When I first read the synopsis for Near-Death Wish, I was really looking forward to watching the episode – and it didn’t disappoint!
For the first time in season seven, the plot is simple, but very effective. The episode begins with the Clippie awards – the delivery boy equivalent of the Academy Awards – and a lonely Fry who is waiting to see if he has won the award for Best Delivery Boy. Fry wins the prestigious award, but The Professor fails to attend the ceremony, claiming that he “Came down with a searing case of who gives a crap”.
Hurt by the Professor’s absence, Fry travels to The Near-Death Star – as featured in season two’s A Clone of My Own – to meet some more distant relatives: The Professor’s parents. Bender hooks them up to a virtual reality simulator, so that they can enter the virtual nursing home and find Ned and Velma. They instantly hit it off, so Fry brings them back to Earth.
Upon seeing his parents, The Professor proclaims that he hates them, as they ruined his childhood. Fry takes Ned and Velma (whom he nicknames “Shabado” and “Gram-Gram”) out on the town for some fun. However, The Professor becomes increasingly jealous of Fry, so he follows them. Later on, Leela and Amy confront The Professor and he tells them of how his parents never paid any attention to his scientific discoveries and forced him to move to a farm. Ned and Velma then explain that The Professor had an older brother who was committed to an insane asylum for his obsession with science. They explain that they didn’t want their second child, Floyd, to suffer the same consequences.
It turns out that The Professor is the first child who went insane, but was later released from the asylum. The Professor realises that his parents do love him, and were only trying to protect him. The crew take Ned and Velma back to the Near-Death star, where The Professor has re-programmed the virtual reality. The new virtual simulation presents the farm that he and his parents had moved to. Plugging himself in to the simulator to revert them back to a younger age, The Professor and his parents play together on the farm.
The parent-child relationship has been used on numerous different occasions throughout the entire series of Futurama. This seems to be a key theme of the show, and it’s quite refreshing to see the repetition of this theme but with new characters and situations. Again, we return to previous locations, but like last week, I didn’t mind because it was relevant for the progression of the narrative.
Near-Death Wish is very clever in the sense that the jokes are coming directly from the characters – and they work. The stand-up comedian of the episode is Hermes Conrad, telling jokes like “So where do these fossils live? Sedimentary rock” and “Lady, all of human history happened in your past”. Although these gags play on the stereotypical image of the elderly, they’re actually very funny. As with last week’s episode, Free Will Hunting, the writers seem to be responding to criticism of the show. Some critics have argued that the show lacks jokes and visual gags, so the writers have responded through this direct and somewhat ironic style to generate humour.
I really like what the writers are doing – instead of shooting for twenty minutes of hilarious and meaningless content, they are providing some good jokes with a warm and sentimental feeling. Droll intertextual references plus a feeling of pathos equal a truly great episode of Futurama – and this is what you get from Near-Death Wish.