Futurama celebrates the holidays with Al Gore, global Armageddon and oil-wrestling robots

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Futurama aired its special holiday episode on Sunday, presenting three tales that put a crazed 31st century spin on Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. The episode celebrated not just the holidays, but also the show's characters...in the most lethal way possible.

"Holiday Spectacular", like the earlier "Anthology of Interest" episodes and The Simpsons's "Treehouse of Horror" series, is a three-part, out-of-continuity episode where the show's normal rules don't apply. The show's creators have said that, because Futurama is such a crazy universe to begin with, it's a lot harder to tell stories that couldn't just happen in the regular universe, and the writers here come up with a novel solution: kill off the main characters every single time — and throwing the destruction of the entire planet into the bargain two of those times.

But before that - the songs! Each holiday - Xmas, Robanukkah, and Kwanzaa - gets it own song explaining its rich traditions, only some of which are being made up on the spot. For Christmas, there's the murderous good cheer of the genocidally judgmental Santabot. Robanukkah sees Bender filter millennia of rich Jewish tradition into an excuse for a couple fembots to get oiled up and wrestle for a few weeks. And Coolio returns as Kwanzaabot to try to convince someone - anyone - that Kwanzaa isn't completely ridiculous.


The songs all end up sending the Planet Express crew on a mission that will end in their horrible deaths. Santabot orders the return of coniferous trees, but the only seeds left on Earth are laced with deadly super-germs. Bender realizes the petroleum oil needed for the oil wrestling won't last for the entirety of Robanukkah, and so demands the crew drill into the Earth's core for the last slivers of petroleum oil on the planet. And the need for Kwanzaa beeswax candles forces the crew to return to the deadly giant space beehive that almost killed Fry and Leela a few years ago. You can guess how all this ends.

"Holiday Spectacular" is a solid episode of Futurama, not quite reaching some of this season's earlier highs but offering lots of good laughs. The Xmas episode is probably the weakest of the three, perhaps because I didn't quite know what to expect yet. Once you figure out each story is going to end in the crew's terrible deaths, they gain a lot more momentum and twisted comic energy, because now the dramatic irony is dialed up to eleven.


Bender's Robanukkah story is particularly inspired in its epic pointlessness - he more or less admits he's just making the holiday up, all he wants to see is a couple floozies oil wrestle, he admits at one point that any oil would probably do, he doesn't learn any lesson from the crew's fossilization, and - in a final, clever nod to what I'm told is the true meaning of Hanukkah - the petroleum oil didn't just last a few weeks, it lasted 500 million years, making everything that came before completely unnecessary. You've got to admire the audacity of a story like that.


This episode also sees yet another return appearance by former Vice President Al Gore. Whatever else you might think of him, he's proven a very reliable comic presence on the show, and I'm more than a little disappointed we won't actually see the show's promised return featuring Gore as Captain Lance Starman. His appearance at the gas station in the Robannukah segment is a highlight of the show - his clueless request for solar energy and faux-sheepishness as he asks to make change for a Nobel Prize are a couple of the episode's best gags.


I can't call "Holiday Spectacular" an outright classic, but it's an awful lot of fun, and its twisted celebration of holiday violence is hard to resist. (It's also got Bender in a scarf and mittens, which is just outrageously cute.) It's not been this good to be a Futurama fan in a very, very long time. The show is, by all accounts, doing well for Comedy Central, and the last season proved the show is still capable of belting out the classics.

If you don't mind me bringing yet another holiday into all this, I'd say we Futurama fans have an awful lot to be thankful for. I suppose all that's left to say is happy holidays, and a happy new year of Futurama. I never thought I'd get to say that again.