Futurama like many cartoons to air on FOX was a victim of bad scheduling and abrupt cancellation. Thankfully it found a new life on Adult Swim on The Cartoon Network where it proved its’ worth with excellent ratings for the network. So excellent in fact that Comedy Central paid big money to obtain the rights to the series and had a new season ordered. Now the long wait is finally over and old fans and new fans alike can finally return to the future. How do the new episodes stack up with the Futurama we know and love? Read on but be warned, some spoilers are ahead.
In the season opener “Rebirth” the series returns with some pleasant tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaking as the Professor announces that the crew on their return to earth have entered a central channel a “comedy central channel” but unfortunately they crash killing everyone except Fry and the Professor or so it would seem. The Professor then uses stem cells to revive the crew but Leela cannot be revived which leaves Fry heart-broken as expected. He decides to build a robot companion and the crew uses the security camera database to create a robot Leela and Fry turns his affections to robot Leela just in time for the real Leela to come back to life. The two Leela’s fight over Fry and hilarity ensues up until a twist ending you may or may not have seen coming but I’d rather not spoil it. The majority of the episode felt a lot more like Futurama than the direct to DVD movies did. Aside from the main plot there is also a subplot involving Bender having a doomsday device implanted within him which requires him to dance and party to burn off the excess energy to avoid exploding. It makes for some rather amusing moments in which Bender is dancing where you would probably not expect someone to be dancing but thankfully the situation is resolved at the end of the episode. If that joke lasted more than an episode it would have gotten old fast.
In the second episode “In-a-Gadda-Da-Leela”, Zapp Brannigan and Leela end up in an Adam and Eve scenario when they crash-land on an Eden-like planet after failing to disable a satellite. As Zapp and Leela begin a new life in their garden of Eden the Planet Express crew discover the satellite’s goal is to destroy any “indecent” planet and they attempt to warn the populace like crazy religious zealots. I didn’t quite enjoy this episode as much as the first but it was still pretty good. The talking snake in the garden of Eden was a nice touch and Zapp’s old sci-fi movie style bits that were played before various scenes were very cheesy but in a good way. Of course this is yet another episode in which Zapp Brannigan shows what little valor he actually has and as expected comes up short.
In the third episode of the season “Attack of the Killer App!” the series seems to head more into South Park or Family Guy territory with the majority of the episode centered around one great big pop-culture reference barrage that they felt fit to beat the viewers over the head with. Despite that it was relatively entertaining thanks to Leela’s singing blemish and as a person fan of barf humor I thought the two-headed space goat vomit scene was worth watching at least twice. Another scenario of Fry goofing up and hurting Leela’s feelings is really the last thing the series needs but where this episode fell short for me was the abrupt ending in which Mom succeeds at her hardly original scheme only for it to never be mentioned again at least thus far. Despite those low points it was alright but I hope the writers do not resort to that much blatant pop-culture humor in the future. To me it seems like they’ve lost that ability to be subtle with their references or maybe they simply chose not to be subtle.
Speaking of unsubtle, we have episode four “Proposition Infinity”. When Amy hooks up with Bender because he’s a model “bad boy” the audience suddenly becomes aware that robosexuality is taboo in the Futurama universe. Leave it to the Professor to be the racist prude trying to prevent Bender and Amy from having relations by calling Amy’s parents and sending Bender to a church run organization intended to turn him from his “evil robosexual ways”. As I said, not so subtle. After being re-united, Bender and Amy attempt to legalize robosexual marriage by creating Proposition Infinity with the opposition being led by Professor Farnsworth. Proposition Infinity is an obvious allusion to the Proposition Eight (flip an 8 on its side and it’s the symbol for infinity) and the entire episode is heavy with a pro-homosexual marriage message. I do not recall another episode of Futurama that was quite this topical. This is another episode getting a little to close to Family Guy or South Park material for my comfort but the social and religious satire was fairly amusing. So heavy-handed topical message aside, it was an entertaining episode.
Lastly we come to the fifth episode of the season “The Duh-Vinci Code”. Professor Farnsworth and the Planet Express crew head to Rome where they discover the hidden workshop of Farnsworth’s idol Leonardo DaVinci. Fry and the Professor are accidentally transported via one of DaVinci’s inventions to another world where they discover that DaVinci himself was not an Earthling but instead a visitor from a world of beings with intellect far greater than his own. Farnsworth tries his best to fit in with the super smart populace while Fry and DaVinci share a common bond of being the intellectual underdogs of their respective societies. Together they build DaVinci’s greatest masterpiece using the plans Fry and the Professor found sparking the initial investigation. Leave it to Futurama to rewrite history in a bizarre and quirky fashion. Leonardo DaVinci, an alien? Well, that’s a new one. It’s nice to see Fry teach Farnsworth a lesson for once. While it did not have that many particularly funny moments it did feel more akin to previous episodes of Futurama than some of these recent episodes.
Overall the new Futurama is good but it is not particularly great, at least not yet. I’m a bit concerned with the heavy-handed topical, social and pop-culture humor being slung about more recklessly because it shows several signs of slipping into the rut South Park and Family Guy have fallen into. The older Futurama episodes seem a lot more subtle with their reference humor and put a greater emphasis on the characters and the plot of the episodes than the barrage of references seen in any given episode. However, this is still Futurama and the characters and plots are what you’d generally expect and they continue to have a genuine charm to them that many animated sitcoms do not. While this season is not quite as on the mark as previous ones this revival has been fairly strong so far and I personally look forward to seeing what zany adventures the Planet Express crew have next.