718. Pixelated and Afraid

Original airdate: February 27, 2022

The premise: Homer and Marge end up driving off a mountain road on their way to a secluded wellness retreat, leaving them abandoned in the woods and needing to figure out a way to survive.

The reaction: Homer and Marge’s relationship has always been an interesting one, since as opposite as they may seem, there must be something between the two that keeps them together and loving each other. Despite her normally acting above it all, we’ve seen Marge be quite charmed by some of her husband’s more boorish qualities, and those little touches really make their union seem all the sweeter. This episode opens with a similar sight, with the two completely comfortable with eating snacks while watching TV on a massive pile of blankets. While this sounds like paradise to me, Lisa is disturbed by this image, conflicting with her childlike view of marriage as a never-ending romance movie, urging the two to take a week trip to “The Saffron Togetherness Center,” a phones-free relaxation retreat. All of this set-up feels promising enough, as I like to see Homer and Marge function as a loving team, grumbling about how the keto-diet and yoga-happy retreat schedule is of no interest to either of them. Then they crash their car and end up stranded, with their wet clothes accidentally burned up, leaving them buck naked, apart from some helpful digital pixelation (hence the title. Originally I thought this was going to be a video games episode based on just the title). Homer and Marge eventually forge a “love nest” out of the remnants of an abandoned honeymoon villa, and even manage to catch a fish for food. The problem to me is that we don’t really get much of a progression of Homer and Marge’s characters through this story. If anything, it would have been better to start with them having some kind of petty argument, and them slowly softening to each other as the episode progressed and their love rekindling in such a dire situation. Or, they could be learning new things about each other in this brand new environment divorced from their suburban rut, realizing there’s still more to discover in each other even after 10-plus years of marriage. Instead, we see how they love each other in the beginning in their comfort with each other in mundanity (just not visible to Lisa’s childlike eyes), and we end with them loving each other in a time of crisis. Homer ends up bashing in the skull of a feral wolverine about to attack Marge (which felt very uncomfortably real), sparking up their romantic flames once more. The two eventually follow snowmobile tracks back to a ranger station, enjoying a beautiful serene walk back to civilization, ending in one last cry of embrace between the two of them, and a final view of the sunset while eating chips, mirroring their similar activity at the start of the episode. This is a Matt Selman show so there’s your required dose of schmaltz, which doesn’t feel as egregiously manipulative as other episodes, but it doesn’t really feel potent to me since nothing really happened in to make it feel really earned. Like I said, we saw how close and in love the two of them were at the start of the episode, and by the end, they just realized how much they really love each other? I guess? The episode just felt very inert, and pretty laugh-less throughout. It once again brought up my “What even is this show now” question when it came to the last five minutes between the grisly manner of Homer killing that animal and their blissful walk back to the real world. I felt like the episode really needed to build up to that ending to really make it hit home, but it just didn’t to me. It reminded me a bit of the Futurama series finale “Meanwhile” (well, former series finale), where it ends with time frozen and Fry and Leela spend their lives walking across the entire planet, but that ending felt like a satisfying pay-off to the build-up of the episode, along with actually funny moments leading up to it. Like, okay, Homer and Marge love each other. We’ve seen them together for 33 years now. I’m totally onboard for an episode about them rediscovering that, but you’re going to have to give me more than the old “lost-in-the-woods” trope. It just felt very predictable and old hat.

Three One semi-unrelated item of note:
– I don’t really have any other tidbits to say about this episode, given how focused it was in its one premise with just Homer and Marge, but being reminded about Futurama made me think I should briefly cover the Hulu revival. I can’t tell you how weird it was to read the “Hulu Reboots Futurama” headline in my Twitter feed and my reaction was to feel absolutely nothing. I flashed back to when fifteen years prior when I heard that Futurama was coming back for new direct-to-DVD movies, and myself, a teenager who was enraged at FOX for “mistreating” and canceling the show, was absolutely beside myself with excitement. But then the show came back again, and again, and then finally ended. I actually just so happened to finish rewatching the show a few months back. The Comedy Central era was definitely spotty in places, with its share of mediocre-to-bad episodes, but there was also a lot of good in it, and I’d say at least a dozen shows were on par with some of the best seen in its FOX run. Futurama had four series finales over its lifetime, and for the seemingly unkillable run that it had, I’d say it finally “ended” on a solid note and I was perfectly fine with it finally coming to an close. But now, in this era of studios reviving every corpse with a fan base to get new subscribers to their streaming services, Futurama is the latest in an endless line of revivals, coming back with new episodes after a decade in 2023 (yes, 2013 was that long ago, let that sink in.) Could these new Hulu Futurama episodes be good? Quite possibly. But do I want them? No. Yes, the types of futuristic sci-fi-based premises they could do are seemingly endless, but I feel like you can only do so much with these characters, and they were already starting to feel played out in the Comedy Central run. Sometimes things can just end. It’s okay. There’s plenty of other things to watch, even, dare I say, new shows by the same creators of the stuff you love. I didn’t care for the first season of Disenchantment, and never went back to watch further, but that felt like the true successor to Futurama, with a lot of the same cast and crew working on it. I respect the artistic integrity and merit of that far more than a Futurama reboot. Things seem even more dire with the news that John DiMaggio, as of now, is not returning to voice Bender, as he was unable to reach a contract agreement with Disney/Hulu. I was pretty blown away to see more than a few people online bitch about DiMaggio for being greedy or insulting his fellow cast members by asking for more money, in defense of Disney, the all powerful media monopoly. Voice actors are famously underpaid, and John DiMaggio has always been a champion for the art form, so I don’t blame him for wanting to get a higher salary, given this is now the fourth revival of this very popular show, doing the voice of debatably its most famous character. The entire cast had a similar contentious negotiation at the start of the Comedy Central run, with all of them being threatened with being replaced, so there’s clear precedent of studios trying to fuck over talent with this series alone. The first table read for the reboot was a couple weeks ago, and apparently someone is subbing in for Bender for now, so who knows if Disney and DiMaggio will actually reach an agreement by the time they actually start recording. But it really feels like an absolute bonehead move by Disney. I have to imagine a large majority of fans would disown a season of Futurama with someone else voicing Bender, but will they watch it anyway, and is that all that matters to Disney? I feel like eventually Disney will buckle and give DiMaggio what ultimately must be a meager pay bump, but there is definitely a chance that they’ll stick to their guns and we’ll get a weird-sounding Bender in the new episodes, in which case, I will watch the first episode out of morbid curiosity and then turn it off.

EDIT: Well, not even 24 hours later, DiMaggio is back, so never mind about all that! Even if Hulu Futurama sucks, at least Bender will still sound like Bender.