Ten years of perseverance can do some funny things to a show. Considering that in the past ten (or so) years Futurama has been off the air more than it has been on, it’s remarkable how stable the show has managed to stay. Same creative team, same voice actors, same lovable characters.
Still, there was reason to be trepidatious about last night’s season premiere. While Futurama’s original run went out on a high note, the quality of the follow-up movies was ultimately debatable. Tiring in places, and often playing more like a greatest hits callback reel, the movies couldn’t seem to recapture the ease and charm this science fiction comedy once touted.
Honestly, it’s still a touch too early to call, but last night’s two premiere episodes, “Rebirth” and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela,” were a big BIG step back in the right direction. The plots in both episodes actually felt more impactful having been pared down to an episodic format and the jokes played more easily. (I just about died laughing in “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela” when Zapp Brannigan greets Nixon at a briefing with “Mr. President. What the hell?”) The lack of awkwardness could be ascribed to the pressure the pared down writing staff was under when constructing the movies. Now that they have a two-season commitment, not every joke has to be broad enough to appeal to everyone.
Whatever the reason, the movies tended to carry a crudeness—an overabundance of gags involving violence with no punchline or sexual and scatalogical humor—that these new episodes mostly avoid. The jokes are still there, but they’re a good deal more charming. (Hee hee…Poopiter.)
Indeed, the first episode from last night, “Rebirth,” gets the balance between the crude and the divine absolutely right. There’s ass-CPR, orgy jokes, and Zoidberg snipping off something he really shouldn’t…but there’s also Fry and Leela being very, very sweet to each other. Which is something the show also does extremely well, and a balance that was somewhat missing from the movies.
There was one point during last night’s episodes where it had seemed like Futurama was taking a step backward. The end of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela” involves Zapp revealing to Leela a long series of ruses he’s enacted in order to seduce her. At first, this plays cleverly (and Zapp’s whining is…something for the ages), but the joke continues for so long that you start to think about how horrifying the situation would actually be if these weren’t two cartoon characters in a comedy.
Details like that make the show still seem a bit wobbly, but for the most part Futurama has quickly rediscovered its best qualities. I’m very glad it’s back on television where, it seems, it truly belongs.
Chris Greenland always has Zoidberg. YOU ALL HAVE ZOIDBERG.