TV-Review: Futurama Season 11 #1 – The Impossible Stream

Once upon a time, there was an animated television series about a hapless pizza delivery guy who got kicked a thousand years into the future… and despite two cancellations and living on several television networks, Futurama is still alive after almost a quarter of a century. While its bigger sister series The Simpsons has become old, tired and predictable, Futurama is still coming up with fresh ideas and the first new episode after a ten year hiatus that just came out on Hulu in the USA and Disney+ in Europe does not disappoint.

The Impossible Stream, the first episode of what is now called Season 11, picks up right where the series left off in 2013 – which is no mean feat, considering the previous Meanwhile was written as a wonderful series finale that could well have been the actual last ever episode of Futurama. Patric M. Verrone, one of the writers from the very beginning of the show, continues with a very meta and self-referential story about Fry looking for a purpose in life and finding it in watching every television series ever made… which, of course, goes disastrously wrong.

Since the last time Futurama hit the airwaves, television has radically changed and the new season premiere does acknowledge this by going all in and making the story actually about the addictions of television watching. The transition from a syndicated television show to streaming content is, of course, also the main theme of the plot that includes quite a few subtle and some not so subtle references. All of them are equally hilarious and entertaining… and maybe just a little bit of an advertisement for the platform Futurama now calls its home. This is, of course, somewhat lost on audiences outside of the USA where Disney+ is streaming Futurama.

Fears that Futurama is being turned into a sugary mess now that Fox is owned by Disney turn out to be completely unfounded. The show has not been taken over by new writers and producers, quite the contrary – Matt Groening and David X. Cohen are still at the helm and with Patric M. Verrone writing and Peter Avanzino directing the debut, the roots of the series still remains intact. The atmosphere of the show has not changed in the slightest, there is still plenty of snark and sarcasm and more of the biting humour that Futurama has established over its long lifetime.

The first episode is pretty much a Fry, Leela, Bender and Professor Farnsworth show, as it should be. But all the beloved secondary characters like Hermes, Amy, Doctor Zoidberg and even Scruffy also return in the background – it just feels right having the crew back together. And where television is, Calculon is not far away either, being resurrected once again together with his show. The script takes good care of including everyone even though they are not all necessary for the plot. It’s just like the good old times ten or twenty years ago, just with a new fresh story that, as usual, manages to cram an astonishingly dense plot into just 24 minutes.

Together with the familiar characters, their voices also return like no time has passed, but this was still in doubt not long ago when contract negotiations went awry and John DiMaggio almost didn’t return as Bender. But he is back and so are all the other voice actors! Billy West leads them all, providing the voices of Fry, Professor Farnsworth and Doctor Zoidberg. While his Fry now seems a little more hoarse – West is now 71 after all – he still manages to bring his characters wonderfully to life. His co-stars Katey Sagal, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille are all giving their best and are even joined by Dan Castellanetta returning briefly as the Robot Devil. The busy british actress Cara Delevingne also has a small blink-and-you-miss-it part as a robot.

There is no discernible visual difference despite the decade-long pause between production – Rough Draft Animation is back in the saddle and the animation looks as lively. colourful and true to the original as ever. The show has come a long way from its NTSC academy format roots, even though it was one of the first animated television shows in the late 1990s that was produced digitally instead on film. The jump into high-definition widescreen with the feature length movies in 2008 had benefited Futurama immensely and the great detail the show now sports makes it all the more cinematic and ready for really big screens.

Curiously, there is no mention of composer Christopher Tyng in the credits, but the good old main theme is back in its mid-2000s beefed up remix and the incidental music surely sounds like Tyng’s work. Since this first episode is not particularly music-heavy, it’s possible that clips from previous years have been used, but they do their job well bringing the familiar Futurama soundscape back that relies on a proven mix of Orchester and Synthesizers.

Futurama has successfully been dragged kicking and screaming into the 2020s with the aptly-named The Impossible Stream. Ten years ago it really seemed impossible that the series would return since Matt Groening got busy with his old pal Josh Weinstein making two excellent seasons of the medieval satire Disenchantment for, ironically, Netflix. Now that Futurama has entered the world of streaming with a new season too, it will hopefully be followed by more than the twenty episodes that Hulu has ordered so far.

Despite the transition from regular TV, Hulu and Disney are still just releasing one episode per week, bringing the first batch of ten into late September. A release date for the second round is still unknown, but that will probably happen sometime next year. There will be no binge-watching the new Futurama – like Fry’s PSA at the end of the episode suggests!

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