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September 2, 2014

'Futurama' - 'The Prisoner of Benda' Recap

by Danny Gallagher, posted Aug 20th 2010 8:40AM
(Season 6, episode 10) The staff writers and show runners for 'Futurama' aren't your typical batch of comedy nerds or egghead wordsmiths.

They are a level-up in smarts and braininess. Their frontal lobe contains deep, complex knowledge on scientific and mathematical concepts that could make even the smartest AP calculus student switch his major to English.

Their scripts and sets contains tons of hidden "in-jokes" that only a handful of mathematicians and physicists would find remotely interesting. Tonight's episode took an entire theory and wrapped it completely around the plot and the truly genius part of it was that even a dumba** like me could enjoy it.

On the surface, it appears to be just a typical character-switching episode that would have been thrown on the "Jump the Shark" scrap heap, if that scrap heap hadn't been sold, recycled and sacrificed to the gods of TV Guide long ago. The Professor unleashes a mind-switching machine on his usual gang of idiots, aliens and whatevers and, as they say in the business, chaos ensues.

Instead, it turns into a multifaceted, complex and layered adventure with more characters switching brains and bodies and pairing each other up in some very clever and comic situations. 'Futurama' has done this since the dawn of its dawn-like title screen, utilizing very simple methods (the famed "Tales of Interest" episode that had the characters rewriting scenarios with the "What If?" machine) to the complex (the "Three Hundred Big Boys" episode). It takes a very simple concept and turns it on its head over and over until it can't tell what its neck is on its shoulders or sticking out of its crotch and somehow, it manages to bring them all together in the most twisted bit of literary surgery since 'The Human Centipede.'

Last night's episode took this not-so-simple concept one step further. Ken Keeler, the twisted mind who wrote the episode, actually the plot around a theorem on group theory that he created, something that's no small feat for him since he also has a PhD in mathematics, according to the American Physical Society. The article doesn't explain exactly how the theorem works or how it fits into the episode, but that's probably because it makes us normals' brains explode and 'Futurama' still needs all the viewers it can get.

The beauty of it is it didn't make the episode less enjoyable or harder to watch it because it was so complex. In fact, the sheer madness of having to switch brains and bodies from their abnormal to their normal state sucked me into the gripping conclusion. It found new ways to f#*$ with my mind. Even as I was watching it, I knew this brain-switching business had to be based on some complex equation or mathematical theory that I couldn't possibly understand without the use of flash cards and that just made me want to watch it again.

Of course, the fact that it still manages to be pretty damn funny also helped. The level of deep complexity over concepts I could barely understand may have sucked me in, but its usual caliber of clever comedy made me want to stay. It proves that television comedy doesn't have to sacrifice brains in order to score laughs.

In other words, it was the quintessential 'Futurama' adventure.

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