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A Head in the Polls

August 13, 2012

Original airdate: December 12, 1999

Written by J. Stewart Burns; Directed by Bret Haaland

Excellent humour aside, three things have really stood out for me in the series so far: the excellent characters, sincere emotion, and tight, evidently well-planned overarching plots. It’s the latter which is especially executed to great effect here in “A Head in the Polls”, as Earth elects a new President to replace President McNeal, who was killed in “When Aliens Attack”. This provides the show with the seamless opportunity to bring in a new permanent character. Have there been many creative decisions better than making Richard Nixon’s head a character, and indeed President, in your series? I don’t think I could ever come close to anything even a fraction as perfect as that. Nixon already had a cameo in “Space Pilot 3000” and here shows that he is a near boundless gag opportunity. It’s a tightly plotted piece, littered with references both political and non-political in nature, with it starting as a standard Bender plot, but by Act 3 becoming essentially a villain of the week story, with a new fiend for the crew to stop. And he’s one of the most devious of all.

Election ‘fever’ grips Earth. No one can wait till polling day to finally settle the gruelling grudge match between… the two literally identical candidates. Meanwhile, titanium prices soar, so Bender – in his usual money-making near-sightedness – opts to pawn his body, 40% of which is composed of the metal. Although initially enjoying his new found wealth, after spending time in the Hall of Presidents and listening to Nixon’s longing for his old body back, Bender realizes what a huge mistake his plan was (“That’s my style I like to kick ’em when there down.”) Unfortunately his body has already been purchased. The buyer is, of course, Nixon, who needs a (new) body to, of course, flout the election rules to allow him to run for the Earth presidency. It’s a move which proves popular with the voters, especially the robots. Such is the success of the new image, nobody cares when Nixon essentially admits to child murder on live TV. As this semi-robotic Nixon can only spell trouble, Fry and Leela agree to stop him and get Bender his body back. Surprisingly, their appeal to Nixon’s sense of decency fails, so they instead decide to break into Nixon’s room at the Watergate hotel (they give you a discount if you’ve been there before) to steal back the body. Nixon stops them, but Bender records his insane, evil ranting. Foiled by his old nemesis – the tape recorder – once again, Nixon agrees to trade Bender’s body for the damaging evidence. Assuming a bodiless Nixon will never be elected, the crew reflect on a job well done. But this is Futurama. Nixon receives 0% of the human vote, but after acquiring a colossal, weaponized robot body, sweeps the robot vote, ensuring his election by a single vote, as both Fry and Leela forgot to go to the polls.

Nixon makes this episode – and this show – great. By utilizing and exaggerating his more diabolical traits, the writers have made him into an evil, bitter, lonely and downright insane guy with no qualms about anything. But he’s also a highly astute and capable leader, who will command at least a modicum of respect from the Earthicans. And that’s great. And if you don’t find the sight of a totally insane Richard Nixon’s head strapped onto a huge cyborg body, reigning havoc down upon Washington D.C., guarded by secret service personnel while doing it, minutes after being elected President of the whole world, then I have no idea what is wrong with you. Aroo!

