Early Look: 'Futurama' Returns with a Mixed Bag
by Joel Keller, posted Jun 22nd 2010 11:29AM
When I talked to David X. Cohen, executive producer and showrunner of 'Futurama,' about what season the show is on, he had a very hard time coming up with an answer. Considering FOX used to air the show in an extremely disjointed manner, he decided to go by production seasons. According to him, this upcoming season, which debuts on Thursday, June 24 at 10PM ET on Comedy Central, is considered the show's sixth.
This included the series of DVDs that were broken up into the initial set of 16 episodes that ran on Comedy Central. And, just like those movies, the first two new standalone episodes were a mixed bag. The season starts of with a bang, and then continues with an episode that could have been better if it wasn't weighed down with trying to convey a message.
Fans of the show will recall that the last movie, 'Into the Wild Green Yonder,' ended with Zapp Brannigan chasing the Planet Express crew into a wormhole, with no idea what was on the other side. Leela and Fry had expressed their love for each other (with the help of brain slugs), and it seemed that everything was up in the air.
The season premiere, 'Rebirth,' resolves a lot of these issues, with some clever robot-related satire that seems to parallel scenes from 'V' and 'Star Trek VI' in equal measure. As is the show's practice, they refer a few times at the beginning of the episode to the fact that they were canceled by "idiots," and then picked up by "an even bigger group of idiots," and make some not-so-subtle allusions to the show's precarious existence. Oh, and Bender gets to party a lot in this one, and he hates it.
While 'Rebirth' is a funny comeback to 22-minute storytelling and takes some clever twists and turns to resolve the hanging issues from the end of the movie, the next episode, 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela,' stumbles for a couple of reasons. In the episode, a menacing death globe threatens to blot Earth from existence, and World President Nixon enlists the help of both Brannigan and Leela to defeat it.
Of course, Brannigan being Brannigan, he takes this chance to romance Leela once again, even though she's devoted to Fry. Zapp's scheming there is always funny to watch, especially the fact that his dreams tend to be in the format of old-timey movie serials.
But the other story, about the death globe, is an "issue" parody, something 'Futurama' has never seemed to address with the deft that its cousin, 'The Simpsons,' has been able to do over the years. When it works, it's as funny and thought-provoking as it's intended to be, but often it doesn't work, and it comes off as ham-handed or too political. Without going too much into what the message of the death globe story was, I will say that story didn't generate more than a couple of chuckles from me, and I found it more distracting than informative.
Still, it's good to have the 'Futurama' gang back, especially after last summer's contentious negotiations with the voice actors. Comedy Central will be airing their 26-episode order in two chunks, and then the fate of the show is again up in the air. But at least we won't have to worry about that until sometime in 2011.
Oh, and about that interview with David Cohen... I'll have that for you tomorrow.
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