Futurama is a series that’s gone through a particularly complicated series of deaths and rebirths. To briefly recap the show’s production history: Futurama originally aired on Fox from 1999 until it was canceled in 2003.
The final episode from that initial run, “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” was actually a quite satisfactory series finale, but interest in new episodes of the show continued post-cancellation due to the fact that it had a cult fan base as well as the fact that it continued to stay visible because of frequent airing of Futurama reruns during The Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” programming block.
Starting in 2007 four direct-to-DVD feature length Futurama movies were released. Each had an overarching, feature-film-length story, but each was also designed to be edited into freestanding, 22-minute episodes which aired as what’s considered to be Futurama’s fifth season on Comedy Central in 2008. The 16th and final episode of that season, “Into the Wild Green Yonder (Part 4),” again was intentionally set up to be a satisfying series finale, since the creators conceived it again not knowing if they would be asked to create more new episodes.
Perhaps somewhat improbably, 26 more new episodes aired on Comedy Central in 2010 and 2011, referred to as Futurama’s sixth or sixth and seventh season depending on what TV related website you’re looking at. And Wednesday night Comedy Central aired “The Bots and the Bees” and “A Farewell to Arms” the first two episodes of Futurama’s seventh or eighth season, depending on how you look at it.
At this point the series has tried pretty much every variety of genre parody imaginable, had the universe end and begin again multiple times, and run through every possible permutation of its one ongoing semi-serious plot -the relationship between Fry and Leela – so it’s perhaps impossible for the show to shock and surprise as it once did at its best.
Matt Groening and company seem to have settled into a comfortable groove with the show, but if the two episodes that aired last night are any indication it’s a comfortable groove that still allows for a few laugh out loud hilarious moments per episode. Late period Futurama is shaping up to be much funnier than late period Simpsons as a point of comparison, and it’s good to have the show back.