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.
At one point during “Rage Against the Vaccine,” the seventh episode of the Hulu revival of Futurama, I paused the episode for a straight minute. This pause was not to take a note for this review, but to process the very unsubtle analogue it makes to overpaid meathead Joe Rogan. Frankly, that’s all that needs to be said: this is a Futurama episode about vaccines and Joe Rogan. “Rage” is about as funny as the other episodes this season about current events; which is to say it isn’t particularly strong comedy. However, the reason why this episode isn’t enjoyable is both more unique and worth discussing.
”Rage Against the Vaccine” is clearly about the public response to COVID-19, something the episode is not afraid of as it opens on the celebration of finally beating the pandemic. Immediately, a new virus is discovered (to both my and Morbo’s chagrin) called Explovid-23, which begins spreading thanks to Leela and a quick Bill Nye cameo. Despite Explovid being different from COVID-19 — the only symptom is boiling anger — what follows is a familiar sight.
Farnsworth develops a test that is just an exaggerated COVID swab, Leela is quarantined, Planet Express goes remote, and conspiracy theories fly wild. Nothing is over the top; I’m pretty sure I’ve pulled out my brain tissue with a COVID test, but none of this is as bad as the out of time jokes of “How the West was 1010001.” Amy briefly falling into a conspiracy hole and having to be told the moon landing can’t be faked because she was there last week is a proper Futurama brand joke, at least.
Hermes, however, becomes even more unhinged than the rest in his first highlight episode of the season. He abandons the rest for New New Orleans to seek “Voodoo” magic to cure Explovid, convinced it’s “zombie- based.” Meanwhile, the A-plot continues as a greatest hits of COVID showcase, leading to vaccines that no one trusts and the aforementioned Joe Rogan bit in the form of creationist orangutan Dr. Banjo’s reappearance.
While I appreciate the connection being a bigger condemnation of Rogan’s beliefs by properly equating him with conservatives, the entire thing falls apart as Farnsworth and longtime rival Wernstrom are proven to both be unable to resist evil scientist nonsense. It’s a bad call. While no one should really be going to bat for Pfizer, it’s hard to call people like Rogan dumb and also say that there might be truth to their bullshit. This was the last place to pull some “both sides” crap.
That also plays into Hermes’s story after some time filling with tons of New Orleans stereotypes. He discovers “Voodoo HQ,” run by his own rival Barbados. Hermes hands over his zombie theory, which turns out to be the key for how to target the virus, so long as Hermes’s wife assists. Taken back to the depths of Voodoo HQ, which turns out to just be a bio chem lab. “Rage” then goes on to frame the basic science of vaccination as magic, which is enough to convince everyone to inoculate. As Dr. Banjo confirms before accepting his shot — no science involved whatsoever.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with finding levity in tragedy. I’m not about to say that it is too soon to leverage the COVID-19 pandemic in the media. South Park was dropping extra length episodes about it at its height, so that dam is already broken. There’s even something poetic about “Rage Against the Vaccine” making the case for just telling people science is Dark Ages magic now.
However, it’s not a very funny one, and the entire episode is just depressing as a result. Despite the efforts of those in power to say otherwise, COVID-19 is still very much a reality for many right now. Workplaces are fighting with their employees about remote work and the U.S. government is wasting taxpayer dollars investigating conspiracy theories — to say nothing of the rise of new cases still being reported. Perhaps, as time goes on, the experiences that Futurama lampoons in this episode will generate more laughs, but right now “Rage” is a draining watch.
That said, at the bare minimum “Rage Against the Vaccine” has something to say compared to anything in “How the West was 1010001” or the attempts to crique our buying habits in “Related To Items You’ve Viewed.” What is being said is not much more than commiseration but even that is better than other “current event” episodes of Futurama this season have been able to muster. This episode doesn’t do much more than that, and we’re just not ready to really laugh about the realities of the pandemic. Even so, thank god we were spared an extended sequence of Nixon doing a version of Trump’s COVID-19 response.
Futurama is available on Hulu.
Featured image via Hulu
‘Futurama’ 11x07 - 4/10