By Lauren Bryant
Happy holidays from Art Ducko! Er, belatedly. So, as we recover from this holiday season, why not take one last glance over your shoulder with a review of “Xmas Story” from Matt Groening’s (sadly discontinued) show, Futurama.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, the show follows the comical adventures of the main character, Fry, who was frozen for a thousand years before waking up in the 31st century and becoming a delivery boy for the Planet Express. Because of this accidental time jump, Fry is constantly dealing with artifacts of his past having changed dramatically in the last thousand years, and the holidays are no exception.
To start things off, forget Christmas. It’s “Xmas” now. Now, that change by itself seems quite innocuous. But it becomes evident pretty quickly that this is not the same holiday Fry had back at home a millennium ago. From Xmas palm trees to robot soup kitchens, there are plenty of bizarre twists the show puts on the typical holiday image, adding a refreshing splash of oddities to the tried-and-true (and at times tiring) holiday special formula. But that’s far from being the topper on this metaphorical Xmas tree. Santa Claus has undergone some…changes. Instead of a benevolent old man living at the North Pole, Santa is now a murderous robot with very high standards who spends Christmas night stalking the streets hunting down the naughty. Unfortunately, due to his new criterion, this includes virtually everybody. Talk about a transformation. Fry and company have to fight for their lives to avoid getting gunned down by the infamous gift-bringer. This on top of the time-traveling culture shock and holiday blues already present.
While I’m sure a killer Claus sounds very dark (which it is), rest assured that this special doesn’t lose sight of the witty humor that makes the show so captivating. The whole episode is littered with comical allusions to hackneyed holiday tropes, Christmas stories, and real-life aspects of the holiday. For example, “Xmas Story” parodies the short story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry by having various members of the Planet Express crew gift each other combs, only to find out that everyone’s shaved their heads to pay for the presents and unknowingly sold it to Zoidberg. It’s the little touches they add that keep you smiling even during rewatches, from little quips to visual gags, to even a sinister version of deck the halls playing when Santa arrives. And it’s not lacking in the character development department, either. The episode features some heartwarming interactions between Fry and Leela, as well as a touch of growth and backstory for both of them.
In short, Futurama’s “Xmas Story” succeeds in being both comical, critical, and relatable. Though it’s true the ideal time for watching Christmas specials may have passed… Okay, it’s definitely past. But if you’re still up for some holiday hijinks, I’d urge you to check this episode out, or at least consider it for next year. And the good news is if you like what you see, there are three more Futurama holiday specials, along whole show waiting to be indulged in, if you feel so inclined. So sit back, relax, and as you get ready for the new year, count your lucky stars that you live in a universe with a far less terrifying Santa!