Mike Judge’s “3001” has one of the most potent, high-concept comedy premises I’ve seen in quite a while. It amalgamates the plots of Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” the cartoon “Futurama” and the J.J. Abrams-scripted “Forever Young.” It adds to these ideas, though, the gloriously ripe notion that an average man wakes up a thousand years in the future to find a race so dumbed-down that he is its smartest person. That’s a conceit begging for material, and while “3001” is an amusing script, it never quite lives up to that bright shining light of a premise.
After reading Darwin’s review, check out Edward Havens’s review of the same script here.
Joe Bowers is our hero. He’s a nondescript army electrician who’s picked for a hibernation experiment strictly because of his averageness. Alarmed that young, healthy pilots and soldiers don’t always see action, the Pentagon has devised a scheme wherein these men will be put in a hibernation pod, to save their prime years, and released when we’re at war. Joe and a random prostitute named Rita are the test subjects. They’ll be put under for one year.
Things don’t go according to plan — the man running the experiment gets busted in a prostitution ring, but it’s a long story — and Joe and Rita are forgotten about. They’re not awoken until the year 2974. America has become a veritable wasteland: garbage heaps are stacked high as buildings, trash goes unnoticed in the streets, dust storms sweep through; humans have “evolved” into muttering, preliterate, Neanderthal-like creatures; computers perform every function for this overweight, brain-deadened society. It is an anti-utopia vision scarier than anything in “1984” or “A Brave New World.”
Imagine some hillbilly hell, imagine a real world existing in Fox’s horrendous reality shows (cop chases, vile eating contests), imagine being trapped in an overflowing crowd of WWE fans, and you’ll start to get the picture that Judge paints. It is a world based on the sordid, though cliche, desires of the young American male.
The script is at its best when Joe first wakes up. His, and our, shock at this new place is a contained piece of comedy magic. Judge and his co-writer, Etan Cohen, get things just right. Their idea of our new court system, which is like a wrestling match gone mad, is a frenzied, Kafkaesque burlesque show. The maddening, passive-aggressive computers, the wall-to-wall advertisements, the movies and TV shows (like “Ow! My Balls!”) people watch, the way everyone thinks Joe, with his regular, ordinary English, talks like a “fag,” Joe’s name being Not Sure because when the computer asks him his name and ID number, he says “I’m not sure,” the lasciviousness of the men — it’s all smart, sharp and cuts a suitably restrained statement about the world we live in today.
The actual plot of the script, though, doesn’t kick in till well past the halfway mark. It’s only then that Joe finds out he’s the smartest man alive. The President immediately makes him the Secretary of the Interior and tells him the only way to get out of jail time (Joe fled when he was told his hospital bill would be six billion dollars) is to fix every single problem that exists: regrow the crops, deal with the garbage avalanches, and stop the dust storms.
Joe tries to get out of the job, but can’t, and since he’s stuck he takes a look at the crops. Instead of water, they’re being irrigated by a Gatorade-like beverage that everyone drinks. The people of this world aren’t even aware that others once drank water. When Joe suggests it, they reply, “You mean like from the toilet?” He convinces them water is the answer, and when they implement it the value of the Gatorade-like drink plummets. Since everyone is employed by this company, and the company is now broke, the all-powerful computer fires everyone. Blaming Joe, they send him to be “rehabilitated,” which turns out to be a “Running Man”-type show where criminals must battle for their lives.
“3001” felt to me like a really good first draft. I laughed on more than one occasion reading this, and as far as comedy scripts go, it’s pretty agreeable, but I wanted more. I kept waiting for Cohen and Judge to really explore their world, but they never did. I think the first question is: is the whole world like this? We never leave America and any outside humanity is kept in the shadows. Did only America evolve this way? Did the whole world get stupider, but in unique ways? (Wouldn’t you love to glance the stupid versions of France, Brazil or Cuba?)
The script’s idea is that smart people are too busy with responsibilities and careers to have kids, but dirt-poor white trash jump into bed anytime they can, have tons of kids, and will forever foul up our species. The comedy target here is all white-trash activities: violence, cheap entertainment, porn, junk food. These are pretty easy marks. Reading this, you wish the writers had broadened their scope beyond trashing the WWE and those Fox reality shows. People are dumb in more than slobbering, graceless, hog ways.
Since the jokes remain the same, gags about bloodlust and porn worship worked from every angle, and the premise never pushes past this, the elitist air grows a bit tired. The idea that this world would be formed because of its “trash” genes — that “trash” people are the only ones who like violence, porn, casual sex, and are lazy — becomes both small-minded and insulting.
The slapdash writing of Rita, and this ridiculous notion that she’s a hooker but Joe thinks she’s a painter, makes the character go down as the most underwritten female role I’ve ever read. You know more about Rita’s pimp, who’s only shown in the last scene, than you do about her. Judge and Cohen also set Joe up with a pre-hibernation girlfriend, a woman we meet only for a second, and have him warble about how he stood her up a thousand years ago. Clearly they thought they needed to tack on a romance, but it’s so disengaged it feels like it’s Scotch-taped to the script.
There is no hierarchy to the acumen of the citizens of this world. They all have the same level of dullness, sort of like a huge, freaky, inbred family reunion, and it’s never explained how some rise above the others. How did someone become President? How was he even smart enough to run? Did they have a vote? Who built the computer that runs everything? How are jobs assigned? How are any of these indolent vulgarians responsible enough to get up and go do a job? Is there crime in this world? The cops are violent and the citizens are violent, but is anyone sharp enough to, say, rob a bank or commit murder? Since all education-related material is buried away, which generation made this move — and were they cognizant of their actions? Did they do this to deliberately make people dumber?
A premise like this is pregnant with possibilities. And while the subtle social commentary is sometimes dead-on and powerfully funny, you wish that Judge and Cohen had thought more about what they created, and not indulged so much in exactly what they scorn. This script, dated August 08, 2003, was written by Mike Judge and Etan Cohen. Production is slated to begin in mid-April.Rating: D+