Futurama: Bender’s Big Score

Few television series’ have been saved from the jaws of cancellation by viewer outrage alone. Star Trek is the most famous example of that. Letter writing campaigns to NBC prolonged the classic series’ life by a season, but was ultimately unable to keep it from fading into syndication. Conversely, efforts to raise money and write letters to save Enterprise failed when that series fell after its landmark 100th episode. Ironically, it is syndication which has pumped new life into two animated series. When Family Guy was cancelled because of lackluster ratings when compared to The Simpsons and due to a perception of indecent content, it was believed the end had come for Seth Macfarlane’s popular series. Soon, however, it climbed to the top of Cartoon Network’s ratings, appealing to huge audiences of the Holy Grail of demographics– young men.

Fox resurrected Family Guy, and gave its creator the opportunity to produce another series– American Dad. When Futurama reached similar levels of success on Cartoon Network later, egged on by cross promotion with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the resurrection of the animated science fiction satire became inevitable.

The Last Laugh

This film is the first in what will become a series of direct to DVD films and ultimately new episodes on Comedy Central. When Family Guy was reborn, the writers took the opportunity to open the first new episode with a swipe at Fox executives. Peter mentioned how the only way Family Guy would ever be renewed would be if a long litany of new Fox shows were to fail. The implication was that all of them did, and with that, opening credits rolled.

Futurama takes this to the next level– with the voice actors performing a brief piece satirizing the situation at San Diego’s Comic-con (which is recorded as a special feature on the DVD), and ultimately the film itself makes references to it in the opening sequence. It is done with much less finesse than Family Guy’s parody. This is excusable, as Futurama’s return was far less likely than that of Family Guy– a series with much broader, more mainstream appeal. What is less excusable, is the heavy hand with which the writers strain to include every subplot and minor character from the series into this film. Were the Harlem Globetrotters really an integral part in saving the day?

Temporal Prime Directive

The film’s plot involves heavy time travel. It is heavy to the point at which some characters warn of grave damage to the fabric of the space-time continuum. This is outwardly evident too, as the film’s various plots become tangled in the mess of paradoxes caused by this time travel. This needless complication only moves the story forward by forcing certain dramatic elements which could’ve happened with a lot less hassle. The only benefit the film and the audience gains from this, are the various jokes and quips made possible by the twisting plot. There are some dramatic revelations, but most viewers probably decoded them long before they become clear to the characters.

The film’s overall message, though, deals largely with destined romance, and with the rather mundane subplot of Internet tricksters and spam mongers. These plots, however, become delivery methods for plenty of running gags. Futurama has never been noted for its amazing plot lines, like its successor, The Simpsons, it is known for its satire and cultural references. This film handles both well, though at times it becomes confused by the plotline it is being forced into completing.

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