Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings

"If shining wisdom passed your lips and 
traveled to the ears of God 
you'd waste it."

Brandi Carlile - Wasted

I'm about to embark on the dangerous undertaking of watching the last season or so of Futurama. Dangerous, I say, because you're always in danger of disillusionment when revisiting an old favorite, and though Futurama was never terrible even in later years, Fox largely succeeded in destroying the keen satirical edge which had made it one of the best things on TV during its original run. To whatever extent the original cancellation broke up the creative team, they never quite recovered their original rapid pacing, trenchant wit or sheer volume of material thrown at the viewer. The original Futurama could take a ludicrous premise like Jurassic Bark, make you think they're finishing it off like an after-school special, then in the last two minutes flip it into something so gut-wrenching you won't know what hit you. Post-re-launch, it too often settled for closing on the after-school special note.

I haven't read much on the cancellation of the original series, but my interpretation for it runs something along the same lines as the case of Firefly. Fox is certainly money-first, but their reactionary politics run a close second. If Futurama had achieved Simpsons-scale viewership, Fox executives would've likely swallowed their pride with a rich garnish of riches and been content with simply letting the show stagnate and turning it into a string of nonsensical celebrity appearances. However, after tackling incest, war, suicide, animal rights and other hot-button issues and repeatedly bashing megacorporations, Futurama probably broke the conservative camel's back with the Godfellas episode in season four.

Though some of season five plays out like the rest of the series, it's apparent that much production took place after the writers had realized they were getting fired. Slightly more experimental episodes like The Sting or The Farnsworth Parabox which quickly altered the lead characters' relationships were topped off with noticeably bitter commentary about the state of mass-media in Obsoletely Fabulous and Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV. This was a creative team rightfully outraged over their senseless but somewhat predictable fate and going as far as they could in protest without getting sued. But what about the very last installment?

The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings is one of the weakest Futurama episodes, or certainly not one you hear fans reference often. Yet I wonder how much of that was by design, a helping of the sickness the writers must've felt, a dose of the trite, stilted, bad art that corporations demand. A deal with the devil to make good art which turns bad? Slightly apropos.
Yet there's a second layer of self-doubt below that. It seems to some extent to suggest the creators were beating themselves up over what would inevitably, regardless of logic or argument, seem like a failure. Maybe if you're getting fired you never really were good enough, maybe your splendor was borrowed to begin with, maybe the public simply found you out. What if you've wasted your one chance at making good art by losing this job? What if the beauty in your heart is useless without your borrowed hands? What if the public is right to spit on you? What if, what if, what if?

What if you're left with a niche audience of one? It's trite, it's cliche, but if you can reach one person, or the equivalent one in a million out of seven billion, the nerdy niche market that matters, is that meeting of minds enough? Wanna hear how it ends?
Those two who matter finally meet. The devil's hands, for once, have served a purpose.

"Then again
It's good to get a call now and then"

Or watch a re-run. Whatever.

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