Episode Title: "Neutopia"
Writer: J. Stewart Burns
Director: Edmund Fong
"Futurama" is coming back to Comedy Central tonight to kickoff the second half of its sixth season. And while the series has earned its reputation for being one of the best animated shows on television, "Neutopia" isn't one of its finest half hours.
The episode kicks off with Planet Express once again in financial trouble, as gender tensions between the female employees and their predominantly male coworkers boil over. Thanks to some "fine print" in their contracts, Leela (Katey Sagal), Amy Wong (Lauren Tom) and even LaBarbara (Dawnn Lewis) — the wife of Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr) — are forced to pose in skimpy and revealing outfits for a Girls of Planet Express calendar.
And when that fails, the Professor (Billy West) steals Leela's idea and transforms the company into a commercial airline. During the inaugural flight, Fry (West again) manages to crash the ship on a hostile planet where a powerful rock creature begins experimenting on the crew to determine whether men or women are superior.
That's where the episode starts to fall apart. It feels like we've been over the gender battle on this show before and this time all of the characters seem more than a little out of character as they attempt to prove their dominance. This could have worked if the writer had found some brilliant twist earlier in the story, but instead it falls into the tired gags of the men refusing to ask for directions and the women being lured to a mirage of a clothing outlet store.
I don't recall seeing this kind of lazy writing on the series before and I'm surprised that this episode made it all the way through production without someone attempting a major fix. The episode spends most of its time working up to a point where the crew inadvertently swaps genders... and then immediately squanders that material for more cheap jokes about the former men embracing their lives as women.
The gender switch was the most promising thing about this episode and if it had been used a lot earlier within the show, this reheated premise might have been a lot funnier. Of course, the female versions of Fry, the Professor, Bender and the rest end up posing for The Girls of Planet Express calendar (pictured above)... which becomes a hot seller. "Thank God most of our fans are perverts," says Leela. Though she left out that the same thing could be said of the writers...
There are some bright spots within the episode, particularly the Professor's line about Mercury, Bender's time travel advice and Dr. Zoidberg's new career as an in-flight comedian. Even Zapp Brannigan makes a welcome return to the series; which causes more problems for the crew than it solves,
No show can be expected to hit a home run every time out. And this isn't the worst "Futurama" episode of all time. It's just one of the worst in recent memory. The first half of the sixth season did give us a few instant classics like "The Late Philip J. Fry," so I still have faith that the creative team can deliver.
But "Neutopia" might be proof that even the greatest shows eventually start to decline.
Crave Online Rating: 6.5 out of 10.