The world of touring music offers a balance between artists who are on tour promoting new material and legacy artists, who continue to fill venues playing from a much-loved catalogue. I doubt any act craves the “legacy artist” tag, but that doesn’t mean legacy artists aren’t making great music. They just know what the fans want and give it to them.
The first six episodes of the new futurama season find the beloved animated sitcom in “legacy artist” form. And who can blame him for that? If ever a show owed its core audience any measure of fan service, it would be a series that Fox canceled in 2003, only to be resurrected first in a series of feature-length installments and then for a Comedy Central regular run that concluded in 2013.
The bottom line
A fairly fun comeback.
But even then, dead didn’t really mean “dead” and the outcry from devotees led Hulu to revive the series once again. And would Hulu really have made new episodes without the full roster of vocal talent? Probably not, but the deafening outrage online over the deadlock in contract negotiations probably played at least a small part in ensuring all the stars were back in the fold for this latest revival.
So if there’s a “We’re here to play the hits!” feeling at the beginning of this futurama season, it doesn’t make the episodes bad, nor does it mean that subsequent episodes (Hulu has ordered 20 so far) won’t eventually create new ground. It just shows a respectful awareness that without the fans, the series would have been in mothballs for 20 years. If the payment for that enthusiasm is a healthy dose of complacency, where’s the harm?
It is a minor impediment to the return of futurama that, intentionally or not, Comedy Central’s run ended with a very strong episode. Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) experienced a lifetime of lonely wedded bliss thanks to a faulty time-altering button, and then when the button was fixed by the Professor (West, again), they were able to go back and live their lives again, surrounded by the people they loved. it was not the most fun futurama episode, although the variations on a time loop that caused Fry to repeatedly get squashed in goo was pretty cool, but it was very sweet and romantic and underscored many of the points the show had repeatedly made about the possibilities and limitations of time travel. Emotionally, it was exactly the right place to leave futurama… and now you have to undo it.
The new season (I steadfastly refuse to try to calculate what season number this is, as multiple truncated seasons and movies have made the traditional counting pointless) returns with what has now become an industry standard format. “The Impossible Stream,” written by series veteran Patric M. Verrone, is a “We got canceled and now we’re rebooted, so let’s make jokes about it!” episode. will and grace made one little melodies made one party downstairs It did make one The winks and nudges are cute, but it’s hard to remember the last time one of these episodes actually felt fresh. You may have to go back all the way to the Family man gag when, after the show’s first episode, Peter Griffin listed every other series that failed on Fox between its cancellation and its resurrection. That’s the last time I’m going to say something nice about Family man in this review or potentially elsewhere.
The premiere turns from a reboot commentary to a commentary on the streaming universe as Fry announces his decision to give his life a purpose and, to everyone’s horror, that purpose is to watch every available episode of television ever made, starting with a subscription to Fulu, “the world’s fourth most popular streaming service.” Did you see what they did there? The resulting episode is full of hilarious and not-so-hilarious puns and references that TV critics are the target audience for, but the resulting comedy is great and smooth. I thought it was better to be an inadvertent critic of the two current labor strikes (one of the last surviving Fry shows is a sitcom starring easily replaceable robots) than anything related to the streaming universe.
The later episodes, which reverse the Fry/Leela serialization so they can move in together for the first time and experience other romantic growing pains that the previous finale progressed much further, feel like they’re shaped according to what fans would be eager to see. This would be in contrast to building episodes around mind-blowing, wacky pieces of forward-looking conceptualization.
Instead, it’s more like: Do you think Nibbler is cute? Here is an episode of Nibbler! Do you remember Robot Santa? Here is an episode of Robot Santa!
The number of callbacks and recurring characters is a good way to draw viewers in and isn’t necessarily a sign of creative laziness. The second installment of the season — “Do you remember Kif? Here’s an episode of Kif!” -is a direct callback to “Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch”, which ended with Kif telling Amy (Lauren Tom) that her strange baby tadpoles weren’t going to be able to live out of water for 20 years. I can only imagine the excitement when the writers realized they could actually follow that punchline 20 years later. That clear and contagious joy permeates what is probably my favorite of this initial batch.
It’s not like the show has run out of things for the writers to say, either. They just don’t seem to have much to say about those things. There’s a BitCoin parody episode that imagines the cryptocurrency run as an extension of the 19th century gold rush. That’s all about it. Then there is an episode about mom: “Do you remember mom? Here’s an episode of mom! — flourishing online business. It’s called Momazon and its warehouses exploit robot workers. That’s all you have to do.
There isn’t a flashy dud episode in the bunch, and every episode made me smile and laugh. At the same time, in this batch of six episodes, there isn’t a single memorable new character, inspired episodic structure, or mind-bending piece of futuristic fantasy. You could have told me these were episodes from any of the original versions of the series and I wouldn’t have been surprised. That’s totally acceptable and a bit disappointing.