Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
Season 2 Episode 4
Originally broadcast December 19, 1999
I (hopefully) won't take too much of your time today going on and on about this and that. This is one of the greatest TV shows ever made, and this is one of the best episodes of it. Go enjoy!
Well, maybe I'll go on and on a little bit.
What is the show?
Pizza delivery boy and loser Philip Fry is accidentally cryogenically frozen as the world rings in the year 2000, to be woken up 1000 years later, in wacky, hyper-futuristic New New York. Once there, he befriends a robot, falls in love with a cyclops, and works for a mad scientist's interstellar delivery company (along with a Jamaican beauracrat and an incompetent lobster creature). Futurama came from The Simpson's creator Matt Groening (among some other really brilliant writers and producers). It was canceled by Fox after four glorious seasons, only to return on Comedy Central for another few seasons which were actually also pretty good.
A cartoon about the year 3000 is predictably mostly about world-building, and the world that Futurama shows us is a perfect blend of delightfully colorful, hilariously irreverent, and surprisingly real. Archaic outsider Fry serves as your proxy, so you discover the wackiness of the 31st century through his eyes. You lose yourself in that world to the extent that you won't even notice the deeply human and incredibly moving stories that the writers occasionally sneak in to sucker-punch you with. Also there's a sociopathic robot who is fueled by alcohol and chain-smokes cigars.
Sci-fi has the incredible ability to cast a light on modern day and put society in harsh perspective, and Futurama exploits that ability to great effect.
What is the Episode?
We have to wait until the second season to get a Christmas episode, because Futurama's first season started as a mid-season replacement. Interestingly, that means that "Xmas Story" was the last episode aired before the monumental new-year's celebration of the show's pilot.
Much has changed between now and the year 3000, and Christmas (simply referred to in the 31st century as "Xmas") is no exception. Fry must navigate the wild and, as it turns out, incredibly dangerous new holiday, with hilarious results. They manage to pack a lot of stuff into 22 minutes, including more genuinely hilarious moments than anything else on this list (with one possible exception), an impromptu musical number, and an evil robotic Santa Claus played by John Goodman (sober this time, presumably).
It's a perfect example of classic Futurama. The writers were still exploring the crazy world, and there's nothing more exciting than a creative team mining a newly discovered, incredibly rich vein of comedy. The writers do such a great job making essentially 20 minutes of exposition and setup not feel like it.
I've probably watched this episode more than any other on this list, and I still had a great time watching it again.
Where can you watch it?
Catch the entire series on Netflix, or you can buy Futurama Season 2 on DVD.
Futurama had a few other Xmas episodes, and they're all pretty great, but I think the first one is the most classic. With all of the exposition of this first episode out of the way, they were free to have more wacky adventures in later years. However, I think building that world in the first place is where the show really excelled.
Plus, this one has that really great "Gift of the Magi" bit toward the end.
Speaking of the Gift of the Magi . . .