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Hurray! The "Futurama" gang is back, this time on Comedy Central, a network where the show can be even edgier than when it was on Fox.
By
TODAY.com
updated 7/15/2010 8:03:17 PM ET 2010-07-16T00:03:17
Commentary

I’m a self-admitted addict of TV shows doomed to be canceled. I’ve forced the first and only season of “Undeclared” on my friends. I’ve petitioned to get “FreakyLinks” on DVD. I’m a die-hard “Firefly” fan. I’ll always keep hoping for the “Arrested Development” movie.

When I heard the news that “Futurama” was coming back for a sixth (or arguably, fifth) season, I wasn’t surprised. I just figured it was about time that a quality television show came back on the air instead of continuing to flounder around with pale carbon-copy projects about over age, undersexed women or crime procedural detective shows.

It’s been nearly a month since “Futurama” returned, and while the show is definitely racier and more satirical, it still retains what I love about it the most.

“It was too good to not be on TV,” said Billy West when I asked him if he was surprised the show had returned. The actor provides the voices for Philip J. Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, Zapp Brannigan and Professor Hubert Farnsworth, among other minor characters on the series. “I think it was always a consistently good show, and when people saw these episodes (after cancellation) they were asking themselves, ‘Where did this come from?’ ”

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More, please
I can see why “Heroes” didn’t get renewed and argue that “Stella” was ahead of its time, which is why no one really watched it, but I will never understand why “Futurama” was canceled in 2003. Yes, it brought in lackluster ratings for Fox. That wasn’t always the show’s fault, since it was constantly bumped by sports events from its dreaded 7 p.m. Sunday time slot.

Despite no one knowing when the show was going to actually air, the space-themed saga of the tale of a 20th century pizza delivery boy living in the 31st century in New New York never failed to amuse with its zany characters, imaginative scenarios and general silliness.

I already owned the box set of the complete series, had the action figure of mating-season Zoidberg and cheered in the front row of the Comic Con convention hall when it was announced that “Futurama” was returning as a series of direct-to-DVD movies. Still, like many new and old fans of the show, I wanted more.

“Initially, the involvement of Matt Groening (creator of “The Simpsons”) is why I started watching it,” said Jonathan Reed. The 28-year-old Londoner runs GotFuturama.com, an unofficial fan site. He said that as a graphic designer, he was attracted to the cartoon elements. Like me, he watched the show from the beginning, though he had to download it off the Internet for a while since he lived in the U.K.

'Improved in different ways'
Though I was happy the show was returning, the nearly seven-year hiatus between the seasons of the television series brought up some concerns. I hadn’t been entirely pleased with the smattering of DVD movies they released, though this could be due to the fact that I always felt “Futurama” was better as a show than a feature-length film.

Then there was the announcement of a smaller writing staff. Then the news that the original voice actors may not return. Finally, a collective sigh of relief came when they all signed on to an up-to-26-episode contract with Comedy Central, the show’s new home.

The first two episodes of the new season were a bit too much of a recap for my liking, but understandable since the show has to draw in new fans on its new network. “What we realized is that half the country has never heard of it,” West explained to me. “We wanted to get everybody up to speed. That won’t be the most interesting episode to fans, but you have to have an episode spitting out expositions to new viewers.”

“Throughout the last couple of episodes, each episode has improved in different ways,” commented Steve Gurman, who runs unofficial fan site FuturamaFF.com. “I hope later in this season it will show how good the original series was.”

Still, I was a bit shocked by the direction taken by the third episode, “Attack of the Killer App.” While the alien goat vomit and fecal matter pool that Fry had to swim in reeked of “South Park” or even “Family Guy,” I was surprised that “Futurama” was reaching to this level.

It seemed to me the show was trying too hard to get more people interested, and while it works for Trey Parker and Matt Stone on “South Park,” I didn’t feel like it fit the tone of the original “Futurama.”

On the other hand, Reed felt it was just the nature of having a less restrictive new network. “It feels like a lot more freedom, especially more in the writing,” he said. “It seems like a better relationship with Comedy Central than Fox. It looks like they’re writing the way they want to write.”

West said that if fans are pleased with what they’ve seen so far, it’s only going to get better. “The Duh-Vinci Code,” one of his favorite new episodes, has the show’s characters meeting the famed inventor and artist, and they discover the secret of his birth.

“I’ve never laughed so hard at the table reads,” West said. “It’s a lot funnier.”

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised that the show has been taking a more active stance on current issues. Though the show has always been satirical, I enjoyed the episode “Proposition Infinity” and its attack on California’s Proposition 8 by paralleling the real-life gay-marriage issue to robot-human relationships.

The episode kept its wacky antics with Leela, Amy, Fry and Zoidberg attempting to rescue Bender from his antigay camp, and having Professor Farnsworth be the voice of heterosexual relationships, but it still poked fun at the issues in the unique way that only “Futurama” can pull off. So, if a little locker-room humor gets thrown in the mix, it’s all right by me … as long as Zoidberg still survives to be crabby yet another day.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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