Friday, September 9, 2011

Futurama is living proof of "Reincarnation"

Futurama: Volume Five     It's been over a year since Comedy Central began the first new season of Futurama since FOX's cancellation of the series. But with "Reincarnation" last night, season six comes to an end. In the episode, the Planet Express crew face three stories in different animation styles (Steamboat Willie era, 8 bit video game, and anime), each with some connection to a mysterious comet. While the connecting device is never fully explained, Futurama delivers its trademark humor, and gives fans a little something different than what they're used to with two really high level bits, and a final, plain fun one.

     The first vignette involves Fry (Billy West) trying to secure an engagement ring for Leela (Katey Sagal). Their romance is a continuing thread that was explored quite heavily in the straight-to-DVD films, and then barely touched on throughout season six, at least until last week's episode, which revealed that they would eventually have a happy ending. "Reincarnation" does what so many other Futurama episodes do, which is allow Fry to touchingly pursue his one-eyed crush, and she responds to it, but the story will have no lasting consequence to continuity. It's disappointing that the animated show refuses to take that bold move and give their two leads a real relationship after so many seasons. On the other hand, this stand alone story, which ends with Fry proposing to Leela, then the two getting froze in the moment, only to end up as a stone in an alien engagement ring a billion years later, is emotionally very satisfying. Not the ending the series will go with, but a nice plot, nonetheless.

     The second story has Professor Farnsworth (also West) discovering the final answer to science, thus leaving nothing more for mankind to pursue. Even Stephen Hawking (voicing himself, or rather, his own head in a jar) is impressed. Farnsworth brings a startling halt to progress, and to make matters worse, almost no one cares. While Farnsworth goes crazy with nothing to solve, his employees veg out in front of the TV. Then Farnsworth begins to wonder why the universe is the way it is, opening up a whole new avenue to explore. Which his loved ones think means he has wasted his life as a scientist, but Farnsworth sees it as quite the opposite.

     It's rare that a cartoon would delve into the inner workings of human motivation, and the nature of science, in such a profound way. While still being humorous, this is a really neat brain exercise, made even more ironic when presented in such a low-tech animation style. The addition of Hawking to the episode lends gravitas to the concept, and gives smarter viewers something to ponder long after the episode ends.

     Finally, the third bit involves a race that does not have mouths coming to conquer the planet after they are accidentally insulted. Our main characters can do nothing to stop them, until Zoidberg (also West) sheds his skin and does a very complex, but not shown, dance. This isn't a deep story, but it works on a funny level. Having the aliens (via subtitles) express that they have never heard of mouths, and so do not understand the humans' attempt to communicate with them is funny, as is Zoidberg's unseen movements, and Farnsworth's startlingly different voice. An obvious voice over of the word "English" when a character mouths "Japanese" also tickles. Not highly intelligent, it's OK to go light after two much deeper plots.

     Futurama will get a seventh season! Expect it to return to Comedy Central, likely next summer.

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     Click here to buy Futurama DVDs, streaming episodes, and merchandise.

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