Futurama Watch: Season 7A Finale, Episode 13 - Naturama

Mutual of Omicron. Have you insured your planet?

"Naturama." Hm. The name sounds awfully similar to Futurama's name only with an 'N' on the front. That changes the implication from 'future' (science fiction) to 'nature' (wildlife docs)... but I think the rama stays the same. Aren't you glad you come here for this kind of insight, folks? Another of Futurama's triptych episodes, which, to be completely honest, are not my cup of episodes, last night's second installment joins "Anthology of Interest" and "Anthology of Interest II" as well as "Reincarnation" as the fourth time the series has split the story into three vignettes. Trying to riff on the "Treehouse of Horrors" tradition at their sister show The Simpsons, the "Anthology of Interests" didn't make it past "Part II" (Season 3) but the triptych device returned last season with the visual feast that was "Reincarnation." However, I'd like a little more story in my meal and parodying "Planet Earth" style nature documentaries might provide the much needed meat on the structural bone. First, the fishes! Take it away Morgan Freeman...

The Salmon

Well, I don't think it was actually Morgan Freeman, the voice actors sure did their best to mimic the now most famous and ubiquitous narrator throughout the three separate nature stories. The salmon hatchlings soon grow into Fry, not the person, that's just what that stage of fish is called and ready for the perilous journey to the ocean. Only 3 in 10 of the fish will make the trip and immediately one is snatched away to turned into a tasty regurgitated dinner. So much for safety in numbers and then nature's waterfall, the cliff of the waters, takes another three in the foamy plunge (as we're told by Morbo-fish), even though Hedonismfish seems to be enjoying the bumpy ride. Oh my. Before they can make the final push into the open ocean, the birthplace of all life - but the salmon - a Zoidberg-crab reduces their numbers to five with a juicy morsel of Scruffy. It also marks the moment when Fry finally asks Leela to mate with him, just seconds before the pieces Zap swims up to be ignored, for now.

"And so the endless circle of life comes to an end. Meaningless and grim. Why did they live? And why did they die? No reason.."

After a beautifully animated montage set to "Sea of Love," it's time for the lovebirds, lovefish, to start the arduous 1000 mile journey back to the very stream in which they were hatched and whether it takes memory, smell or magnetic variations, the Salmon somehow locate their home stream homes. Only, Leela and Fry don't share the same dream and their biological imperatives won't allow either to cross them. Son of a fish! Fry's stuck watching as Zapp readies to get naughty by nature but first they still have som upstream jumping to do... unless you're Hermes, then you obviously take the limbo route under the rocks. The exhausted fish have finally made it back home and Bender gets busy fertilizing as well as imploring Fry to release his milk before it's too late. But he's not milking anywhere except near the love of his life and thanks to a Free Willy inspired leap as well as Burr the Bear eating his fill with Zapp (at least according to his wife), Fry manages to fertilize Leela's eggs for a 'happy ending.' Well, happy until the whole dying thing.

The Pinta Island Tortoise

"Salmon" kicked things off with a pretty sweet and sentimental Fry and Leela love story, even if it ended with the pair sleeping with the (other) fishes, and next up is another romantic tale about Hubert, the lonely Pinta Island Tortoise. I wouldn't call this romance 'sweet' although the journey to the other side of the island has a certain Land Before Time vibe and I love that movie. Set on the Galapagos Islands, home of many species exclusive to the region, our Planet Express crew mostly take the form of Darwin Finches (complete with the hopping, repeating excitement you'd expect from bird versions of Fry, Amy, Hermes and Leela), except for Bender who's more appropriately a rare iguana. Since there are no suitable lady-tortoises on this side of the island (all I can say about the 'licking' is gross), the hangers-on convince the old turtle to make the 100 ft trek to the other side in order to find the love of his life before it's too late and his species goes extinct! Let's go already!!!

"And so the extinction of the Pinta Island Tortoise is assured. 200 million years of evolution snuffed out. For in the end, nature is horrific and teaches us nothing. Coming up next, the hilarious antics of the elephant seal, the clown of the sea."

