.Days of Future Passed

The Welcome Reboot of a Wild TV Show

The future is always relevant: after a decade-long dormancy, two animated satires of futurism re-emerge like cicadas.

Season 11 of Futurama continues The Simpsons’ co-creator Matt Groening’s brash vaudeville about a trio of working stiffs a couple of eons from now.

Fry (voiced by Billy West) was a minimum-wage Buck Rogers who was flash-frozen and thawed out to find a strange new world of aliens, robots, mutants and celebrity brains in jars. TV stalwart Katey Segal plays Leela, dressed in a husband-beater shirt, one eye eclipsed by a peekaboo haircut. Thanks to corporate takeover, this rough and ready cyclops is now a Disney princess.

Their friend without loyalty is a metal-clad trickster figure called Bender Rodriguez, alcohol-fueled and always with a stealthy claw on your wallet. In one great 1999 episode, Bender was sentenced to robot hell for impiety towards a church similar to the Scien-t-l-gists. As voiced by Dan Castellaneta (the larynx of Homer Simpson) Robot Satan sang out the charges: “Fencing diamonds, fixing cockfights, publishing indecent magazines…”

The first episode of Hulu’s reboot alludes to the four times Futurama was canceled– a satisfyingly modest approach to resurrection. And the dead theatrical actor Calculon indeed is sprung from robot hell to star in a revival of a centuries old soap opera, “All My Circuits” on the streaming network Fulu.

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“All My Circuits” becomes a matter of life and death, since Fry foolishly quested to watch every television show ever made and may now cack from the ordeal. Professor Farnsworth (named in honor of the San Francisco-based inventor of TV, Philo Farnsworth) gives his diagnosis: “Fry will be dead by lunch. I’m having ham salad.” The show is a little unlimber after its 10-year nap, but between the reliable characters and the first episode’s piquant gags about TV writers on the brink, it’s possible this new Futurama will brush off the cobwebs, rise and shine.

The difference between DC and Marvel in the 1960s was that the former sold stories that ended in no more than about two issues, returning the colorful characters to square one. By contrast, Marvel was a pop-culture Iron Mole, drilling deeper and deeper into a cranium-addling Hyperborea. 

Similarly, Futurama is something you can pick up on fast. However, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick’s The Venture Bros is a real labyrinth. The show is resurrected in the fragrantly-titled full-length feature Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart.

There’s a very pretty speech at the end of Baboon about ‘complications,’ a watchmaker’s term for the extra dials and hands on an expensive chronometer. After 10 seasons and 10 dead years, the show is loaded with complications, gears within gears, and increasingly Pynchonian references.

The show is an elaborate war of trust funders. The theme is a generation feeling like peewees compared to their globe-bestriding fathers. Yet the show has a never-disguised horror of the criminally vicious things those mid-century titans did to dominate the world.

The anemic protagonist Doctor Rusty Venture–well-known as a coaster on his super-scientist father’s legacy–single-parents his likable beta-male sons Dean and Hank. Opposing the Ventures is the fiendish Monarch, a butterfly-obsessed supervillain whose love life and labor troubles make him a study of resounding failure. Even the most capable man around, secret agent Brock Sampson, is stuck in 1973, with a mullet, muscle car, and a Swan Songs records tattoo. Brock is voiced by Patrick Warburton in a manner best described as “What would John Wayne sound like if he was really macho?” 

  In Baboon, Hank goes nomad after learning of his brother’s betrayal; he’s plagued with multiple personalities as he crosses the country in search of his long-lost mom.  In New Jersey, The Monarch is recruited by ARCH, an efficient new player on the ‘antagonist solution resource’ scene. Its CEO is a supervillainess challenging the century-old Guild of Calamitous Intent, which has been ineptly regulating super-criminal behavior ever since Fantomas terrified Paris in the 1900s.

Forgotten ‘60s starlet Bobbi St. Simone (voiced by Jane Lynch) is key to the riddle.

 Baboon serves up filial love, as well as a little note about putting away childish things during

 this era of superhero glut. Yet it doesn’t stint on jaw-clenching, ripsnorting adventure.

What a coincidence,  the two beloved shows returned simultaneously.   Maybe the elders were right when they said our heroes would come back from the grave during the End Times. 

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