Shut Up and Take My Money: The Newly Defrosted and Still-Hilarious 'Futurama' Is Back in Vintage Form
It's been 24 years since it debuted, and ten since it last aired episodes, but Matt Groening's other big animated hit feels like it never left.
July 24, 2023
Good news, everyone: TV networks and streaming services keep thawing out Futurama. The small screen's powers that be love pressing defrost on the animated sci-fi series, and viewers should love watching the always-funny results. Not once but twice in the past quarter-century, Matt Groening's other big sitcom has been cancelled then respawned years later, with Disney-owned platform Hulu the latest doing the reviving. It was true back in 2007 when the show was first reanimated, and it's true again from Monday, July 24 on Disney+: whenever Futurama flies across the screen after a stint in stasis, it feels like no time has passed.
Groening first spread his talents beyond The Simpsons back in 1999, riffing on Y2K excitement and apprehension, and also leaping forward in time. Futurama's 20th-century pizza delivery guy Philip J Fry (voiced by Billy West, Spitting Image) didn't welcome the 21st century, however; he stumbled into a cryogenic chamber, then awoke 1000 years later to greet the 31st. After tracking down Professor Hubert J Farnsworth (also voiced by West), his only living relative, he was soon in the delivery game again — but for intergalactic cargo company Planet Express, in a show that that satirises every vision of the future previously committed to fiction, and with one-eyed ship captain Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal, Dead to Me) and shiny-metal-assed robot Bender Bending Rodríguez (John DiMaggio, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts) by his side.
Futurama's initial run lasted four seasons, four years and 78 episodes. Before every pop culture title imaginable started coming back from the dead, this one reappeared in 2007 as a direct-to-DVD movie, followed by three more, which were then turned into episodes for the show's fifth season. Alas, another trio of seasons later, Futurama said goodbye again. Thankfully, when a series not only peers at and parodies the next millennia, but takes an anything-goes approach that's brought everything from robot Santas and soap operas to human-hating alien news anchors and talking celebrity heads in jars, there's always room for a new spin — with Hulu committing to 20 new episodes, calling this comeback season 11.
Getting the Planet Express soaring yet again does pose one difficulty from the outset: how do you undo a perfect finale? When the prior season ended in 2013, it wrapped up Fry and Leela's on-again, off-again romance in a smart, sweet and widely loved bow. The new instalments pick up exactly where that swansong left off, then unleash a "massive disruption in the flow of time" to move everyone to 3023, then restore the usual status quo. So, Fry, Leela, Bender, the Professor, Jamaican accountant Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr, Craig of the Creek), Martian intern Amy Wong (Lauren Tom, Dragons: The Nine Realms) and lobster-esque alien doctor Zoidberg (also West) resume their workplace sitcom antics, although Fry gives himself a time-wasting goal first: trying to watch every show that's ever been made.
The latest season's opening instalment dives into the streaming era, and digs in. "It feels like we got rebooted," Hermes notes, with the show itself unfurling a flurry of jokes about the topic. The timing is likely purely coincidental and the statement unintentional but, amid the gags about extreme binge-watching and having more TV than anyone could view in several lifetimes available at the press of a button, comes commentary on television talents being replaced by machines. Skewered with clear purpose in later episodes: the bitcoin mining rush, NFTs, plus ever-expanding corporations that exploit their workers (and listen in on people's houses) yet still seem to control everything.
Futurama has always excelled not just at the specific, but the general. Sometimes, the show's laughs are intricately linked to events and trends; sometimes, it chuckles at life's recurring patterns. The new season's second episode does the latter astutely well, while also nodding to season four's opening instalment. Twenty years back in 2003 when Futurama's 55th chapter overall aired, Amy's boyfriend Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche, Rick and Morty), the amphibious 4th Lieutenant to self-obsessed starship captain Zapp Brannigan (West again), got pregnant and gave birth. Amy wasn't ready for motherhood, but didn't need to be, because Kif's tadpole-style spawn required two decades in a swamp to mature. The show's writers now make good on that promise, all while finding multiple ways to spoof attitudes to parenting.
Robot Santa (also DiMaggio), Zapp, Kif, scheming company owner Mom (Tress MacNeille, The Simpsons), the pet-like Nibbler (Frank Welker, Animaniacs), melodramatic acting robot Calculon (also LaMarche): to the delight of long-running fans, they're all back. So are newsreaders Morbo and Linda van Schoonhoven (LaMarche and MacNeille), Planet Express janitor Scruffy (David Herman, The Bob's Burgers Movie), the head of Richard Nixon (West), the Professor's clone Cubert (Kath Soucie, Rugrats), Hypnotoad and more. Indeed, Futurama circa 2023 doesn't just feel like it never left, but acts like it, jam-packing in scene-stealing supporting characters, whip-smart and gleefully silly jokes alike, and zany setups. A Dune sendup? Shooting lasers in the Old West? Waging war on Christmas? That all happens, too.
"We're back, baby" isn't merely something that the ever-sidesplitting Bender says, clearly. Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be directed at the new Futurama is that this new run slides in so easily with past episodes, and so comfortably, that future binges will feel seamless. Not every comeback manages such a feat. Some, like David Lynch's phenomenal Twin Peaks revival, actively and gloriously don't want to. This one joins Party Down and That '90s Show in 2023 as returns that hit the bullseye, getting the rest of the dominoes falling like a house of cards — checkmate! Time may make fools of us all, and milk, but it's been keeping Futurama in vintage form.
Check out the trailer for Futurama's new season below:
Futurama season 11 streams via Disney+ Down Under from Monday, July 24.
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