Back to the ‘Futurama’

Hulu’s revival is animated sci-fi comedy comfort food

It’s been a long time since they made new episodes of Futurama, and it’s been a generation since Futurama debuted on Fox in 1999, in a time when “from Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons,” was actually news. And while the new episodes of Futurama that Hulu started airing a couple of weeks ago don’t necessarily feel fresh, they also don’t feel completely worn out. At worst, they’re familiar and goofy. It turns out that a decade away makes the artificial heart grow fonder.

Futurama isn’t a show for kids; its main character is Bender, an alcoholic, sex-obsessed narcissistic robot. But compared with the animated sci-fi fare that’s come since, it feels positively like family fare. Rick and Morty leans hard R, deep into gore and hopeless perversion. Solar Opposites doesn’t wade in the kiddie pool. And Roger the alien on American Dad is a cross-dressing lunatic. By comparison, Fry, Leela, Dr. Zoidberg, and the rest of the Planet Express gang might as well be the Muppets.

And the new episodes don’t even feel like a reboot. There’s no change in the cast or in the animation style. The second episode, a forgettable but sweet number about Amy and her alien husband Zif hatching their babies in a swamp after 20 years, feels like just another random notch in a cosmic string. It could have appeared in 2005.

The pure reboot episode, the first one, is an extended take on obsessive streaming viewers. Given the ongoing writers strike and war with streaming TV, the Futurama treatment feels a little bit dated, maybe more relevant three or four years ago. The cast goes to the officers of “Fulu” so they can produce its own episodes of a streaming robot sitcom, starring the once-again-reborn Calculon, the world’s greatest robot actor. It feels a little too on-the-nose. But within that Hulu parody, Futurama also bakes in plenty of hilarious satires of current pop culture, including a vicious and cutting parody of Black Mirror, which had its own meta run-in with parent company Netflix in the current season. Streaming services are apparently able to take it on the chin as well as NBC did during the best years of 30 Rock. What do they care as long as people are watching?

Hulu has already renewed Futurama for a 12th season. The 11th season is only 10 episodes long, and will feature episodes making fun of the pandemic and cryptocurrency, as well as plenty of pratfalls, weed jokes, and belching. In the past, present, and future, a robot falling off a building is always funny.


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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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