Trivia and Quotes

  • “A Head in the Polls” is up there as one of my favourite title puns ever.
  • The connected, enclosed as requested insanity that is The Scary Door.
  • “C-Span 9 presents: The thrill of politics” – this is a debate for the President of Earth, and nobody cares. And that’s exactly what would happen. Leela once again takes on the maternal role by forcing Fry and Bender to become politically aware. “This is important, one of these two men will become president of the world./What do we care? We live in the United States./The United States is part of the world./Wow, I have been gone a long time.”
  • Of course the election is between two bland, identical but effective candidates (the perfectly named Jack Johnson and John Jackson, but don’t let their identical DNA fool you, they differ on some key issues). “Now I respect my opponent. I think he’s a good man. But quite frankly, I agree with everything he just said!”
  • “You’re not registered?/Nope, not vaccinated either. Besides it’s not like one vote ever made a difference./That’s not true, the first robot president won by exactly one vote./Ah yes, John Quincy Adding-Machine. He struck a chord with the voters when he pledged not to go on a killing spree./But, like most politicians, he promised more than he could deliver.”
  • “First 100 Customers Get Extra Vote” – I haven’t given enough praise to the sign gags so far, so this will rectify it.
  • The voter registration scene is full of gold. “Only weirdos and mutants join third parties/Really? I better keep an eye out at the next meeting.” Particular credit should go to the Brain Slugs (in their debut), the National Ray Gun Association (upholding your constitutional right to bare doomsday devices), and the Voter Apathy Party.
  • “All humans are vermin in the eyes of Morbo.”
  • I love how Bender’s concern for the trapped robot miners is instantly dismissed as soon as their doom will make him money. And the Professor’s apparent past career as a gigolo. The sequence of Bender’s enjoyment of his life without a body isn’t super-memorable, but just the idea that he’s so self-absorbed that all he needs to be happy is his own head and a wad of cash is great. “Game’s over losers, I have all the money!”
  • A lot of freeze-frame fun at the Head Museum with the movie, B-movie, porn and TV star heads, including Katey Sagal. Very meta. Claudia Schiffer’s cameo is, though, a pretty pointless tack-on. But how can you not love the idea that all the former Presidents’ heads are trapped in jars, and trapped for all eternity in a room together? Great bits from Clinton, Ford and Washington. Oh and this show just did a sincere emotional moment with Richard Nixon. I don’t need to add anything.
  • “It was just a dream Bender, there’s no such thing as two!”
  • Fry just casually selling his clothes, then sitting around naked, and then getting dressed again is great.
  • “I can’t go through the rest of my life like this!/Don’t you have a self-destruct button?/Yeah, but it’s on my body!” And “Oh I can’t stand to see a robot cry. Let’s watch TV.”
  • They say “no body” can be President of Earth more than twice… but Nixon’s never been President of Earth. Ah whatever. “I’m meeting you halfway you stupid hippies!”
  • One of my favourite outings for Morbo at the debate, his dialogue, and Maurice LaMarche’s performance, is so spot on: “Morbo will now introduce tonight’s candidates: Puny Human No. 1, Puny Human No. 2 and Morbo’s good friend Richard Nixon./Hello Morbo, how’s the family?/Belligerent and numerous./Good man. Nixon’s pro-war and pro-family.”
  • And for Nixon, who is the star here: “Morbo demands an answer to the following question: If you saw delicious candy in the hands of a small child, would you seize and consume it?/Unthinkable/I wouldn’t think of it/What about you Mr. Nixon? I remind you, you are under a truth-o-scope./Er, well, ah, the question is, is vague, you don’t say, what kind of candy, whether anyone is watching… at any rate I certainly wouldn’t harm the child.” Sweating and lying about child murder in true Nixonian fashion. “Nixon with charisma, my God, I can rule the universe!” His insane megalomaniacal (albeit fairly astute) rant about how the average voter is still as drunk and stupid as ever, and the only thing which has changed is that he is now consumed with crazy bitterness, is the episode’s highlight: “Once I’m swept into office, I’ll sell our children’s organs to zoos for meat, and I’ll go into people’s houses at night and wreck up the place!” And I love how dilapidated Nixon’s room at the Watergate is – he’s a presidential candidate and nobody cares. And I can never get tired of two heads attempting to fight each other.
  • “Woah mama, get a room you two!/We’re in a room!/Well then lose some weight!” – Bender is totally on fire in this one.
  • “Morbo congratulates our gargantuan cyborg president, may death come quickly to his enemies.”
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2012 2:24 pm

    Best episode of the show, imo.

  2. August 22, 2012 3:02 pm

    “Compare your lives to mine and then kill yourselves!”

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