Friday, June 25, 2010

The Return of Futurama

In the late 1990s, Fox approached Simpsons creator, Matt Groening about doing a follow-up series to be shown following the Simpsons. Taking his cue from the approaching year 2000, Groening set the show a thousand years in the future and gave it a retro-feel. Even the name, Futurama, somes from the "rama" suffix that was popular in the 1960s (my high school's marching band contest was a Band-o-rama).

Almost as soon as the show started, Fox began playing with the schedule. The show was moved multiple times. Even dedicated fans had to pay close attention to find it. This was made worse when Fox moved it to 7:00 Sunday. This spot was frequently preempted by football games. In fact, the show was preempted so often that Fox used unaired episodes from the third season to create a fourth season. Even though the show's ratings were fairly good and it often won its time slot, Fox canceled it.

But things didn't end there. The Cartoon Network picked it up as part of their Adult Swim, showing it at 11:00 or 11:30 (or sometimes, both). It also came out on DVD. Given a consistent time slot, the show did quite well. Comedy Central picked it up and commissioned a set of four straight-to-DVD movies. These were designed so that they could be cut into four half-hour episodes, each, essentially giving the show a fifth, 16-episode season. The response to these justified new episodes.

I admit that I was only luke-warm to the show when it started but it grew on me. After seeing all of the episodes multiple times in syndication, I think that the first season was the weakest and it grew stronger with each season. Most of the best episodes were in the final season and the last episode, where Fry writes an opera after exchanging his hands with the Robot Devil's, is especially strong.

The DVDs varied in quality. The first one, Bender's Big Score, was the best, but also had the most complicated plotline. The third one, Bender's Game, was also enjoyable. The second one, The Beast With a Billion Backs and the final one, Into the Green, didn't really merit two-hour status.

The new season has 26 episodes. The first two showed last night and showed that you can go home again. The style and tone of the show is unchanged from its years on Fox and the quality matches the fourth season.

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