If you’d told me when I was nine that I’d ever stop watching The Simpsons, I would have called you a mean liar. But at this point, I’ve been not watching The Simpsons for almost as long as I watched it—a sobering fact nine-year-old me could never have wrapped his head around. The greatest series of all time? Not anymore. Not even close.
But while my interest in The Simpsons waned, I grew attached to creator Matt Groening’s other baby, Futurama. And now, as the sci-fi series begins a new season on Comedy Central, I’m wondering if I might have to part ways with another animated comedy. I still like Futurama—I dig the characters, the wacky scenarios, the Hypnotoad. But there’s something missing, best expressed by the fact that I only laughed out loud once during Thursday’s one-hour premiere. When did Futurama become lazy?
The first episode was the real problem, with a gender-swap plot that could have gone somewhere but never did. You could say the episode was sexist, but I don’t actually believe Futurama’s writers have that low an opinion of its female characters. (Women be shoppin’!) Still, the characterization of the women as easily distracted by shoes was easy. What else? Women don’t like fart jokes. Women say dumb things and men laugh because women are pretty. Boobs. It’s not that it’s offensive—it’s that we’ve seen this before on countless other (lesser) sitcoms. Futurama is a smarter series, and its audience deserves better.
In its prime—about 15 years ago—The Simpsons created hilarious, thought-provoking episodes about the difference between men and women, gender bias, the varying roles of fathers and mothers. I’m not saying it was the great feminist work of our time; I just think it did a better job of touching on these issues in an interesting (and funny!) way. Was Thursday night’s episode of Futurama really the best the writers could come up with? I will say that my one laugh-out-loud moment was Zapp Brannigan hitting on the female Fry: “Well, hello from the neck down!”
The second episode of Thursday's premiere wasn’t as bothersome, if only because it offered a more creative plot and the voice talents of Patton Oswalt. I liked the basic idea: Bender creates smaller versions of himself, which then create smaller versions of themselves, until finally the earth is overrun by itty-bitty Benders. Conceptually, it was amusing enough, and the episode was clever about showing the consequences of tiny alcohol- driven robots. Casting Oswalt was also a smart move—in addition to being a very funny comedian, he’s a great voice actor. (Check out his work in Pixar’s Ratatouille if you need a refresher.)
But the laughs still weren’t there. I didn’t cringe the way I did at the first episode’s “men vs. women” story, but I can’t say I enjoyed the episode either. And so, I have to ask, is Futurama going the way of The Simpsons? Will the quality continue to slide until I’m forced to give up on a show I once loved? It’s not a good sign that I haven’t been thrilled by Futurama since it made the move to Comedy Central, though there were some solid episodes last season that made me glad to still be tuning in. I guess I’ll stick it out as long as I can. Nine-year-old me would want it that way.
Follow TV.com writer Louis Peitzman on Twitter: @LouisAtTVDotCom