Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is an odd little movie when you think about it. Who’d have thought a story about two lazy teens who talk in surfer slang and take some of history’s most iconic figures on a joyride through time would reach cult status? It began as a comedy club act about two clueless adolescents summarizing current events they knew nothing about before evolving into a perennial flick for 80’s cinephiles. And, for better or worse, it’s the movie that kickstarted Keanu Reeves’ acting career. I wrote a small dissertation of its central theme around the time of its 30th anniversary earlier this year, but now I get to go into more detail and I can’t wait.
I’d like to apologize for the early post. I accidentally scheduled it to go up before it was completed. On the bright side it gives me better segue into the review instead of jumping right into it.
So how does Futurama fare on its second Christmas outing? Let’s continue.
It’s Christmas Eve once again, and the head of Walter Cronkite appears on the news to warn the world of Santa’s impending jolly rampage. Prof. Farnsworth has Planet Express HQ barricaded to the extreme so no one can get in or out. Unfortunately he has one last mission for Leela, Bender and Fry – delivering children’s letters to Santa.
On their way to his fortress on Neptune, Fry and Leela read some of the letters. Each one is a plea Santa not to visit and inflict pain and terror as he does every year. Once again Fry wishes for the good old days when Xmas was about bringing the family together and not blowing them apart. After landing on Neptune and seeing the squalor the Neptunians, the aliens who used to act as his elves, are living in after Santa shuttered the toy factory, the three come up with a plan to stop his evil deeds forever.
The elves usher the sack of letters into the fortress with the gang inside. Santa, now voiced by John DiMaggio, is busy watching people around the world and marking them down as naughty regardless of what they do. I have to admit, as great a voice actor as DiMaggio is, it’s jarring to hear the voice of Santa switch from John Goodman to someone trying to sound like him. Was Goodman too expensive to have return? Was it just easier for DiMaggio to just do an impression? I like consistency in my voice acting, and this is a change I’m not completely fond of.
Anyway, just to get an idea of how Santa judges, he sees the robot mafia beating up a shopkeeper for protection money and judges them as naughty. He also judges the shopkeeper to be naughty, however, because he’s not paying them. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he’d come to the same conclusion even if he did, meaning Santa really needs to be taken down a notch.
Everyone pops out of the bag but Leela slams Santa with a head-exploding paradox before he can kill them: his job is to give presents to the nice and destroy the naughty, however most of those he punishes are in fact nice, meaning HE must be naughty and destroyed as well. Sure enough, this causes Santa’s head to explode. Before they can celebrate, however, a new head pops out of his body because he was built with paradox-absorbing backups or something like that. He gives chase and while holding back the Planet Express ship, the engines melt the ice beneath him. He sinks and gets frozen up to his head. Everyone is overjoyed that Santa’s reign of terror is over and Fry decides to take on the role of gift giver. Bender points out that only a robot would be able to deliver billions of gifts in one night and begrudgingly decides to become Santa himself. What follows is one of my favorite musical Futurama moments where everyone works last minute to prepare for Bender’s flight. It’s catchy, the lyrics are funny, and Katey Segal has some nice pipes.
Bender arrives at the first home to find that the family there is afraid for their lives. They believe his promise of gifts are nothing but a trick and unleash whatever firearms they have on him. Bender is met with generally the same attitude at every house he visits, even at Planet Express. This is the biggest problem I have with this episode. After hundreds of years of having Santa be viewed as a literal killing machine, did nobody think to spread the news that there’s a new kinder non-violent Santa out to spread holiday cheer? It’s not like the internet doesn’t exist in this universe; it does, though it’s a bit like Tron where you get zapped inside virtual reality to do things. All it takes is one message or video sent out to the public and boom, no more worrying about Santa. This massive oversight has even harsher consequences for Bender as the police catch him on a street corner nursing his wounded pride with some liquor and also mistake him for the actual violent Santa. They arrest him, and after a kangaroo courtroom scene, he is sentenced to death for his crimes against humanity.
Knowing the only way to clear Bender’s name is to show the real Santa, Leela and Fry fly back to Neptune to take his frozen body back to Earth. Unfortunately they find the planet under the effects of extreme global warming due to pollution from the toy factory and Santa is freed from his icy tomb. After escaping his holly jolly wrath, Fry and Leela flee to think up another way to save Bender. Both are unaware that Santa has stowed away on the ship.
Mayor Poopenmeyer prepares to execute Bender by pulling him apart with electromagnets (because it’s the only humane way that isn’t boring) but Hermes, Fry and Amy appear in Santa garb pulling an “I’m Spartacus!” in a last ditch effort to make everyone believe they have the wrong Santa Claus.
And Zoidberg shows up as Jesus, just in case someone watching the execution complains about not having enough Christ in Christmas.
The Mayor isn’t convinced though, and begins the process of tearing Bender slowly in two. It’s horrible, but at least it’s not boring. The real Santa barges in, shoots up the place and frees him. Bender thanks him while also pleading for his life, but Santa’s not here for revenge. Time is running short, and Santa needs all the help he can get in order to “save” Christmas, so he recruits Bender to join his slaying. As they wreak havoc throughout the world together, everyone at Planet Express huddles together for safety and Fry comes to a realization – this Xmas HAS brought them together, not with love but with fear, and that counts for something.
As the night ends, Santa gives Bender a small present as his way of saying thank you. Bender’s disappointed that it’s an empty box, but Santa explains: “It might appear empty, but the message is clear – play Santa again and I’ll kill you next year!” Then he kicks him out of the sleigh in midair.
Personally I prefer the first Futurama Xmas episode over this one, but “A Tale of Two Santas” isn’t without its merits. I like the song in this one more, the moments in the courtroom and leading up to Bender’s execution are funny, and the characters are very much in character with Bender only becoming Santa under protest but also with the hope that he’ll be showered with praise and rewards for doing so. They even have some fun with the fact that he’s possibly, with the exception of the Robot Devil and Richard Nixon’s head, the most evil character on the show, as shown in this moment where Santa is asking Bender to join him after breaking him out.
Fry: Don’t do it! He’s evil!
Santa: I know he is, but that’s beside the point.
Other than that, the voice acting inconsistency rubs me the wrong way, especially since they keep DiMaggio as Santa for the rest of the series, the plothole with them not telling anyone before sending Bender out to deliver presents bugs me, and while the moments of mean-spirited comedy were handled well in the previous episode, they’re not here. If it were me I would have had the last scene with Bender and Santa happen before Fry and the Planet Express crew huddle together and have Bender come crashing in and joining them, making the ending both darkly humorous and heartwarming. All this still doesn’t stop me from watching it at least a few parts from it though, if not the full episode.
There is one other Futurama holiday-themed episode made during the series’ second run, but I won’t be looking into it because fans like myself agree it’s one of the worst episodes of the show. They go for a Treehouse of Horror/Anthology of Interest approach with three different tales relating to the big three December holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah (or in this case Robonukkah for Bender) and Kwanzaa, but the comedy is awful, the songs are forced and forgettable, and it ends with every single one of the characters dying in horrible ways. If I had to choose between that and “A Tale of Two Santas”, I’d pick the latter in a heartbeat.