Futurama, Season Four, Episode Two, “A Tale of Two Santas”
Original airdate December 23, 2001
Today we return to one of my all time favorite shows whose 1st Christmas episode we covered last year with its follow up Christmas episode “A Tale of Two Santas”. While it may not have achieved the iconic status of its predecessor, the episode is still a very funny anti-Christmas episode that showcased the series dark sci-fi humor, unique identity and eagerness to bite the hand that feeds it.
It’s Xmas time again at Planet Express, which means covering the fireplace with the rolling armored plate and turning on the automatic shutters that cover the whole building, complete with Xmas lights that spell out “Trespassers Will Be Shot”. This is all in preparation for the annual reign of terror from Robot Santa. Coincidentally, the latest delivery for Leela, Fry and Bender is a bag of letters for Robot Santa to be delivered to his ice fortress at the North Pole of Neptune. After reading some of the letters from children begging for mercy, Fry gets fed up with what Christmas has become in the future and decides for the three of them to finally do something about it. When they arrive and see the Neptunians living in poverty since there’s no toys for them to build, they use the bag of letter to sneak into Robot Santa’s ice fortress and try to destroy him by using a logical paradox. This succeeds only briefly as they are then chased out and pursued by Robot Santa, who grabs their rocket booster as they try to take off. But the heat of the booster melts the ice below him and Robot Santa ends up frozen in ice. Since no human could deliver all the toys in one night, Bender gets shanghaied into being the new Robot Santa and the Neptunians go back to making toys, complete with song.
After being beaten by a family, set on fire by a flame thrower wielding Petunia and then shot twice with buckshot by Professor Farnsworth, Bender decides to screw it and dumps the remaining toys down into the sewers. As he drinks behind a dumpster, he’s then arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death all on Christmas Day. To prove his identity, Fry and Leela go back to Neptune to get the frozen in place Robot Santa back to Earth. But because of the pollution from the now operational toy factory, it causes a greenhouse effect that unleashes Robot Santa. Fry and Leela escape, unaware that Robot Santa is on the side of the Planet Express ship. And in a last ditch effort to keep Bender from being pulled apart by electromagnets, Fry, Hermes, Amy and Professor Farnsworth crash the random number countdown with Mayor Poopenmeyer as the executioner and pull an “I’m Spartacus” by all dressing up as Santa Claus, with the kicker being Dr. Zoidberg as Jesus in one of the most hilariously blasphemous visuals ever. This however doesn’t fool Mayor Poopenmeyer (“How dare you lie in front of Jesus.”) and he throws the switch when the number finally hits zero. But before Bender gets ripped apart as he sings “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, the real Robot Santa crashes in and destroys the magnets. And with only a few hours left, Robot Santa asks Bender if he could help with his slaying tonight. And as Bender joins in on Robot Santa’s destruction and then gets kicked out mid-air into New New York in flames, Fry realizes that through the chaos and destruction that Robot Santa brings every year, people do in fact come together and embrace each other. Even if they’re all clutching each other and huddled in fear in the cold dark.
While “Xmas Story” had the earnest pathos of Fry and Leela spending Xmas together to counteract the hilarious darkness of a homicidal Robot Santa and what Christmas had evolved into after a thousand years, “A Tale of Two Santas” is basically a 22 minute long middle finger to the executives at FOX, who were upset at Groening and Co. for “Xmas Story” and the 3 letters of complaint they received, two of which were duplicates. Rather than tone things down for the Sunday at 7 PM timeslot the show was in at the time, they went the opposite route with it and delivered an episode whose opening joke is a news story of a polar bear club that jumped into a river of liquid ammonia (“There were no survivors.”) And if you listen to the table read for the episode (which is an Easter Egg on Disc 1 of the Volume 3 DVD. To access it, select “Play Episode” and press right.), the stuff that was cut from the episode was even darker, with Fry recounting a cherished Christmas memory of a hobo dressed like Santa that his family let sleep in their garage for a month. “And then it got cold one night and he went to Heaven.”
But even with that darker stuff taken out, the episode still has a lot of great comedic moments throughout the episode. Moments like seeing two Neptunians holding hands as they try to stab at each other with broken beer bottles, one of them admonishing Fry for suggesting that they eat their gingerbread house (“Hey, it’s food or shelter, not both.”), the first appearance of Kwanzaa Bot (voiced by Coolio, one of the shows favorite guest stars) as he hands out the traditional Kwanzaa gift of a picture book with the title “What the Hell is Kwanzaa?” (“I’ve been giving these out for 647 years.”) as well as a nod to Hanukah Zombie, who we eventually saw in Bender’s Big Score and voiced by Mark Hamill are just some of my personal favorite moments from the episode, although the above image of Zoidberg as Jesus is the single funniest image from the episode and an automatic Hall of Famer there. And the song they did for the episode, written by star staff writer Ken Keeler, is one of the better songs the show did. In terms of commentary about the holidays, it’s clear they had gotten it out of their system with “Xmas Story” and anything about the meaning of Christmas is only addressed in the last minute of the episode.
Basically, this is an anti-Christmas episode done to piss off the shows overlords via animated carnage and it is glorious and certainly better than “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” episode, which was just terrible.