O, "Futurama"! Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
You'd win, hands down; I still have to work in the summer, and other than the times when you show Leela's butt, you've never made me take a cold shower.
Like too many others, I didn't realize how much I missed you until you were already gone. Oh, sure, I'd catch up with you Sundays here and there, but I was all the way out on the East Coast. How was I to know it wasn't your fault when you kept getting bumped off the air for New York Jets games? All I knew was all too often you weren't there when I went looking for you, so pretty soon I stopped looking altogether.
I'd catch you occasionally on Cartoon Network, where among the sexy new 15-minute absurdist shows like "Sealab" and "Aqua Teen," a strange thing happened: people began to realize how great you were, how funny and inventive, how surprisingly touching.
I remember turning to one of my roommates -- this must have been within weeks of your last episode on FOX -- and said "You know, this show is pretty funny," and he said to me, "It is, isn't it?" Why couldn't we and all the others who later came to love you realize this a year or two sooner? When it might still have mattered?
Ah, the world of entertainment can be as cruel as the real one. Wonderful shows such as "Freaks and Geeks" are cut short in their infancy; others, such as "Futurama," are canceled in their prime. It's bittersweet, in its way, that "Futurama" went out after two good seasons and two great ones, ending before it could risk mediocrity -- as bittersweet as episodes like "Luck of the Fryrish" and "Jurassic Bark," shows that to this day reduce irony-hardened cartoon fans to tears.
But then, like some kind of modern-day Jesus, it came back! Its ratings for reruns were so high FOX thought it might be profitable to bring it back for four straight-to-DVD movies. We're entering strange media territory these days. Other than "Family Guy" and maybe some other series I'm not old enough to remember, what TV show's ever been uncanceled?
Man, it was like Christmas the Prequel up in this piece when "Bender's Big Score," the first of their new movies, released at the end of November. I'm not ashamed to say my Tuesday night was rescheduled around watching it and that I would have committed some pretty major felonies to ensure nothing interrupted us. Like, I've never killed a man, at least not since I learned that was frowned on in this country, but if that's what it had taken for me to see this movie that night, they would still be dredging bodies out of the Columbia.
It was somewhat surreal watching the movie play on the wall of my buddy's bookstore (yeah, I wasn't the only one I know with a nerd-on for this) and realizing I didn't already have half the lines memorized. My next cohesive thought was that they'd already established the plot -- naked scammer aliens steal the Professor's company, trick Bender into their service, and send him back in time to steal all of history's riches through a process that could destroy the universe -- and that I no longer had to worry about whether a new movie could live up to the love I'd built for the original four seasons: we were laughing too hard to be coasting on goodwill.
Somehow that plot, insane and convoluted as it becomes (it almost demands several viewings to fully comprehend), just rips right on by. It's propelled by the nonstop jokes, by an inspired performance by John DiMaggio, voice of Bender, livened up by guest voices Coolio and a way-too-funny Al Gore, cranked into new gears by co-writer Ken Keeler's offbeat songs and the animation crew's kinetic space-battle climax.
But it's "Futurama's" series-long dramatic and emotional arcs that made it special. Major plot points from several seasons down the road are foreshadowed from the first episode. Sometimes the characters' feelings are hurt or they don't get what they want or their lives just don't turn out the way they need them to, and because there's continuity from one episode to the next -- that and extremely deep writing for a 30-minute animated TV show -- the characters' victories and defeats can catch you off guard by just how affecting they can be.
"Bender's Big Score" not only integrates itself into the show's involved mythology, but it also expands it, while finding a way to tap into the sorrow and wistfulness that runs under most of its best episodes.
They're almost working with too much material in too little time. If this one has a flaw, it's that now and then it goes so far down one line of a story it can be a little jarring when they jump back to another thread. (The ending's abrupt, too, but supposedly the next movie picks up where this leaves off.)
Seeing old friends for the first time in a long time is always scary: what if you talk for a while and realize that, whatever you had in common before, it's not there anymore? That you can't go back? It's a minor miracle that, after having been off the air for as long as it was on it, "Futurama's" as sharp and funny and winning as it ever was.