Ode To: Futurama‘s Leela, From Another Leila

leela-suitPhoto: Via Netflix
My life has been plagued by mispronunciation, and I've gotten everything from "Layla" to "Lila" to "Veela" (don't ask). And usually, once I clarify how my name is said, I generally get sung Eric Clapton's "Layla." Two things: I just met you, and I definitely don't have you on your knees. Secondly, that's not even how you say my name. Then, about 10 years ago, something changed. People started saying, "Oh yeah, like that one-eyed character from Futurama!" Suddenly, it became an immediate bellwether as to whether or not we'd get along. If you began to sing me Clapton, prospects didn't look good, but if you evoked the tough, zinger-delivering pilot from Matt Groening's space series, we might get on just fine.
Now, I'm going to say something that may be downright blasphemy. The Simpsons has higher highs, but Futurama might be the better show. It's true. It has a type of dryness and intelligence that just works over the long term. And at the center of the animated space comedy stands its heart: the cyclops alien-then-mutant Turanga Leela. She is not only the physical brawn of the Futurama team, but she is also the emotional one, enjoying kicking ass as much as she does saving "helpwess widdle animals." In fact, probably due to the fact that she is the stand-in for competence, she consistently saves everyone.
The appeal of The Simpsons is universal and family-based. But what makes Futurama such a great show is that it speaks to those who are still finding their way in life. Leela, Fry, Amy, and Bender all embrace their gender tropes, but also constantly turn them on their heads. The girls can be reduced to giggles with flowers or male flattery, and the guys can be slack-jawed jerks when an attractive woman comes around, but the flipping of those stereotypes is a constant source of humor. (See below.) Which means that Leela is a stereotypical female, but simultaneously anything but. She is both an alien (and then a mutant) — and the most relatable character on the show. As she says, "Well, you obviously won't listen to reason, so I guess I'll listen to idiotic-ness and come with you."
Even though the will-they-won't-they nature of Fry and Leela's relationship is a focal point of the show, Leela never becomes a mere love interest — and, this may be one girl with the same name's opinion, but the Leela/Fry pairing is so heartfelt and charming (and foreshadowed, as she quits her job for him in the first season!) that I'm just suckered in.
So here's to Leela, the constant straight woman in a futuristic world of nuttiness, a character whom I feel like I know well but can't sum up quickly. Because, over 10 seasons, I've watched her grow, evolve, and even mutate into a weird tentacle monster. And now that Futurama is over (though, with that show, who knows...), I hope that I can still share my name with a purple-haired, intensely strong, one-eyed cartoon character, with both a sense of humor and humanity.
leila-bugPhoto: Via Netflix

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