Jun 11, 2009

Horrible News Everyone!

Word around the internet suggests that a certain animated show created by Matt Groening set in the year 3000 is getting new episodes on Comedy Central. No, not The Simpsons: Season One Thousand and Eleven, the other one. FUTURAMA!

Futurama has always been a favorite of mine since its original debut in 1999. It was The Simpsons for the hardcore geek, blending math and science jokes, science fiction clich├ęs, and floating celebrity heads. Futurama offered a cast of characters more diverse and almost as numerous as that of The Simpsons. Fry, Leela, Bender, Professor Farnsworth, Zap Brannigan, Calculon, Morbo, Hedonism Bot. My list of favorite characters could go on and on. If you haven’t seen the original episodes, do yourself a favor: Futurama, Volumes 1 - 4

Unfortunately, Futurama debuted in an unfortunate timeslot, airing on 7:00 PM ET Sundays, just early enough to be pre-empted every other week by the long running NFL football game. I remember the traumatic experience of popping in a VCR tape only to watch 25 minutes of a game I could care less about followed by a mangled 5 minutes of insensible Futurama if anything. Those were the days before Tivo. Those were dark days. For the most part, a geek audience is a loyal audience as long as they are happy. Pre-empting episodes, showing episodes out of order, and generally abusing a show is not how you keep a geek audience happy. (See Firefly).

Eventually, the production of new episodes for Fox ceased but Futurama refused to die. Lingering on in comics and syndication on Cartoon Network, Futurama (paired with Family Guy) got enough ratings to eventually justify a syndication promotion to Comedy Central in combination with 4 Direct to DVD feature length movies (Bender's Big Score, Bender's Game, The Beast with a Billion Backs, Into the Wild Green Yonder), the last of which was released in February of 2009.

Obviously the cable ratings remained decent enough and DVD movies and TV seasons sold well to prove that Futurama was still a viable property. It might not be sustainable on Network TV like CSI: Cincinnati or Law & Order: Campus Police but for a smaller station like Comedy Central, Futurama represents a profitable franchise with a built in audience. Something increasingly hard to develop in today’s mediaverse, resulting in the re-use and overuse of any tangible property.

So Futurama is coming back with 26 brand new half-hour episodes. It’s like Christmas in June. But which Christmas? Christmas 2000? Or X-Mas 3000, complete with Evil Robotic Santa? Since cancellation we’ve gotten 4 feature length Futurama movies. They were ok. I laughed occasionally, but most of the time I didn’t want to admit to myself I was disappointed. It could just be that Futurama works best in 22 minute chunks and when expanded to feature length most of the plot-centric jokes get too stale to still be funny. Hopefully, the new episodes will recapture the tone of the old.

Family Guy, the original animated Lazarus, was renewed after stores realized they couldn’t keep the DVDs on the shelves. However, when it debuted it returned like something buried in sacred Indian soil. It looked like Family Guy and sounded like Family Guy but it wasn’t the same thing that we buried. The characters seemed different and the jokes weren’t as funny. Maybe the jokes were all used up. Maybe the cancellation/rebirth made the writers feel like they could get away with anything. The jokes that used to be offensive and hilarious were just offensive now. The magic was gone. Not to mention the fact that Family Guy somehow mutated the once classic Simpsons into a shadow of itself.

I want more Futurama. But only on the condition that it’s quality Futurama. Family Guy, once great, is now merely passable. The Simpsons, as iconic as iconic can get, is no longer remotely watch-able. I don’t think I can stand to watch another property slowly ground into bachelor chow.

I hope the new Futurama episodes will reach Omicron Persei 8 before they destroy the planet. I fear our alien overlords might obliterate us anyway.

All Glory to the Hypnotoad.

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