I was a college freshman when Futurama first premiered back in 1999, and I’m proud to say I’ve been a fan since day / episode 1. As a certified The Simpsons obsessive from age nine, I was eager to become an early adopter of Matt Groening’s sister series, which he developed for FOX with his fellow executive producer David X. Cohen. And now, after having been canceled enough times that even I have lost track, the show has returned once again (now on Hulu) with its original voice cast and many of the same creative talent working behind the scenes.
As in earlier incarnations, Futurama stars voice actor Billy West (The Ren & Stimpy Show) as Philip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy from our present who gets frozen in time only to wake up in the year 3000– though now it’s 3023 on the show, as its timeline (sort of) advances with real time. Picking up where the previous Comedy Central season left off, Fry is now in a relationship with one-eyed mutant starship pilot Turanga Leela (Married… with Children’s Katey Sagal), but pretty much everything else about the series and its characters has maintained its status quo in what is being called the 11th season, though I think that depends on how you’re keeping track. Fry’s still living with his robot best friend Bender (John Dimaggio from The Super Mario Bros. Movie) and working as a space-delivery boy for his distant grand-nephew Professor Hubert Farnsworth (also West). There’s also the kooky crab-like Dr. Zoidberg (West yet again), the Jamaican bureaucrat Hermes Conrad (Pulp Fiction’s Phil LaMarr), eternal intern Amy Wong (Lauren Tom of Friends fame), and a cast of supporting characters rounded out by the supremely talented performers Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons), Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and the Brain), and David Herman (from Office Space, Idiocracy, and MAD TV).
But anyone familiar with the Futurama from years past already knows all that. The question is whether or not the series retains its original spirit after having been off the air for nearly a decade (the Comedy Central era ended in September of 2013). And the answer is: yeah, pretty much. After having watched advance review screeners of the first six new episodes, I can say that the only things that feel off to me are Billy West’s voice– which definitely sounds older, but that’s forgivable since… well, he’s gotten older– and the animation style, which feels just a hair less polished than before. Everything else, both writing and performance-wise, is at the very least on par with, if not better than, the last few seasons of the show (I never assumed it would reach the dizzying highs of its first three or four unimpeachable years in this go-round). I laughed quite a bit over the course of the half-dozen episodes I got to see, and I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of getting more upcoming installments as they are released weekly via Hulu.
This batch sees Fry attempt to make his life worthwhile by streaming every episode of every TV series ever made (predictably, that does not go well), Kif and Amy finally meeting their children that were spawned in an early adventure, a Western installment that cashes in on the semi-topical cryptocurrency craze, a Dune parody that also serves as a follow-up to the classic “Parasites Lost” episode, a quest to combat Planet Express’s chief new competitor “Momazon,” and an X-Mas episode that first upends, then carries on a grand Futurama tradition. I at the very least enjoyed all of these outings, and the rapid-fire jokes had me chuckling pretty much throughout. The only other element I would say was missing from these first six new episodes was a standout, high-concept, self-contained sci-fi misadventure like “The Farnsworth Parabox” from 2003 or “The Late Philip J. Fry” from 2010. Hopefully we get one of those in the four remaining episodes this year, because they tend to end up being my favorites from the run of the series. Otherwise I’m just thrilled to have this gang of misfits back for another go-round, and quite pleased to report that the quality of the series remains strong and absolutely entertaining.
This new season of Futurama premieres on Monday, July 24th via Hulu, with a total of ten new episodes arriving weekly thereafter.