Thursday, July 8, 2010

Return to the Year 3000: Futurama’s Back!

futurama_logoHow is it that Craig and I haven’t written about this yet?

It’s not every day that one of my more favorite shows gets brought back from the dead, but that’s what happened here – the Fox Network canceled Futurama in 2003 after four seasons, but reruns in Cartoon Network’s late-night Adult Swim lineup exposed the show to another audience. Ratings and DVD sales pushed the show back into production with four direct-to-DVD movies that went on sale in 2008 and 2009.

In the meantime, Comedy Central had bought the rights to air re-runs of Futurama, and cut up the four DVD movies into a fifth season of the show, and the response to all of this activity was apparently good enough that the channel was willing to cough up for another twenty-six brand-new episodes, split up into a sixth and a seventh season.

Over the last couple weeks, the first three of those new episodes has aired. We’ve been remiss in not keeping up with them, but a quick synopsis and review of those episodes, along with reviews and synopses of the rest of them, should make up for that, right?

Rebirth

Following the events of last season's finale (all of the characters are about to be sucked into a potentially life-ending wormhole), the ship comes out on the other side and crashes into Earth. The Professor resurrects everyone, but not all goes as planned and wackiness ensues!

In the season premiere, the jokes sort of naturally take a backseat to the job of getting everything back to normal so that the series can continue. That being said, there are some pretty funny bits, my favorite being Bender’s need to party compulsively to discharge extra energy. It’s not on par with the series’ greatest episodes, but it’s a good opener and re-introduction to the series.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela

A giant satellite is obliterating planets – and it’s headed toward Earth! It’s a classic Futurama sci-fi premise (though I’ve got to question why they’d choose to spoof Star Trek: The Motion Picture out of all the available Star Trek movies).

This is a Zapp Brannigan-heavy episode, and he’s in good form throughout. He and Leela carry the episode’s A-story ably, though none of the other characters have much to do.

Attack of the Killer App

In this one, all of the characters line up to buy a product called an eyePhone. After that, they all start using a service called Twitcher to send updates about their activities. Does this, um, sound familiar? Also, later, Leela has a boil named Susan that sings showtunes.

This one’s a little rough around the edges. Satirizing Apple and Twitter and social media and etc. has been done before, and the show’s crack at these targets is pretty by-the-numbers. Add to that an awkward gag involving a goat that goes on a bit too long and the fact that part of the second and most of the third act centers around a singing ass-boil and you’ve got sort of an uncomfortable half-hour on your hands. This is the weakest of the three episodes we’ve gotten so far.

In Closing

Generally, the new Futurama episodes have been solid, though not exactly great. The style and characters are mostly intact, but the feel is still a little off. Part of the problem is that the show’s writing staff still isn’t quite sure what to make of the loosened censorship that cable TV enjoys – they can show and do now some of what they could only imply previously, but sometimes when it comes to sex or toilet humor the implication is funnier than the actual joke (case in point - can anyone tell me where I can get a DVD of the third season of The Venture Bros with all the censorship restored? I don’t need to see the cartoon penises, thanks).

Overall, though, I’d put the quality roughly on par with that of the TV movies – a little off compared to when the show was in regular production, but still very much Futurama (most people seem to forget how hit-or-miss the original run was, especially in its first two seasons). Tune in tomorrow for a look at this week’s episode, “Proposition Infinity.”