Good news, everyone! For the first time in a decade, Futurama is back on our screens.
Let’s address the Hypnotoad in the room first: this is (somehow) both a reboot and a continuation of season 10’s pitch-perfect finale ‘Meanwhile’. In a master narrative stroke, Professor Farnsworth restores the show’s status quo while the universe – thanks to time being frozen – reverts to the year 3023. So, any questions about paradoxes or inconsistencies are wiped away almost immediately. This is Futurama, just as you remember it – almost, anyway.
Where the show’s original run(s) felt timeless, even when it took jabs at contemporary subjects, 'The Impossible Stream' could age quickly as Fry attempts to binge-watch every TV show ever made.
That includes signing up to Fulu ("the fourth most-popular streaming service," Fry quips) and quickly rattling through a handful of mildly amusing Interdimensional Cable-style mash-ups that mostly serve as vehicles for jokes about Siri and the deprecating value of NFTs.
Futurama’s return also dips into a tried-and-tested comedy well that has emerged as the low-hanging fruit of choice during its decade in hibernation: meta humor. You’ll be tired of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes about a series being repeatedly canceled long before its fourth or fifth jab at Hulu. Pro tip: be more Futurama and less Rick and Morty.
Thankfully, the show’s penchant for vaudeville-style sight gags and silly wordplay still remains. It’s here where the show, with scary efficiency, hits the heights of even its first few seasons. It turns what could have been a tired premise into one that feels like it’s ripped straight from the show’s original classic run of high concept capers.
The script, penned by Patric M. Verrone, a veteran who has 15 episodes under his belt, contains several zingers, from the (brilliantly) groan-worthy to the incredibly funny – including a pitch-perfect gag about "PC crowds" in a shock-value stand-up routine attended by, you guessed it, personal computers.
Party like it's 3023
Most pleasingly of all, the show’s dynamic among the Planet Express crew – perhaps because of its stop-start history – still feels fresh. Zoidberg is a willing participant for absurdist gags, while Professor Farnsworth’s doddery mutterings are always good for a chuckle or two. Bender gets the best line of the episode, though, with a cheeky aside seemingly referring to John DiMaggio’s protracted pay dispute. Yes, despite the Hulu horse being well and truly beaten here, the level of disdain thrown at Futurama’s paymasters here feels positively Simpsons-like in its razor-sharp execution.
It’s a slight shame, then, that the premise sidelines Fry for so much of its runtime. Instead, Leela and Bender are tasked with producing and writing new instalments of All My Circuits (yes, robot thesp Calculon is back and firing on all cylinders) before Fry runs out of episodes – and his brain shuts down.
Fry’s puppy-dog enthusiasm carries so much of Futurama that you forget how much you miss it when it’s absent. Indeed, much of 'The Impossible Stream' is front-loaded, its biggest laughs and warmest moments arriving within the first 10 minutes. What comes after – complete with Calculon trying to speed through his scenes in a nod to the advent of Gen Z’s 2x speed viewing habits – is still entertaining but slightly pales in comparison to Futurama confidently striding in and picking up like it never went anywhere just minutes earlier.
The Planet Express team may go on to have bigger, better adventures in its return season, but few will provoke as much joy as 'The Impossible Stream.' The piercingly comical joke-every-20-seconds rhythm remains, as does the brainier side of the show, the one that loves to contort its way past obvious punchlines before eventually arriving back at the obvious – and somehow even funnier – payoff.
The Futurama season 11 premiere is not without its flaws but, on this evidence, even the Neutral Planet would be hard pressed not to find positives in a riotous and unlikely comeback story. They’re back, baby!