Futurama continues its call-backs to old episodes when Fry wants to find some new (old) relatives. The gang goes to the Near-Death Star to metaphorically unearth the parents of my favorite character on the show - the Professor. It's time to add another piece to Hubert Farnsworth's long and sordid history.
Bender may be the scene stealer of the show, and Fry may be the regular Joe who all the present-day watchers identify with, but my favorite character has always been Farnsworth. With his cheerful dedication to scientific evil, the fact that he so resolutely enjoyed being an old curmudgeon that when he was taken back to his thirties he went looking for The Fountain of Age, and the continual revelations as to his wild times in the past, he's a gem. An episode that looks at Farnsworth is always Good News to me. In Near-Death Wish, Farnsworth shows off his extreme callousness by missing out on Fry's achievement award. He won a Clippie for Best Delivery Boy - Miscellaneous. Fry complains to Zoidberg about how he only has one relative, and Zoidberg, as usual, ruins everything by pointing out that this isn't so.
The Near-Death Star, which we first saw in A Clone of My Own, is a holding facility for really, really old people. The first time we wandered through it, the gang was rescuing the Professor from its clutches. The entire episode, from the guards to the chase on hover-scooters was a Star Wars shout-out. This time the gang went into the virtual-reality life support system which was very Matrix-y. Either Futurama wanted to update its references or it decided to lampoon a new target. Either way, it did lovingly riff on the Matrix concept.
Fry bonds with his "grandparents," which of course means that Hubert must hate them. He has a grudge because, "I was accepted to MIT at the age of 14 but my parents crushed my dreams like a discarded frog head." Discarded frog-heads. Heaps of dead monkeys. Koalas thrown out windows. All these things make me like him even more. But they make the revelation about a mysterious Farnsworth who went crazy and was locked away at a mental institution less of a surprise than it could be.
This was a fun episode top to bottom. It didn't have the scope of the truly great episodes, but it's hard to go wrong with the Professor. The pop culture references were well done and mostly dealt with within the story, not always called out by the characters. And the episode opened up a lot of potential for upcoming episodes.
I think this season of Futurama is shaping up pretty well. I have only one suggestion. I've never been particularly interested in the little tag lines at the beginning of the show that play over the credits. I do, however, miss, the throwaway jokes that they used to put at the beginning of the show before the credits played. There was a planet splattering on the windshield of the Planet Express ship. There was Bender and Fry playing chess. Most of all, I liked the jingles. Keep your witty sayings. Bring back molten boron!