In truth, it’s been back for nearly two years, but in an unusual way: new home video releases. Fox originally canceled Matt Groening’s irreverent, animated sci fi series due to low ratings back in August 2003. But remember, the network changed its air time frequently enough to confuse people and ultimately placed it at 7 PM on Sundays, which meant it was repeatedly pre-empted by football. After it left prime time, the show was regularly rerun on Cartoon Network until the end of 2007, then it was revived on DVD starting in November 2007 with four original, full-length movies. The last installment came out in March 2009, and all of them were for sale at retail and aired on Comedy Central along with the previous four seasons of episodes.
Thanks to the combined success of the new movies and reruns, Fry, Bender, Leela and their quirky Planet Express peeps and frenemies are being brought back full blast into our homes every week starting mid-2010.
The direct-to-DVD series is an unusual home video tactic that paid off. Beginning with Bender’s Big Score, Futurama has blossomed anew with some highly creative adventures — including The Beast With A Billion Backs, Bender’s Game and Into The Wild Green Yonder — that hold up surprisingly well in a feature length format. The art still sparkles, the dialogue still elicits laughter and the quick-witted sight gags keep on coming.
While I loved the show from the start, I have been a life-long sci fi and fantasy fan, and even I had to concede that much of the humor was best understood by sci fi and computer geeks. Anyone remember the Tetris construction joke from the “Planet of the Robots” episode? That’s a classic example right there. But the series did offer fun and puns for a broader audience, cleverly referencing everything from American history to Star Trek, so it seemed odd to me that it did not find a bigger audience. And seriously, if the lame American Dad can stay on the air, why can’t Futurama?It was recently announced that Fox is resurrecting Futurama in mid-2010 for a full 26-episode run on Comedy Central, with Fox having the option to also show it in prime time. This will be only the second animated show in history to be revived thanks to cable reruns and solid DVD sales, the first being Family Guy. Except in that latter case, the strong ratings and sales of existing seasons encouraged the return to prime time, not new material, although an original Family Guy movie for DVD later emerged.
I’m sure there are many fans that will grumble that Futurama should never have left the air to begin with. Let’s be thankful that not only have we gotten four feature-length movies out of the deal, but we’ll be getting 26 more original episodes as well. Most shows these days never get a second or, considering the scenario here, third chance. It also means that Morbo won’t be coming to crush the puny humans who sought to kill the show any time soon.