Futurama Series Finale Review: A Glitch in Time

By Andy Daglas

Sep 05, 2013

Futurama S07E26 / S010E13: "Meanwhile"

David X. Cohen, Futurama’s co-creator along with Matt Groening and its longtime showrunner, has said that he and Groening established a “no time-travel” rule for the series early on. Philip J. Fry is no doubt eternally grateful that the writers dispensed with that rule, seeing as how much of his relationship with Turanga Leela has depended on various sorts of temporal anomalies. (To say nothing of how his own existence relies on it, being his own grandfather and all.)

Like two of its clear antecedents, “Time Keeps on Slippin’” and “The Late Philip J. Fry,” “Meanwhile” used its rigidly controlled time-travel conceit to examine the Fry-Leela romance. The Professor’s time-rewinding device opened the door to two common questions that underlie time-control fantasies: What if you could relive a moment over and over again? And what if you could stop time altogether and make one moment last forever? One of those questions was answered with biting irony, the other with sweet symbolism. Only fitting for a show that’s always walked the line between cynicism about the world and affection for its characters’ humanity.

These are familiar themes that Futurama has played well in the past, so it was no surprise to see them re-emerge in its swan song. Structurally, too, the episode had a retroactive feel, with each act devoted to one of the series’ favorite tones. The opening sequences were laced with reference humor, including plenty of nods to the series’ longevity (the crew returning to the moon, site of their first delivery in episode two; Leela saying she and Fry have known each other for 13 years; Bender claiming Fry has told Leela he loves her “like 140 times,” corresponding to the series’ official episode count).

After an emotional pivot, the middle portion went heavy on black humor, as poor Fry violently splattered about a dozen times and the Professor was seemingly torn into temporal shreds. One more sharp turn later, the third act was given over almost entirely to a genuinely romantic montage. Fry and Leela’s extremely extended, globetrotting (or globe-strolling) honeymoon felt like a parting gift from the writers to their characters—all the more so because they were allowed to do one thing animated characters almost never get to do: Age. They lived out their lives. The humor notes here weren’t full-fledged jokes so much as they were grin-inducing moments, but everything worked because it was rendered with such sincere sweetness.

As an isolated episode, “Meanwhile” suffered from some of the mechanical plotting that’s characterized this final season. From the moment Farnsworth introduced his latest thematically convenient gizmo, you could see the story cranking dutifully toward its emotional climax. The rules of this iteration of time-travel were intriguing—the 10-second recharge limitation and the hazards of vacating the time bubble created interesting wrinkles that were used successfully—but it didn’t find much time to let loose many great or surprising jokes.

As a coda to a long-running series, though, the episode was much more successful. It brought its characters to satisfying resting places: Fry and Leela finding meaningful closure, Prof. Farnsworth cruising through a maze of quasi-science-y mumbo-jumbo, the rest of the Planet Express crew frozen in a moment of triumph after Bender led them to save the day, however briefly.

Then the episode dropped in a reset button ex machina, because nothing ever truly ends in fictional universes like this one. Sitcoms always return to the status quo ante; sci-fi always has new worlds to explore. And series that have been revived twice can’t afford to wrap things up too tidily. In more ways than one, “Meanwhile” ended a frequently cynical show on a disarmingly optimistic note.


– The (probably) final opening credits tag: “AVENGE US,” written in blood.

– For a show largely built on a foundation of science-fiction spoofs/homages, I believe the beer bottle in the Moonface Man’s eye was Futurama’s first reference to the earliest sci-fi movie in film history, Georges Méliès’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon.

UPDATE: Commenter torque_smacky points out that this too is a callback to a joke from Episode 2, which had slipped my mind. More cap-tipping to the early days!

– Genre Show Overlap, Part 1: The situation Fry and Leela wound up in was essentially an inverse of the scheme concocted by the lovelorn physics student in Angel’s Season 2 episode “Happy Anniversary,” even down to the expanding glowy hemisphere that engulfed the area. Without all the heartbreak and obsession, though.

