs and is easily one of Bender’s best stories because it allows him to do what he does best: party, drink, steal and commit authority-undermining mayhem. Bender returns to his old fraternity and is horrified to find that all the robots there are massive nerds, and pledges to help them transform Robot House in the guise of his own legendary coolness, drinking and phone booth packing (“Yeah, well, a lot of them were children”). After various antics, which get them probation, Robot House technically wins the university’s regatta and is let of, receiving a parade in their honour.

So this is a funny episode, with some great quick fire jokes, sign gags and so forth. I’m assuming I’d find it funnier/appreciate it better if I actually watched Animal House. There are better episodes, and it’s never been one of my favourites, but it has two pretty decent stories, even if Günter doesn’t ever come back. Which is a shame, because he would be a funnier addition to the show than a certain clone…

Trivia and Quotes

  • The Professor has his priorities straight: “It’s a little experiment that may win me the Noble Prize./In what field?/I don’t care, they all pay the same.” And this is a living and soon to be intelligent creature he’s talking about. My God he’s great.
  • Alternate opening theme… I don’t like it. There were later remixes which were better.
  • “Back in the 20th Century we had no idea there was a university on Mars.”
  • Mars University has a lot of great stuff: Snooty House, the Financial Aid Dorm. And I love Fry obliviously ruining the Professor’s desire to not actually teach a class.
  • “I arranged that you two be roommates for one reason: so I’d only have to remember one phone number.”
  • “I don’t eat bananas. I prefer banana flavoured energy bars made from tofu.”
  • Getting an A in the 20th Century History class being possible only if you lived in the 20th Century, and Fry still failing despite the fact that he is, is good. But I’ve never liked that he can’t remember what a TV is. He’s dumb, but not that dumb; his life is largely based around TV.
  • Like with Dean Peterson in “Homer Goes to College”, with Dean Vernon they took the standard college movie convention of a crusty, bitter old dean and turned it on its head. Vernon is a good and respected dean, but is pushed over the edge by genuine criminal behaviour of “ROBOT HOUSE!” – “Whenever a fire alarm is pulled: it’s Robot House. Whenever the campus liquor store is looted: Robot House. Whenever a human corpse is desecrated./Well I can explain that.”
  • “Hey, you like bananas? I got her number. How do you like them bananas?”
  • “At the risk of sounding like an After School Special, I think we learnt who the real animal was today./You mean peer pressure?”
  • “Hey hey cheer up, not everyone turns out like their parents. I mean, look at me, my parents were honest, hard-working people.”
  • There’s a lot of gold from Fry here: drinking the soiled punch, “Look at him, I’m so proud!/Thanks Professor!/Not you!”, and copying Günter’s ‘answers’.
  • “All he handed in was a paper smeared with feces. He tied with Fry.”
  • “Jungles? On Earth? ohahahaha.” And then the tranquilizer grenade and elephant crushing. So many quick fire gags in this one. “Banana, banana, banana!”
  • I’ve always felt it was a wasted story and humour opportunity that Günter didn’t go back to live with his parents. They just find him in the jungle on his own.
  • “Oh that poor, sweet monkey. Oh well, let’s go gather him up, there’s no sense letting him go to waste.”
  • “All I want out of life is to be a monkey of moderate intelligence who wears a suit. That’s why I’m transferring to business school!”
  • And then the Animal Houseending captions:
    • Fry Dropped Out Successfully And Returned To His Dead-End Delivery Job
    • Günter Got His MBA And Became President Of The Fox Network
    • Fatbot Caught A Computer Virus In Tijuana And Had To Be Rebooted
    • Leela Went On a Date With Dean Vernon, But He Never Called Again
    • His Job Done, Bender Stole Everything Of Value From Robot House And Ran Off
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2012 7:40 pm

    Poppycock. This is my favorite of the alternate themes.
    Back when it seemed FOX was never going to release Region 1 DVDs, I ended up buying the first season on region-less VCDs, offline from some Godforsaken country. My friend and I watched them all at least thirty times over, we wore those bitches out. “And the winner is… ROBOT HOUSE?!” was much quoted by us to our delight, and the annoyance of our other friends.

    • July 18, 2012 8:07 pm

      Ah, see I’ve always liked the one they used at the end of Beast with a Billion backs best.

      • July 18, 2012 8:18 pm

        I don’t really consider that an alternate version of the theme proper, since it was part of a whole other extended sequence. For me it’s this, “Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV” and “Spanish Fry.” I love that one though, with Billy West just rambling jibberish as the moon farmer. “Y’all make sure you never come back!!”

  2. July 24, 2012 2:13 pm

    This is an ep I saw a LOT, but it still manages to tickle me, though after repeated viewings the stuff with gunter’s folks feels irritating.

    A really great episode. And yes, definitely enhanced by watching Animal house, which is an absolute classic of comedy, and very much an important cultural touchstone one should have in their pocket for understanding references (2001 is probably the best cultural pocket stone)

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