In the season premiere of Futurama, "The Bots and the Bees," Bender finally gets what his dalliances with fembots should have gotten him a long time ago: an illegitimate son! And, yes, how a robot can have a baby is explained.
Professor Farnsworth offers what might be his greatest news of all: he's bought a soda machine for Planet Express. Named Bev, the sassy vending machine butts heads with Bender... practically and literally. Eventually one thing leads to another and she gives birth to a baby robot. Bender tries to be a deadbeat dad, but he gets one-upped by Bev when she decides to bail on the little baby, leaving Bender to raise him on his own.
They swiftly discover that they have a lot in common: a love of robbery, and a love of bending. However, the baby robot, christened Ben "Vending" Rodriguez, can't bend because his mom had no arms. As such, Bender must make a tough decision, letting Professor Farnsworth install the bending programming in Ben, losing the memories he had of Bender, but fulfilling his greatest wish in life.
Coming into this season, the biggest question with Futurama was going to be how the show's voice would continue to change over time. When it returned after being off the air for several years, it was clearly different, with some of the subtlety having been lost. With the sitcom entering a new production season with this and next year's episodes, it will be curious to see how it changes.
With the first two episodes, it appears that Futurama is still very much on the nose with the topics it covers, but it really has the mix of funny and heartwarming moments that made it so special.
In fact, this episode succeeds because it uses Bender to generate heartwarming moments out of what is a ludicrous situation. Bender might have airs of being a rude, selfish jerk – and he is a lot of the time – but he can care about something other than himself. While leading Ben down a path of robbery and bending might not make Ben the best person robot it does depict how Bender is deeper than he lets on, while still being himself.
The writers clearly prove they can balance the sheer ridiculousness of a robot having a baby with a vending machine - along with a B story of Fry turning into a radioactive hazard thanks to the exciting taste of Slurm Loco - with the emotional connection that a father has with his son.
That the series can still make it work with talking robots is a great sign for this season. John DiMaggio does a fantastic job selling Bender in this episode, and Wanda Sykes as [vending machine] does a great job being sassy, and showing that she can be quite the smart-ass in the way that Bender can. Heck, even Fry's subplot paid off well, even if it was mostly just elevating levels of physical comedy. Well, as physical as an animated cartoon can get.
The premiere moved at a very quick pace, with plenty of one-liners and witty dialogue, and while it felt like it was going too quickly at times, it still nailed everything else that makes the program so great to watch. Welcome back, Futurama.
NOTE: Remember to read my review of the second Futurama episode of the evening as well!