This review contains moderate spoilers.
It's back, 'Futurama' is back!! Well actually, it's been "back" for a while now, but I'm in the U.K., don't have $ky (with it's traditional "proper telly" broadcaster, Channel 4, seeming to have no interest in this new series at present), so have had to wait for the official DVD before I can finally get my hands, err, eyes, whatever, on these new episodes.
Cancelling 'Futurama' was one of the big TV crimes of the 2000s. I'm a huge fan of golden-age 'Simpsons', but even I'll admit that show has sadly seen better days, whereas 'Futurama' has so much more potential, and humour, left in it yet. There were the four DVD movies, re-edited into TV episodes, that were pretty good, but felt to have a lot riding on them and so maybe suffered from having too much crammed in to them, trying to do to many things, so not fully capturing the magic the original half-hour episodes. So here we are, the first proper-new-episode of 'Futurama' in seven years. How does this re-introduction story fare?
Well, being a return of such a cult series, it had a lot to live up to. And, kinda like the aforementioned DVD movies, one thing that does strike me is that they tried to get it to do a lot of things, maybe too many; like they were trying too hard to score too many goals. Part of the joy of the original episodes was the complexity and unpredictability of the plots, but plots which, at the same time, were focused and structured. 'Rebirth' follows the DVD movies mould of maybe trying to be too many things at once.
The other thing that sticks out to me, and many other fans have commented on this too, is the crude humour noticeably being notched up a gear or ten. Now I don't have a problem with this kind of humour as such, not if done well and used in the right place (heck, I still chuckle at 'Family Guy'), but with New-Futurama, it kinda felt too welded on and obvious, kinda like "hey, we're back. And now we're like 'Family Guy' too!!" If I want 'Family Guy', I'll go watch 'Family Guy', let 'Futurama' be what it always was. At time of writing, I haven't seen much into this new season, but I hope it's a trend that doesn't continue so blatantly, as I don't think it fits the show. For now, I'll put it down to the show finding it's footing again.
The plot is fair, although, as mentioned above, suffers from having a little too much- thrown in and trying to be too clever- for it's own good. In many ways, the pay off "explanations" later in the episode reminded me of the fourth season episode 'The Sting' from the original run, with Leela believing Fry to be dead, only for it to turn out that well, go read up on that episode if you don't know already. But either way, this episode conjured up a lot of memories of that (better executed) story for me; I wonder if this was a deliberate move by the writers to try and recreate some of the appeal of that popular episode?
The b-plot of Bender not being able to stop moving (due to the whatevermajig implanted in him by Professor Farnsworth) has some amusing moments (and hey, Bender is ALWAYS amusing as it is!), though again has echoes of "trying too hard to do too much", complete with rather convenient payoff with the Cyclops-eating monster that felt rather tacked-on in the first place, with the plot strand feeling it maybe should have been saved for another episode.
So that forced crude humour and the trying-too-hard-to-be-too-many-things don't work for this episode, but as I say, this opening instalment had a LOT to live up to. The plus points: The original voice cast are all in place (for a while in pre-production, it was rumoured that not all, if any of the original cast would return, causing numerous petitions from fans thankfully, the full original cast are here) and are as on form with their characters as they ever were. For all my gripes about the unevenness and awkwardness of some of this episode's exception, for the most part the characters themselves come off well bearing in mind we're coming from a cancelled show, through a few DVD movies, and onto a new series produced by a different network, the transition is actually a lot smoother than might have been feared.
So not one of my favourite 'Futurama' eps, and if nothing else, I really hope to see the unsubtle faux-'Family Guy' crude humour toned down very quickly, but at the end of the day, a welcome return to one of my favourite TV shows. It's not as high a score as some of the classic episodes, but I'll give 'Rebirth' a passable 7.5 out of 10.