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Good News Everybody! Futurama Lives!

July 20th, 2010

Sometimes things really do work out all right in the end, after all!  After being dumped by Fox back in 2004, Futurama has returned to life — first as a series of four direct-to-DVD movies (click here for my review of the final DVD, “Into the Wild Blue Yonder”) and now — huzzah! — as a regular series on Comedy Central.

I don’t get to watch too much TV while working at camp each summer, but last week on my day off I was able to enjoy the first two new episodes.

The new premiere, “Rebirth” begins with the apparent deaths of the Futurama gang (nice little unsubtle reference to their cancellation).  Luckily, Professor Farnsworth is able to restore everyone to life by bathing their skeletons in a vat of stem cells.  Well, everyone except Leela.  For some reason the Professor’s miracle stem cell bath doesn’t return her to life, so instead he downloads her memories and personality into a new robot body.  This proves somewhat awkward for Fry and Leela’s burgeoning romance!

“Rebirth” is far from the funniest Futurama episode ever, but it’s such a delight to see the characters back on TV that I hardly noticed.  There are a lot of great gags and all sorts of references to sci-fi TV shows and movies.  There’s a subplot with Bender (now powered by one of the Professor’s doomsday machines that will blow him to kingdom come if he ever stops partying) that got tiresome pretty fast, but the episode makes up for that with a third-act twist that I thought was really clever and surprising.

Things got even better with the second new episode, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela,” in which Leela finds herself marooned with Zapp Branigan.  With no hope of rescue (and under the impression that the Earth has been destroyed), will she contemplate repopulating the Human species with Zapp?  Brannigan is a terrific Futurama character, and it’s great to see him get so much screen time in this episode.  I particularly enjoyed the glimpse we got into his dreams (presented in the style of 1950’s black-and-white serials).

I’ve heard that the production budget of the series was cut in order to get picked up by Comedy Central.  Luckily, the show still looks great.  There were a few moments of slightly wonky animation (the attack by the Cyclophage in “Rebirth” looked particularly flat, and there were some moments between Zapp and Leela in “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela” where both characters looked a bit off-model), but nothing too troubling.

Most of all, it’s just a great thrill to have the series back, and I hope they’re able to build some momentum as the season continues.

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