"AS SEEN AT THE 1939 WORLD’S FAIR"
There hasn’t been a truly excellent episode of Futurama during this half of the seventh season (so far) but the animated comedy is at least getting better every week. And the improvement in enjoyability might have something to do with the series shifting the focus to everyone’s favorite robotic bad-boy for the second straight installment. Last week’s "Forty Percent Leadbelly" not only followed Bender’s exploits as a folk singer with Sphere-like manifestation powers, it more importantly also contained moments of genius that had been lacking since the show’s most recent return. And a few great songs. The first three of 7B were fine ("2-D Blacktop" and “Fry And Leela’s Big Fling" and "T.: The Terrestrial"), however, not nearly the same level of quality that kicked off or brought home 7A. There’s still plenty of time (well, some time) for Futurama to air a few of those classic episodes that manage to be both hilariously silly and incredibly sweet at the same time and, to its credit, "The Inhuman Torch" is a step in the right direction.
"I’ll stay here and be in charge of not dying."
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, right? Sorry. I’m just hoping that the steady upturn in quality means that Comedy Central has saved the best for last. And trying to wedge in a terrible fire-related phrase since this week’s episode turns the Planet Express crew into a team of firefighters which also gives Bender the opportunity to play the hero. A genuine, selfless hero. Who would have thought? “The Inhuman Torch" opens with a bit of beautiful animation (the show’s been doing a great job designing the exteriors and off-world settings) that brings us from the Planet Express building out to a situation on the Sun. And it should come as no surprise that Zap is to blame for the newest problem facing the known universe. It’s also nice to check in with two of the best characters, the Captain and Kif, his first mate, since we haven’t seen them yet this half of the season. The appearance is brief, however, with Zap stealing birthday grade helium from the DOOP solar mine merely setting of the events of the rest of the episode. The mine collapses and a bunch of Chileans are trapped in the Doom Chamber as fires begin to rag around them. Okay, they weren’t Chilean but come on.
"These boys must have hero in their bones. And you, ma’am, must have heroine in your veins."
The Planet Express team is watching the situation unfold on TV, worried that the (sunny with a chance of) tragedy might make it so those miners never again not see the light of day. Good news! It’s only going to take an agonizing suicide mission to rescue them and the Professor has just the team and tech. He’s developed a new plasma spray that coats delicate things like Zoidberg and protects them from being burned even when pushed into the subbasement’s lava pit. It works! That means it’s time for the crew to paint up and head out to rescue those poor, high-voiced, trapped miners. Bender, as usual, isn’t too keen on risking his shiny metal ass to save a bunch of strangers so he decides to split using his extinguisher hands as a make-shift firefighting jetpack. My favorite moment of “The Inhuman Torch," however, came when the action cut back to to Professor and Scruffy watching the rescue on TV. Oh, Scruffy. I’ll miss you the most. Bender’s cowardice accidentally turns into heroics when a miner pops out of his chest and to safety. With the action being recorded, Bender begrudgingly continues to rescue the rest of the trapped and doesn’t mind taking all the glory for himself.
"Bite my shiny metal axe!"
Fry and Leela, however, do seem to mind, especially when they are again given the shaft, or the no-medal, at ‘Heroes’ Day.’ Bender does handle all the miners and now the burning baby pretty much by his lonesome. Not to mention almost all of the calls once Planet Express equips itself as a proper firehouse. (A proper firehouse means Nibbler needs a quick dalmatian make-over and Zoidberg turning everyone one with his pole work.) It turns out that theres a pattern to all of the recent fires that Bender has ben fighting, namely him. Every time something goes ablaze, he’s nearby causing the rest of the crew to speculate that he’s playing both arsonist and hero. Fry’s not convinced though, he’s bet friend would do a lot of despicable things but not just for attention and especially not when it endangers his own stuff. There must be another connection. Like a crazy sentient blue fire called Flamo. I loved Flamo’s design, his dialogue (the aldermen!) and the delivery. He and Bender have a great relationship right off the bat, which is good because they rest of “The Inhuman Torch" spends a lot of time with the two.
"How could a fire learn to talk? Did you burn up a dictionary? Or a parrot?"
The next few sequences contain a bunch of great sight gags inlcuding the pure grain alcohol attack and Mary Poppins-ing with a tiny umbrella. Bender takes Flamo out to the middle of the Arctic Ocean because there’s nothing there for the crazed fire to burn. Well, except for their boat. Fry, still believing in his friend’s innocence, uses his robot GPS app to track Bender down but the truth about Flamo only serves to push them apart. The fight works perfectly for Flamo who attaches himself to Fry and returns back to the Planet Express building to cause some damage. His deaky, freaky deaky moves are too much for the regular team but at least they all manage to escape from the building unharmed. Except for Fry. His pants plan is not working out. Lucky for him, his best friend Bender is a true hero (I know, you can teach an old bot new tricks) and arrives just in time to save the day, become the greatest hero ever (suck it, Gilgamesh) and even refuse to take credit. Oh, those mystic Aldermen of the Sun helped too. Finally, the little tag was great, a sweet moment between best friends that reminds me of Futurama at its best.
"You’re a horrible person and your carelessness nearly cost the life of my best friend. You."
Futurama returns with Episode 19, “Saturday Morning Fun Pit," next Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. Unfortunately, I’ll be at Comic-Con and won’t be able to recap it (a shame since it’s written by all-timer Patric M. Verrone and is this year’s triptych installment featuring three different narratives told in their own referential animation style), however, there will be coverage of the Futruama panel in its place. Lose-win? And, in case you missed it, be sure to check out the Season 7B sizzle reel.