Television Review: “Futurama”

By Devin Richey

“On the count of three, you will awaken feeling refreshed as if ‘Futurama’ had never been canceled by idiots and then brought back by bigger idiots. 1… 2…”

This introduction—voiced over by John Di Maggio, who plays the alcoholic robot, Bender, and played over the image of the series’ mind-controlling hypnotoad—introduces the first new television episode of Futurama since 2003.

The FOX network, which has a reputation for canceling shows with large fan bases but low mainstream audiences, aired the series’ first five seasons from 1999 to 2003. Because of the sporadic episode schedule and the inability of Fox executives to influence the show’s creative control, “Futurama” was not renewed for a sixth season. The cast and crew of the show went on to produce four 4-part direct-to-DVD movies, collectively making up “Futurama’s” fifth season. The last of the four movies, “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” provided an open-ended finale to the series to cover the possibilities of either being picked up by a new network or ending entirely. Each of the movies received their broadcast debut on Comedy Central, foreshadowing the eventual resurrection of the series on that network.

Now, with Comedy Central backing it up, “Futurama” will return June 24 with a two-episode season premiere. The first episode of the new season, entitled “Futurama: Rebirth,” works to recover the series from where the movies left off. In it, Professor Farnsworth recounts to the mysteriously scalded and amnesic Fry the story of how the Planet Express crew survived their perilous journey back to Earth with the help of a humorous wormhole or “comedy-central channel,” as they put it.

The episode, being a monument to the show’s long-awaited return, is obviously meant as a passion-piece for the fans. It concludes the story arc from “Wild Green Yonder” and is one of the few episodes in the series with a fully defined continuity. As such, it might not be understandable for new viewers who aren’t aware of the previous plot or references to the show’s switch from FOX.

The second episode, however, moves back to the typical stand-alone sitcom format. It also plays around with the loosened restrictions enabled by the move to Comedy Central, which regularly airs programs with edgier content than Fox, as shown by programs such as “South Park” and “Chappelle’s Show.” The episode’s plot revolves around an attempt to save Earth from the doomsday “V-Giny” satellite, the result of a collision between the Air Force’s Flying Destiny satellite and the V-Chip media censoring satellite, which begins to censor planets entirely with military-like force.

“Futurama” has been off of television for a long time, but it has managed to stay entirely faithful to its sense of sarcasm and humor since leaving FOX in 2003. It has plenty of new material to work with without the content restrictions put in place by FOX, and a vast array of topical and symbolic humor to cover. Internet buzz from elated fans of comedy television has created a high sense of anticipation for the season premiere.

New episodes of “Futurama” will air Thursday at 8 p.m. on Comedy Central beginning June 24.

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