A new series of Futurama begins this evening in the US (Comedy Central, fact fans). This could turn out to be one of the best things to happen to TV in quite a while, as Futurama is one of the best animated comedy shows ever made – nay, one of the best comedy shows ever made, balls to the ‘animated’ part. It’s just magnificent.
The direct-to-DVD films released over the last few years weren’t that great. There was a bit of emotional, as contrived as it was. There was David Cross, which is always good. There was Bender. But they were lacking – they were fan-service and little else more, and barring the actual ending they made with Into The Wild Green Yonder brought nothing major to the series. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they made me glad there weren’t any plans for a new series at that point.
But now it’s here, now I’ve had time to get over how let-down I was by the movies, I am excited. I am excited. I’m willing to believe that the hour-and-a-half episodes weren’t playing to Groening, Cohen etc. strengths. They took a pretty threadbare plotline and stretched it over far too much padding, attempts at making quotable lines and repetition of Bender saying “me, Bender”. But it’s cut back down now to the 20 minute-ish episodes we all know and love.
This is where the strengths of the Futurama creators lie: a threadbare plot stretched over about 20 minutes and peppered with non-stop, eminently-quotable lines (which aren’t pushed on you as “PLEASE QUOTE THIS TO YOUR FRIENDS!”). Any show that includes lines like: “Leela, you look confused. And aroused.” “Weeeernstrom…” “WINDMILLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY.” or “Someone likes snouts!” “Is it me?” doesn’t need to make efforts or intentionally aim to make the watcher remember what they’re hearing so they can repeat it further down the line.
Futurama isn’t a catchphrase show (hence the slight annoyance with the constant “me, Bender” lines), it’s just a show of fucking funny writing. Satire, non-sequiturs, plain weirdness, wordplay (“I am the greetest!”), genuine real-life maths, encouraging crime and generally being brilliant meaning there is absolutely no need to try and appeal to those who don’t want to get into it. It may not have worked from a commercial perspective initially, but in the long run it’s shown there is indeed an audience for the show: smart enough to get things, with good enough senses of humour to be able to laugh at real, actual jokes that have bases in both the storyline and the characters themselves*.
I really hope they don’t mess this up. I want more Anthology Of Interest episodes, or ones as good as the 80s guy episode, or (hold… back… the tears…) like Jurassic Bark. Please don’t let me down, Futurama. But even if you do, I’ve still got your DVDs to go back to and watch repeatedly, as I tend to do every few months. “Jam a bastard in it, you crap!” indeed.
*Compare Bender’s summation of “have you ever tried simply turning off the TV, sitting down with your children, and hitting them?” on Bender Must Not Be Allowed On Television with anything Peter Griffin ever does. The former is an example of rather unexpected comedy based entirely on what a character is actually like. The latter is an example of rather unexpected comedy that just makes up shit as it goes along in order to claw wildly at anything approaching a laugh. (I don’t like Family Guy, by the by)