This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the TV show being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Now over halfway through the first batch of its Hulu revival, Futurama turns to one of sitcom’s most useful tricks: the holiday episode. “I Know What You Did Next Xmas” is far from the series first holiday episode; the show’s history is actually well leveraged in the episode itself as it pulls on threads from as far back as Season 1. Some of Futurama‘s use of genre humor gets a work out in “Next Xmas” as well thanks to some overdue jokes that actually land. It may have taken too long but finally all the pieces come together.
A Christmas episode in August does feel out of place at first, but regardless of production order “I Know What You Did Next Xmas” has a surprising amount of consistency with the previous Hulu episodes. Amy and Kif’s kids appear and Nibbler’s tapeworms from “Parasites Regained” get their own stockings. Given that holiday episodes usually air more in line with the holiday itself and that has messed with Futurama continuity before, it’s nice to see this not happen.
The plot for “Next Xmas” properly sees the Planet Express crew setting up defenses for the yearly siege of Robot Santa, with Amy’s children learning about the situation for the first time like Fry in season one. In one of several simple but effective jokes, Amy tells the kids (and a still tearful Fry) that she never wanted the kids to find out Santa was real—a desire that changes when Farnsworth reveals a permanent solution to Robot Santa.
Using the time machine that was still kicking around, Farnsworth goes back in time to the night of Robot Santa’s malfunction and immediately switches him back, saving Christmas. Strangely, this goes off without a hitch and the crew all depart to spend the week up to the new holiday with their families. Then we see what “I Know What You Did Next Xmas” really is—a Bender and Zoidberg joint. Left behind, the two eventually bond in a jealous drunken binge while Bender ignores a threatening message that gives the episode its title.
Eventually the drunk Grinches decide to use the time machine to kidnap Santa from last Xmas and ruin this one for the friends that left them. Naturally instead they kill him, leading to a set of funny vignettes of the two trying to hide their time crime while their friends prepare to celebrate and threatening notes increase. Personally my favorite bit sees Zoidberg and Bender trying to put Santa at the bottom of the sea and when the 50 pound weights they brought don’t work, Bender markers in an extra 0 and for a nanosecond I thought it would work.
Eventually, “Next Xmas” drops a twist on the heartwarming zero hour conclusion when the crew all return to include Bender and Zoidberg in their celebrations, only for all of them to fall under attack by a still alive and evil Robot Santa. This is the moment everything clicks—both time travel trips went worse than implied. Farnsworth “pulled a Fry,” becoming the reason Robot Santa became evil in the first place and drunk Zoidberg and Bender went forward in time to kidnap Santa, inadvertently saving everyone. All this is some pitch perfect time travel shenanigans and is the right blend of funny and wholesome while staying airtight. There’s quite a bit more animated comedies using sci-fi, but only Futurama could pull all these concepts together and stick the landing.
It has taken several episodes to get there, but “Hulurama” finally did it. Genuinely, “I Know What You Did Next Xmas” is a rock solid addition to the series. The jokes are good, the use of time travel is clever, and many characters get a moment to shine. There’s even an heartwarming tribute to occasional guest star Coolio (as Kwanzaabot) at the end. When people hear “Hulu is making more Futurama,” this is what they expect. I’m loath to say for sure that “Next Xmas” was worth everything so far but I’m not going to look a gift Robot Santa in the mouth. Please Hulu, let’s keep the bar here.
Oh, the pandemic episode is next. Great.
Futurama is available on Hulu.
Featured image via Hulu
'Futurama' 11x06 - 9/10