It has been seven years since Fox cancelled Futurama in 2003. Thanks to solid ratings in syndication, the animated sci-fi spoof was revived for four DVD movies, which Comedy Central repurposed for a makeshift season five starting in 2008. The network must have been happy with the results, as they ordered a whopping twenty-six new episodes. Hit the jump for a review of the first two, “Rebirth” and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela,” which premiere on June 24th at 10/9c.
“On the count of three, you will awaken feeling refreshed, as if Futurama had never been cancelled by idiots, then brought back by bigger idiots.”
And so, in a prologue to the first episode back, recurring gag Hypnotoad brainwashes the viewer into blissful reality where new episodes of Futurama never ceased to populate the airwaves. However, this is the first of many meta references to the Fox cancellation and subsequent Comedy Central in “Rebirth” to remind you that such is fantasy.
I was a big fan of the DVD movies — particularly the first, Bender’s Big Score. I thought it made splendid use of multiple timelines and character duplicates. Similar techniques are carried over into “Rebirth” successfully, if a bit more haphazardly. It serves as a good reintroduction to the Planet Express crew, whether or not one is necessary.
My favorite gag of the episode trapped Bender in a Speed-like plot device where, if he ever stopped dancing and partying, he would explode. Bender inappropriately and reluctantly living it up never got old.
I fancied “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela” a bit less due to a labored third act and the prevalence of Zapp Brannigan, a character I’ve never loved. Still, mini-parodies of the serials from the fifties that kicked off each act were a highlight. In terms of sci-fi references, Star Wars and The Terminator also get the Futurama treatment in the first two half-hours.
I’m so glad they got the voice cast back, despite contract negotiation issues. They’re just teriffic. Billy West has got to be the MVP as the voice of Fry, The Professor, and Zoidberg among many, many other supporting characters. John DiMaggio has crafted one of the great comic characters of all animated time in Bender. And heck, Katey Sagal is now a legitimate Emmy contender for lead actress in a drama for her work on Sons of Anarchy.
(Side note: Because of the general ubiquity of talented voice actors, West and DiMaggio have plenty of side gigs in an industry where the core audience is young children. It is bizarre to hear a variation of Bender in The Penguins of Madagascar.)
In the sense that I became a Futurama fan by way of the Adult Swim reruns (the 2003 episode “The Farnsworth Parabox” was new to my eyes as recently as this weekend) Hypnotoad already has me on board. I consider the DVD movies proof that the writers didn’t lose their comedic edge over the production hiatus; “Rebirth” and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela” indicate that energy will translate back in to an episodic format just fine.