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October 6, 2015

'The Futurama Holiday Spectacular' Recap

by Danny Gallagher, posted Nov 22nd 2010 5:30AM
'Futurama Holiday Spectacular'['Futurama' - 'The Futurama Holiday Specatacular']

The last season of 'Futurama' left me wanting a lot more, an even more amazing feat considering it started on such rocky ground and ended up being one of the funniest and most touching season-enders in my lifetime. Try not to read that while thinking about the fact that the show literally came back from the dead, or you'll blow your brains clear out of your skull and all over your computer.

Like all good things, it had some ups and downs, but it felt complete, and it was a fitting way to celebrate a show that had long uttered its last hurrahs well into the previous decade. Still, parts of it felt incomplete, like they had missed some of the traditions and arching story lines that make each season such fun to watch, long after the scripts are burned into the files of my "useless information lobe."

For instance, where were the annual "Xmas" traditions of stringing lights over a palm tree and diving under mistletoe to escape from Robot Santa's "T.O.W. Missile"? Where was the "Tales of Interest" anthology episode that turns hypothetical situations into deadly tales of tragic humor-terror (I call it "humerror")?

Last night's 'Holiday Spectacular' not only gave me one last dose of Matt Groening's infectious happy fun juice to keep me from jonesing until summer 2011, but it also filled the traditional gaps that have made 'Futurama' worth watching after all these years.

The special didn't just take a spoof sword to the growing -- and sickening -- tradition of turning blocks of weekend TV programming into holiday specials so sickly sweet they could induce diabetes. It paid a very detailed homage to the show's own roster of traditions, from the anthology format that zeroes in on a single character, to having funnier, even more obscure references than a pre-2002 Dennis Miller stand-up special.

Each 14-minute-or-so chunk of the 'Spectacular' took a twisted take on each of the three major holidays: Christmas (also known as "Xmas" in the year 3000), "Robanukah" and Kwanzaa. They each featured different story lines but rode along the same rail of having an environmental theme and a musical number that explained the traditions of their respective holidays in some very clever and entertaining ways.

'Futurama' might be known as a geek humor show with an edgy twist, but it does some very ambitious and equally funny musical numbers thanks to the top-notch writing staff and the musical talents of people like Billy West and Katey Sagal, who don't just spend all of their time in front of mics doing voices or imitating characters.

This special, however, didn't leave the more hardcore 'Futurama' fan behind for the sake of pulling in a bigger audience. A big portion of the jokes and sight gags required a lot of prior knowledge of episodes dating back to the days when the show aired on Fox. The whole episode was a 'Where's Waldo?' of 'Futurama' gags and characters, from background references like a 'Captain Yesterday' comic book, to Hermes losing his beloved "Ice Cream Manwich."

The stories themselves were a bit scrunchy since they each only had a third of an episode to create an interesting arc before moving to the next one or the closing credits. They each featured some kind of environmental theme about loss and rebirth that were one-upped by the snide floating head of former Vice President Al Gore (whose daughter Kristin Gore helped write some of the earlier seasons). This could have made the episodes more predictable as the show progressed through each story, but there were some very clever twists that played well with the anthology show convention without abandoning the 'Futurama' world or rules.

The songs and stories can bring in just about anyone with a well developed sense of humor. This, however, felt like a Secret Santa gift to the people who gave them another chance. It was really geared more towards the faithful fan who's been with the show since the beginning: An early Christmas gift, if you will, for helping to bring such buzz and acclaim to the show long after it left the airwaves.

Peace on Earth, goodwill towards fans.

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