The spunky sci-fi show set 1,000 years in the future both refuses to die and can’t seem to maintain a comeback for more than 1 season. Ah well, I’m not going to look a gift streamer in the mouth – though Futurama is! We’ll get there, I promise.
First though, the biggest question when rebooting a beloved series is…how do you jump back in? Do you pick up from the series finale? Do you start somewhere entirely new and work your way backwards or make some off-handed comment about the finale (“Hey, remember that time we all died?” “Oh yeah…man, it’s nice the resurrection machines were fixed.” “Right?”)? How do you respect the past while simultaneously embracing the future? It’s a lot of pressure, especially if the finale was…let’s say…permanent for certain characters. Luckily, Futurama doesn’t suffer from that pesky setback.
We begin at the end…of the last series finale that is. When last we saw the crew of the Planet Express, Professor Farnsworth (Billy West, who also voices Fry and the head of Nixon in this episode) had invented a button capable of rewinding time (with a lot of caveats built in) which Fry had abused in an effort to lock Leela (Katey Sagal) down. Truly bizarre story short, Fry and Leela wind up the only living people in a world frozen in time. As usual, Professor Farnsworth eventually appears to save the day, but there’s a twist: If he fixes the situation, Fry and Leela, and everyone else in the world, will return to the point in time before things got borked but without any memory of all the time that came after. That’s not too bad for the frozen people, they really don’t lose anything, but for Fry and Leela it’s an entire lifetime gone. The pair agree and Farnsworth presses the button. It was a finale that towed the fine line of being wistful yet hopeful – it was genuinely designed to allow the show to come back should the opportunity arise, and it worked.
And, because it’s Futurama, they even go to the trouble of time-jumping the series so we’re once again 1,000 years in the future. So, how’s 3023 treating our intrepid crew? Can’t speak for the others but Fry is bothered that he’s done nothing with his life for the last 20 years – I feel ya, buddy! In an effort to find purpose he settles on the noble task of watching every single episode of every show ever made. The other crew members think this is a bad idea and encourage Leela to interfere but she stands her ground, resigned to support her man. It does not go well. Hilarity ensues as Fry’s mission is tested with the fan-favorite robot-soap: All My Circuits, which has also been revived several times.
This is both where the episode digs into classic Futurama form, and tries a bit too hard to say “Did you know we got rebooted multiple times??? Did you!?”. There’s a great joke about how binge watching in the year 3023 is very different from Fry’s age (which is silly because as far as I know binge watching wasn’t a thing in 1999 which is when Fry’s actually from), complete with the kind of body horror the show has always loved to incorporate – see the Eye-Phone episode for a good example. There’s also a fun joke about Dune’s Still-Suit that I love because I hate Dune. But, the repeated self-referential jokes about shows that have maybe lived too many lives, does begin to wear.
Still, I think the more prescient pop-culture humor hits the mark for the most part, including reformatting an old show into a “new” one (the Scary Door becomes the Scary Mirror), the aforementioned ultra-intense version of binging, the unending appetite for content regardless of quality, and of course the plight of writers and how “anyone” can be a TV writer. Please note, I’m in full support of the WGA and SAG and hope they get what they’re asking for because holy shit does this episode do a good job of showing just how soulless network execs can be – the Fulu (stand in for Hulu) execubots are willing to take a risk on a fav favorite show but then happily cancel it even though the ratings are there, despite knowing it will literally kill one of their viewers. Yes, it is technically a joke…but I can 100% see this being truth.
The episode eventually climaxes in a desperate plan to save Fry’s life that goes horribly awry. Luckily, in classic Futurama fashion the death of Phillip J. Fry is greatly exaggerated, in that it does not actually happen. Fry is safe, no thanks to his friends, and Leela vows to never support him again. And honestly, if the episode had ended here I would have been good with it, but instead it pulls a Marvel movie and tacks on two extra endings.
First is Fry’s offhanded comment about how the final episodes of the final season of All My Circuits wasn’t up to level of the series as whole (they’ve clearly been reading the fan reddits), and second an entirely separate scene introduced by Morbo (Maurice LaMarche, who also provides the narration for The Scary Door opening sequence) and Linda (Simpsons standard voice actress Tress MacNeille) that involves Nixon asking Fry about his recent binging experience. This leads to a clunky speech about the resurrection of shows, responsible binging, and of course a thinly veiled instruction for the viewer to stayed tuned for all 20 episodes (you know…responsibly, no more than 10 episodes at a time).
Overall, I think it wasn’t a terrible return to form. There’s something to be said for being beloved enough to get revived more than once…and even more than twice! But then the biggest question is, does it work? Is it still the same show I always hoped would get another, and another, and…another(?) chance? Granted, that original lightning in a bottle is extremely hard to recapture, so it’s best not to judge the third iteration of a show on its first run, but that being said, for my money I would say the show still works. No doubt the change is definitely there but as whole, the excellent observational humor wrapped in a silly sci-fi skin hasn’t lost its charm. We’re treated to a mix of old series canon combined with new world problems that, again, can be somewhat heavy handed in their delivery, but are, in my opinion, still funny. I’m down for 19 more episodes!