Futurama returned from a long hiatus and a series of gleefully canon-burning dvd-movies with the soothing burr of Hypno-toad, Bender’s voiceover assuring viewers there had been no gap: “On the count of three, you will awaken feeling refreshed, as if Futurama had never been canceled by idiots, then brought back by bigger idiots.”
I don’t usually review pure comedies (unless they’re offensively terrible), because I love them, and I can’t bear to dissect and thus kill what I love. Futurama has a special place in my pantheon of favorites, up there with The Simpsons, Wonderfalls, Firefly, and many other mandatory beloveds of rapidly aging pseudo-intellectual hispter douchebags. It beat them all, though, by intelligently lampooning hard scifi and actual science and philosophy amidst the sitcom buffoonery and many, many dick jokes. If I’m a sucker for anything, its geek in-jokes and any phrase that ends in “…shiny metal ass!”
The inner critical snob wonders if it isn’t better to leave the original seasons of Futurama as a perfectly imperfect whole, the AV nerd bullied out of the picture as often as possible by the big jock network but infinitely rewarding when taken on its own, socially malformed, D&D-loving, terms. Mainstream culture has moved on since the show premiered in 1999 (aie…has it ever…), and the ticklish postmodern combination of rarified booklearning with joyfully stupid pop-culture has been declared passé. By stupid people, I say, who want nothing more than laughs there’s no chance they’ll need explained to them. Snark is still on the menu, jah, and subculture elitism, in spades, but giddy intellectualism motivated purely by free-ranging interest? That’s just suspect. I re-watched Waking Life a couple of weeks ago for the first time since seeing it in Baltimore’s Charles Theatre as a recent grad, and was struck by terrorist gestures being referenced in positive liberal terms. I remember being dead bored in art classes, some paunchy 40ish professor exhorting us to get out there and be “cultural bombs,” that anti-consumerist revolutionary thought and art was nothing without the sincere efforts of Shiva-style destruction.
Now, when the cultural dialogue has been dominated by a nearly decade-old act of actual terrorism – can you imagine? While studying for a later degree, professors advised young artists to keep our heads down, politically, and focus on inoffensive commercial impact.
But I digress, per usual. The question in mind – can Futurama be Futurama in a era that doesn’t tolerate the tipping of genuine sacred cows?
Who am I kidding? I’m elated we’re getting more. I watched the hell out of the movies, despite their variable quality, and the nagging feeling I was seeing creator-produced fanfic. They were fun because they grabbed the chance to rip apart the world built up over four years, deconstructing deconstructions – with dick jokes. And I’ll love each new episode that comes out like minutes in a stay of execution.
The new episodes are promising, and chock full of memorable quotes. And, particularly in the pilot, they do their best without resorting to Patrick Duffy dreaming away an entire season. Futurama has had two definitive endings. Both identically tied up the Sam-and-Diane relationship of Leela and Fry, and the latter left the entire crew as hotly pursued fugitives diving into a mysterious wormhole. There’s no possibility of returning from that burned bridge to anything like the previous status quo without a ridiculous asspull.
And they did, but at least they hung a lampshade on it. It’s hard to hate an episode that morphs from Philip K Dick to Terminator in less than a minute. And the status, it’s somewhat quo. Fry and Leela seemed poised to venture into a relationship, potentially mining a new ore of scifi parody (how hard is it to maintain a LTR in a genre dominated by green alien babes?), but Leela’s shotgun fornication with her first-season one-night-stand appears to have derailed that. Maybe.
The lower budget shows at times, mostly in the background quality. There’s a lot of generic color swoops representing greenery on exotic planets. It’s not as visually fancy as the later seasons and movies.
The biggest change is the tonal dominance of good old-fashioned raunchy humor, from the repeated Leela and Amy partial nudity (…not that I’m complaining, mind you), to a two-headed goat vomiting from both ends, to a singing boil referencing an already stale pop-cultural phenomenon. Part of this is the move to cable, requiring less deft censor-dodging, and part is a mass cultural shift epitomised by the success of Sacha Baron Cohen, pure adolescent envelope-pushing. I’m a big fan of dick jokes and mind-bending sexual entendres (seriously, how did Bender and Amy even…nevermind), but they’re funnier when set off by humor that doesn’t depend solely on infantile shock. If I wanted a half hour of nothing but half-rate dada-esque offense, I’d watch Family Guy.
Which I do, actually. But Family Guy is never going to have a Heidegger joke, or reference Stephen Hawking, unless it’s to make fun of the man’s super-sweet wheelchair and speaking software.
So, to sum up: yay, more Futurama! …please don’t let it suck, because I will love it regardless, and would like to have some respect for my critical faculties.