Matt Groening’s sci-fi sitcom “Futurama” didn’t gain the massive mainstream acceptance that his golden goose, “The Simpsons,” was graced with, but it has managed to build a devoted following over the years.
“Futurama” has a fall-and-rise history not unlike Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy,” albeit on a smaller scale. Like “Family Guy,” “Futurama” was cursed with chronic mismanagement by the network, airing erratically and inconsistently week-to-week during its original run from 1999 to 2003, before the show was finally given the axe.
Fortunately, the series was picked up for syndication postmortem by Comedy Central, which managed to properly find the show’s audience the way Cartoon Network did for “Family Guy” on Adult Swim. Once the show found its niche, a revival soon followed with the original voices of the cast intact.
I was a mild fan of “Futurama” during its initial run but have until now neglected to catch up with it since its resurrection. Bringing a dead show back to life can be a tricky business, though. When good shows die young, they are remembered fondly because they didn’t have time to become played out and stale. When “Family Guy” debuted, McFarlane’s brand of pop-humor was fresh and interesting. After its revival, it quickly became boring and predictable. It’s rare that a show can keep its steam over the years the way something like “South Park” has, but it’s also uncommon that a show like that gets such a loving, hands-on treatment from its creators throughout its entire run.
Finally having gotten the chance to revisit “Futurama” 2.0, I’m pleased that it feels as though the show never went away. Billy West has retained Fry’s boyish enthusiasm, the loveable arrogance of Zap Brannigan, Professor Farnsworth’s hysterical ramblings, and, of course, the general weirdness of Dr. Zoidberg. Katey Sagal’s straight (wo)man Leela is as earnest as ever, and John DiMaggio’s hedonistic portrayal of Bender remains the face of the show for a reason.
The episodes on Volume 6 are mostly consistent in quality with a couple of misses. A few standouts include “Mobius Dick,” where Leela obsessively pursues a killer teleporting space sperm whale, as well as “Ghost in the Machines,” which features Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta in a hilarious turn as the Robot Devil.
The cream of this set, though, would be the episodes “Law and Oracle” and “All the President’s Heads.” “Law and Oracle” plays as a nutty send-up of “Minority Report” and “Tron,” while taking the time to slap “Avatar” around as Leela and Bender struggle to make their way through James Cameron’s 3D claptrap, Pandora, without the glasses.
“All the President’s Heads” finds the gang time-traveling back to the Revolutionary War in order to prevent one of Farnsworth’s ancestors from pulling a Benedict Arnold. During their expedition, they accidentally change history, causing the British to win the war, resulting in a future populated by British stereotypes. Bender openly wonders why his teeth are now so terrible, even though they now live with socialized health care. Ha.
The only episode that flat-out didn’t work was the one the one that sounded the coolest on paper, “Reincarnation,” in which the show is re-visualized in three different styles: old Fleischer Studios animation, 8-bit video game graphics, and anime. The first two are cute to look at but not very funny; however, the anime segment is just plain bad in that doesn’t parody the form very well. It’s just one long “hey, anime is weird” joke that might’ve played well in the early nineties, but given how much anime’s niche has grown over the years, it comes off as dated and lazy. Designing Bender to look like a Gundam was kinda cute, though.
One bad parody aside, I’m pleased to see that “Futurama” has retained the quality it had during its original run, and this collection is an above-average gathering episodes. Fans of the show will no doubt already be snapping this one up, but if you haven’t caught up with the revived “Futurama” yet, now is a perfect time to do so.