It had a far more spontaneous feel than its predecessor and, although eternally in its shadow, was far more kooky and off-the-wall. But, despite of this, the show has had a pretty troublesome relationship with 20th Century Fox. With The Simpsons its favoured older sibling, Fox stopped buying episodes in 2003 until Comedy Central threw Matt Groening a lifeline, deciding to air new episodes in 2010.
Series 5 is the start of Fry and the gang’s time over at Comedy Central, with new episodes scheduled for 2012 and 2013. So Futurama is officially back – but its rebirth is a little disappointing.
Episode 1 (Rebirth) reintroduces us to the characters, putting a satirical twist on their return from cancellation. It also paves the way for the type of jokes made throughout, with stem cells touched on here and everything from Susan Boyle to Nicolas Cage, 20th Century Fox and the Prius made reference to during the series. In fact, the show seems to focus a lot more on the satirical this time around, and has lost part of its charm by trying to be bigger. It’s never going to achieve the dizzy heights of South Park or Family Guy’s satire, but it’s a lot of fun for those who aren’t quite old enough for them or don’t appreciate their humour.
Very few of the 13 episodes seem to adhere to the original (and best) two series’ style, but the return of the irrepressible Mom (Proposition Infinity), time travel (The Late Philip J. Fry) and body switching (The Prisoner of Benda) are reminiscent of some of the best earlier episodes, remaining fresh and funny amongst the only slightly better than average majority.
Luckily there are three standout episodes that save this ‘relaunched’ series from being a complete disappointment – episodes 6 (Lethal Inspection), 7 (The Late Philip J. Fry) and 10 (The Prisoner of Benda). Episode 10 is the most fun, Bender finally up to some proper meddling and plotting by getting into politics and allowing each respective character to shine – even a mop bucket. With 6 all about Bender and Hermes (who seems completely unnecessary throughout the rest of Series 5) and 7 focusing on Fry, Bender and Farnsworth, the latter is the best of the bunch by a mile, most similar in tone to the original series’ whilst remaining fun, educational and keeping the characters’ relationships genuinely interesting.
Futurama proves once again it can be deliciously educational, and a lot of fun is to be had watching Professor Farnsworth geek out over Leonardo Da Vinci (The Duh-Vinci Code) and reliving a rehash of Orson Welles’ original War of the Worlds broadcast (Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences). But these clever subtleties can’t prevent a rather bland and confusing Christmas episode (The Futurama Holiday Spectacular) in what should have been such a great and exciting return to form for Groening and his loveable characters. Yes, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments in Series 5, but it isn’t as imaginative or unpredictable as expected and you can’t help but feel a little disheartened. Even the subtly jazzed up theme tune can’t help Futurama from feeling a little tired.
The Adventures of Delivery-Boy Man (an original video comic book, scribbled and performed by Philip J. Fry)
Bend it like Bender (Bender’s first, best and only music video!)
The Prisoner of Benda: live table read