Saturday, June 25, 2011

Futurama - "Neutopia; Benderama"

Futurama: Volume 5 [Blu-ray]     It's hard to know which season Comedy Central's Futurama is currently on, since different sources disagree, what with the cancellation and straight to DVD movies that followed. But the latest batch of new episodes began this Thursday with two episode, "Neutopia" and "Benderama." The first finds the Planet Express crew opening an airline. After crashing during the very first flight, a mysterious creature takes away everyone's genitals to increase cooperation and harmony. The second concerns Bender (John DiMaggio) using the Professor's (Billy West) new machine to make smaller and smaller copies of himself, eventually threatening the Earth. But an overflow of Benders may just come in handy when a very ugly giant (guest star Patton Oswalt, United States of Tara) attacks.

     These two episodes, while funny, are disappointing. Unlike The Simpsons, also created by Matt Groening, Futurama sometimes does some things that are part of larger arcs, and continuity is often respected. Not only are there no scenes pointing at Amy (Lauren Tom) and Kif (Mauriche LaMarche) being together or not, but events happen in the first that are gone by the second. For instance, there is no mention in "Benderama" of Planet Express being an airline, nor is there any indication that it stopped being one at the end of "Neutopia." Also at the end of that episode, when everyone is restored to their proper sexes, Scruffy (David Herman) is not, but he's back to being a boy in the next episode. "Benderama" nearly destroys the world, and leaves open a disastrous possibility that there are still many Bender copies around, but that will likely not be followed up on. 

     Futuama is not perfect, nor has it ever been. But it used to respect the things that happened before on the show, and having changes stick is a refreshing departure from other, less creative animated series. To have the show devolve into a standard story of the week format with no connecting threads is beyond disappointing. It's an insult to those diehard fans who called for its return to television years after cancellation.

     Neither "Benderama" or "Neutopia" are particularly bad episodes. Both have plenty of funny lines and situations, and much of what happens is perfectly in line with what Futurama is about. But those big twists that suddenly drop make it an inferior show than it used to be, and possibly signal a decline. Last season, the first new year back, danced back and forth between the two formats. Clearly, a decision has been made, and it's the wrong one.

     I will continue watching Futurama, at least for now, but Mr. Groening, please fix this show! It used to be better and could be again. Futurama airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET.

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