Even though Amy finds it quite interesting that the giant tortoise doesn't have any natural predators, that doesn't stop the contraction worker snake from snatching her up and suddenly fewer finches are along for the ride. 18 months (and great grandsons) later, Hubert finally finds his long lost love, which looks a lot like a rock, and proceeds to give her the extended neck and a couple of these (kicks to the butt?) before 'Mom' arrives take her jealous rage out on the rock, cracking her like a brail nut. Poor rock but don't worry, she'll get her revenge. The show of devotion has both tortoises all hot blooded (even though they are cold blooded by nature) and they quickly get down to personal business but not too personal for the rest of the animal kingdom to have to look away. You can even comment on his weird turtle penis. The circle of life continues as Mom soon craps out a clutch that assures the continuation of the species. At least until that rock, posing as the baby tortoises mother, crouches the dumb young and sends the species into extinction.

The Elephant Seal

The final tale of the triptych does a great job of incorporating almost all of the characters in more than a one-line spot (something that kind of plagued the first two stories) but does still focus on three slightly more than the others. Hidden in the narrative about Bender the Beach Master's rule, is also another cute love story, this time centred around the familiar gentle paring of Amy and Kif. While Bender's getting so much love that he's even getting some in his sleep, the beta males are forced to sit on the sidelines and brood. They can't even be forlorn from a distance without the Beach Master coming over and giving them a piece of his fleshy moulded ass, of which he's a whopping 40%. However, even the beach master's threats can not keep Kif from decide to try his luck as a 'sneaker,' an elephant seal who steals a member of the Master's harem without him noticing. And to woo elephant seal Amy, Kif dives into the deep abyss in search of a special dinner, or a new friend, depending on your perspective.

"And so with the threat to the Beach Master's supremacy eliminated, order is restored for another year."

I also really liked the way they played on the familiar character sayings in the next nature documentary context with lines like the 'fleshy ass' or Bender's Beach Master muttering "kill all penguins" in his sleep. And poor Scruffy, it may be try that once they go Walrus they never go back but nobody ever goes walrus. Back to the three new friends on the beach, Kif, Amy and a delectable Zoidberg but she's is quick to warn her romantic pursuer that, first, she doesn't know who he is, and second, if he's caught, it means a showdown with Mr. 'survival of the fattest.' Just ask Amy subtly asks Kif if he wants to do it, Bender reiterates his previous 'BAH!' and scares away the smaller seal. But not for long, Kif assembles the betas for a revolution and decides to engage in a one on one battle with the Beach Master. And despite putting up an excellent (and hilarious looking sumo style) fight, he's squashed to death by Bender, who managed to pull that few off all in his sleep. Whoo! And just when you think the unfair balance is restored, we learn how many pups in the newest litter actually came from the bloated jerk. Way to go Kif, a martyr to the cause.

"And so concludes our exploration of Planet Earth. For a holographic brain injection of tonight's program, send five dollars to this station care of me, the Narrator. Goodnight."

As I mentioned in the introduction to "Naturama," the previous Futurama triptychs have never really been my thing but last night's closing episode was not just an animation showcase (although it definitely was that as well, simply stunning and smart character transformations and previously unexplored locations) or three disconnected stories (where maybe two are solid with the connective tissue always being largely exposition) but a fully realized experiment that improved on last season's "Reincarnation" by a more unified theme, namely the clever idea to make the separate vignettes all sequences from the same "Planet Earth" style documentary. Again, like the 'Mission Accomplished' sign, perhaps the BBC specials aren't exactly the hottest topic anymore but the structure allowed for a pretty great example, and certainly my favorite, of the three-story episodes.

It was also a great way to end, well, there's no great way to end a season of Futurama but since they do have to come to a close, even midseasons, Comedy Central could have done far worse than going with "Naturama" as their lasting impression. Three very strong stories, all full of heart and warmth as well as their fair share of crude and lewd behaviour, the potent mix that makes Futurama so unique. "31st Century Fox" wasn't as exciting - fun but fairly underwhelming for a finale - but it's no surprise now to see why Comedy Central decided to switch episodes 11 and 12 since there is a nice thematic link between the animal hunting/protesting narrative and the nature documentary inspired triptych episode. I don't think the back to back event matched the two episode premiere ("A Farewell to Arms" joining "Bots") but it at least ended on one of the strongest on this half of the already strong seventh. Now we wait. Futurama returns with Season 7B sometime in 2013, presumably on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.