Futurama, Matt Groening’s other animated TV show, has never had a particularly smooth ride.
The original series on Fox was cancelled after just four seasons before it was brought back to life for four DVD movies.
The future was uncertain until the Futurama team managed to secure a new series on Comedy Central. Now it’s been cancelled again.
Or has it? The DVDs are still popular and from the strength of the material in the new UK release (season 7), its clear that Futurama deserves yet another chance.
In recent years, the show has moved away from dealing with large sci-fi themes and more towards using a futuristic setting to make fun of our present. So, in season 7, Earth’s 3012 presidential candidate is asked to prove his citizenship by showing his ‘Earth certificate’ and a Martian prophecy predicts the end of the world. The comedy isn’t as grounded in actual science either. This is the season where acerbic robot Bender becomes a father and we get to find out about ‘robot reproduction’.
These 13 episodes aren’t exactly the “geekiest yet”, as the DVD case proclaims, but it’s clear that the focus is on laughs. The gang’s visit to an aquarium, for example, includes meeting a Richard Attenborough-esque character who shows them a truly unique exhibit.
“Welcome to Jurassic Tank,” he states before revealing a tank full of aquatic dinosaurs, complete with a worried Tyrannosaurus desperately trying to tread water at the top.
It’s not all silliness and satire, though. The writers have put some effort into delving into the lives of the show’s secondary characters. One episode deals with the divorce of Leela’s mutant parents and her mother’s affair with idiotic spaceship captain Zapp Brannigan. The parents, who used to be fairly boring characters, have become surprisingly interesting and it would be great to see more of them.
Futurama doesn’t quite push the boundaries of writing and animation like it used to, but there are still moments of real inventiveness. The stand-out episode this season – Naturama – does something very different. It’s an experimental episode, reimagining the characters as amusing animals in three nature documentary parodies, which look into the mating rituals of the salmon, the giant tortoise and the elephant seal. All the characters are hilariously redesigned in animal form, with Bender in particular looking even more egotistical and obnoxious as an elephant seal.
The episode also wins points for its dry writing, accurately poking fun at the sense of futility in nature documentaries. “And so the endless cycle of life comes to an end,” intones the stern narrator, after a group of salmon die. “Meaningless and grim.”