Futurama has accidentally become a fascinating document of social change

5/5 - (10 votes)

Is Futurama more or less unkillable at this point? Like the Terminator or Novak Djokovic, the animated sci-fi comedy just keeps coming back. This time, it is returning for a 20-episode revival series on Hulu (or Disney+ in the UK). In its prime, Futurama was a great TV show that held its own creative merits despite living in the shadow of The Simpsons, both of which were created by cartoonist Matt Groening and featured his signature art style. The original 72-episode run on Fox from 1999 still remains remarkably relevant even today. Set 1,000 years in the future in the city of New New York, Futurama was a perfect platform for satirizing contemporary life.

However, in 2003, the show was canceled, leaving many fans disappointed. For five years, Futurama seemed destined to be one of those TV series that were canceled too soon, always lingering as a what-might-have-been. But then, in 2008, it was revived with four straight-to-DVD films. Although something was lost in the interim, it still provided a better alternative than nothing for dedicated Futurama fans. In 2009, the series made a comeback, this time as a series on Comedy Central. The show underwent noticeable changes as episodes increasingly focused on topical parody. From addictive “eyePhone” apps to satirizing same-sex marriage bans, Futurama addressed contemporary issues with its clever wit. After running for five more years, the series concluded in 2013. Now, after a decade-long hiatus, it is back with a season premiere that explores streaming services, NFTs, and anti-PC humor. Futurama may not be the same as it once was, but it has gradually transformed into a compelling study of changing times.

The specific brand of satire in Futurama is not built for longevity in our era of rapid technological advancements. When the show premiered in 1999, the internet was still in its infancy. Early episodes showcased an attitude towards the web that is vastly different from its portrayal a decade later. Politically, the show was rooted in Gen X cynicism and Bush-era politics. References to Richard Nixon and Al Gore would not resonate in the same way today. Some aspects of the show have clearly dated, such as a misjudged episode featuring a parody of Susan Boyle. Others are more complex, like an episode where Futurama’s robot character undergoes a mechanical gender reassignment operation for an Olympic medal. Today, such a plotline would not be considered progressive, but at that time, it revealed the ignorance surrounding transgender issues and the recency of the anti-trans movement. This season, one episode is ominously titled “Zapp Gets Cancelled,” perhaps hinting at the show’s awareness of the modern culture war.

Futurama serves as a reminder that sometimes it’s better to end on a high note than to continue in mediocrity. With each reboot, the show returns a little different, resembling its former self but with an indescribable offness. However, these flaws make it interesting and provide insights into how the world has evolved over the past 25 years. Futurama is available to stream on Disney+.

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