Futurama Goes West for Not the Best Episode

Get ready for shootouts, saloons, and back rooms!

The third episode of Hulu’s revival of Futurama is entitled “How the West was 1010001” (that’s the number 81 in binary), and it’s an OK episode overall. There are some really good jokes, some solid throwaway gags, and a plot that manages to feel vaguely important.

We find out that Prof. Farnsworth (Billy West covering the Thallium buyer, Doc Fiesta, the Road Runner, and Zoidberg among others) has invested money into Bitcoin. Because it is bitcoin he’s naturally lost all of it leading to the terrible news that Planet Express is broke! Also, he’s borrowed money from the Robot Mafia (Maurice LaMarche takes care of the Don Bot and Clamps, while John DiMaggio covers Joey Mousepad), however, the news provides him with an idea. Turns out bitcoin is back up! So the gang heads out West to make their fortunes off the backs of idiots willing to fall for the pyramid scheme that is botcoin (Leela’s words, not mine, though very accurate).

There’s an Oregon Trail allusion as the ship winds up with a bonnet and is pulled by oxen toward the town. Here we get some set up for the main beats of our adventure: Fry is into a series of books featuring The Borax Kid (LaMarche voices him too as well as Morbo, the Auctioneer, and Bidder #1) and his sidekick Mumbos (David Herman, giving voice to Maxwell’s Demon, Prospector, Bidder #2, the Pianist, and Roberto!), the Professor is on the hunt for Thallium which is used in the production of microchips which are then used in servers to mine for bitcoin, and Hermes (Phil LaMarr – pulling double duty as both father and son) thinks the trip will be a good chance to bond with his son Dwight. There’s also a mention of the fact that everything looks old-timey Wild West because all of the town’s electrical resources go into mining bitcoin, and the last tidbit we’re told is because the gang is broke they’ll all have to get jobs in town.

The job acquisition turns into a lovely running gag that largely involves a fan favorite: Roberto! You may recall Roberto as the psycho-stab-happy robot from the series’s original run (though I believe he’s always managed a spot in revivals before so this isn’t a surprise). See, Roberto perfectly embodies the danger of the Wild Wild West – anything could happen, it’s lawless! Though, he does prefer knives to guns leading to a great joke about gun violence in the episode’s shoot-out finale. We’ll get there, but first: Roberto goes around stabbing a lot of people which gives at least three of our plucky Westerners jobs – Fry becomes the new sidekick to the Borax Kid, Leela becomes a barmaid, and Zoidberg becomes…well, a doctor. Everyone else helps the Professor hunt for Thallium.

Fry’s stint as the new sidekick to the Borax Kid goes swimmingly (heavy on the sarcasm here) until he discovers his hero just passes off the stories of another Wild West icon as his own. Zoidberg feels underutilized in his new position until Bender needs help saving his ass (an actual donkey he purchased named Rusty – thanks Dee Bradley Baker!). And Hermes’ efforts to bond with his son are undermined by Dwight’s infatuation with the town villain: Roberto! Meanwhile the Professor, Amy, and to an extent Bender, are doing their damnest to get some much-needed Thallium. All these plots eventually culminate in a three-way shootout between Bender and the mercurial saloon lady (Tress MacNeille, who also voices Linda) – she’s been using robot heads to mine for Bitcoin. Still, she does donate the money to orphans, the Player Pianist and the Cackling Man (aka the Thallium buyer who converts the raw ore into microchips for Bitcoin mining servers), and the Borax Kid and Fry (Fry is not a fan of the Borax Kid’s semi-legal plagiarism). The gunfight – which provides a nifty 3-D scene – also provides Hermes with that bonding chance as Dwight limbos to reach his dad and then leads him out of harm’s way – Dwight’s love for Roberto runs out when the psycho robot gets him run over by a wagon. However, it does flex that spine perfectly for limboing! It is funny to note how many of Hermes’ plotlines either end with or revolve in some way around limbo.

It’s a very weird episode that seems to quickly drop the “bitcoin = bad” premise in favor of a Wild West adventure (ok, so it doesn’t entirely drop the premise but it doesn’t beat you in the head with it either which is nice). In fairness, the original run only had one Wild West episode and that took place on Mars, this would be more Wild West proper. Still, there are some great jokes here. One of my favorites is an old man who counts the number of people coming into town in order to keep an accurate population tally – so dedicated is he to this task that even as he is dying of a heart attack he manages to lower the number by one! Another great throwaway joke involves Fry’s cluelessness when it comes to, well, a lot. He is oblivious to the Borax Kid’s advances on Leela, oblivious to the euphemisms surrounding a whorehouse, yet weirdly happy to be called a “galoot” instead of an idiot. I will say I was less into the “ass-play” for lack of a better phrase, the side plot dedicated to Bender’s ass both figuratively (the donkey) and literally (it makes for a fine panning pan) even comes with a pointless song for those who worry our series might be too “highbrow”. No worries folks, they’ve got their crude humor down too. It reminded me of the pilot’s obsession with resurrected shows. We get it, ass has two meanings. The burrowing burrow on the other hand was a solid sight gag. And then there’s the shoehorning of the Robot Mafia. Like, I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure why they are included other than as fan service. Ah well, I’m also not gonna say it wasn’t nice to see them and wonder if they’ll be back…

In general, it’s not a terrible episode, but I wouldn’t say it’s great either. Middle of the road seems a decent rank. We do get a lot more of the gang here; everyone gets a good chunk of screen time as opposed to the first two episodes which chose to be more myopic. I do love a futuristic world not relying on the old post-apocalypse as reasoning for why the Wild West is still so stuck in the past. They could have even gone the West World route, but instead, they chose a more believable avenue – money talks and everything that doesn’t feed into that greed can rot. It is a bit of the old show brought into the new since Futurama was always aware of how ambivalence, greed, and other social ills could do the world a lot of harm. There’s even the repeated lesson of not everything that glitters is gold – take Fry and Dwight’s idolization and how it blinds them to the reality of their heroes. On the other hand, maybe I’m ass-panning a little too deeply into what is a fairly routine sci-fi-Western episode.

We’ll see what they do next!

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A fun if not largely empty episode about bitcoining mining set in the Wild West, Futurama style!Futurama Goes West for Not the Best Episode