– Genre Show Overlap, Part 2: Fry caught in a time loop, dying repeatedly before Leela’s eyes, called to mind the Season 3 Supernatural episode “Mystery Spot.” At least there, Dean Winchester got to enjoy a little variety in his many demises.

– What would a Futurama finale be without one last Harlem Globetrotters cameo?

What'd you think of the series finale? Are you satisfied with how things ended?

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  • Crystyn Sep 09, 2013

    What the fuck happened to Kif? I know he died into the wild blue yonder but he came back didnt he?

  • lepertum2k6 Sep 09, 2013

    He was sitting in the cab together with Zapp so yes, he's alive.

  • Nikell Sep 08, 2013

    I like the "final" espisode. But.. i was hoping to see just one last time the "dead dog" .. he usualy improve any episode with just a cameo!. :)

  • BugRadio Sep 07, 2013

    I thought it was a good ending, very "Futurama-y." I always love it when Futurama goes big on the Sci-Fi (especially time travel. unless they go back to 12/31/99, because that's over-done).

    This review pointed out some things I didn't notice, like the meaning behind "140 times" and the possible purpose behind the tone shifts. Good analysis.

  • dapython Sep 06, 2013

    don't u dare end this series, because I tell you, this would be an absolute disaster for my 3year old! I myself am utterly saddened by the planned decision to pull the plug, even with some really dimwitted episodes, this was truly one of the best animated pseudo sci-fi series in TV history, unlike anything ever broadcast... there was a sense of open-ended finality, who knows, maybe they're just teasing, but I would like to hope that there will be another comeback, when they come to their senses, again!
    till then, sad, very sad, my boy and I, we used to watch them together. my 3yo is very intelligent, extremely precocious, even though he doesn't understand nearly enough to make sense of it all, he frantically enjoys the characters and animation itself. you condemned us to mindless reruns for ever and ever, cohen, be a Mensch and think on it! or not, since it's an authentic no-brainer, just give us more! and then some! wth, this one is more entertaining than the Simpsons, if you decide to refrain from feeble-minded writing every now and then.. cool show, bring it back! if not for the money it'll earn you, at least do it for my kid! shalom

  • DrSpongejr Sep 06, 2013

    I thought it was a satisfying finale that tied together the relationship nicely. I agree with JT_Kirk in saying I'm glad it's going out while it at least somewhat retained its quality then declining in quality and not being able to produce anything good.

  • robertokuri Sep 06, 2013

    There's been some truly sad and nostalgic moments in this series... If this didn't feel like the final one I don't think it would have had the same effect. But because it is what it is (probably) I had to shed some manly tears.
    It was what Fry and Leela deserved.

  • terminaltrip421 Sep 06, 2013

    I'm as satisfied as can be with the finale. but someone needs to call TBS and have them pick this and the cleveland show up to pair with american dad.

  • BrianHartman Sep 05, 2013

    There's one other thing that bugged me about the finale:

    I know they needed it for the plot (so that Fry would jump), but the whole idea of Leela asking, "What if the answer's no?" bothered me. I can't picture her ever saying no in that situation.

  • Megan1818 Sep 05, 2013

    I thought the ending was sweet. I liked it, I didn't love it. I really would have liked to have had a warm and fuzzy ending with all of the characters (in a non-frozen state), kind of like the last few minutes of King Of The Hill. The episode was Fry and Leela centric and it just felt like something was missing by not having more of the whole gang in there.

  • BrianHartman Sep 05, 2013

    I was okay with not having the rest of them there. The series was about Fry and Leela's relationship, in the end. I just thought they should've decided not to go back. Just have them grow old together and fade the episode to black. That would've been better closure than to have the audience wondering if Leela gets her hand chopped off the second time around, if she says no to Fry, etc.

  • torque_smacky Sep 05, 2013

    Man, just think. When this started we still had Clinton in office. A decade ago exactly, I was in the same position I'm in now, having just finished "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings" and realizing there was nothing left.

    Having to say goodbye to a cartoon show feels like such an alien experience. Usually, they just go on and on and on until you're sick of them. I guess we're blessed in that regard.

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