The well is dry

For the past couple of months, Futurama has been my constant companion: my daily workout runs for just about the same duration as two episodes of the show, and outside of the rare, occasional, excruciatingly dull episode, the series’ rapid-fire pacing and great writing do a good job of distracting me from the pain of forcibly shrinking my body. Sadly, though, last night I finished off Into the Wild Green Yonder, bringing my survey of the series to a close. (Although I must say my timing was pretty great, since the last movie came out just a few days ago — nearly as impressive as the time my girlfriend and I started watching Alias and caught up to the series at the next-to-last episode.)

This begs the question: now what? How am I supposed to take my mind off my daily self-torture now? Futurama was such a great show that hardly anything can really follow it. Including Futurama, it turns out! The movies were largely a step down from TV series’ infinite wit and jest, although it was nice of the writers to get their act together long enough to stop sucking for the big finale.

I noticed Seth McFarlane’s name in the credits of Wild Green Yonder, which may explain a lot.

The movies weren’t entirely abysmal, mind. Bender’s Big Score was actually really good — a spot-on recreation of everything that made the series great. Bender was a jerk, the Planet Express crew inadvertently screwed up life for everyone on earth, Fry was a well-intended schmuck befuddled by a setback that ultimately brought him and Leela closer together, lots of continuity callbacks to the series (i.e. how Seymour ended up fossilized). All in all, a satisfying return.

And then it all went horribly wrong. I’m trying to put my finger on what, exactly, rubs me the wrong way about Beast With a Million Backs. It was funny (ish), but the whole thing seemed off somehow. Everyone but Bender was slightly out of character, with years of character arcs thrown aside for a handful of cheap and obvious sex jokes. The show got Simpsons-ized, I guess. Writing good jokes innate to established characterization is harder than just turning everyone into obstinate jerks, so they didn’t even bother trying. It was almost as lazy as Bender’s Game, which consisted entirely of stale nerd jokes painted in broad strokes. Thrill as Fry acts like Gollum. Gaze in stupefaction as the punchline to the entire movie is a “Luke, I am your father” riff that was set up so clumsily and transparently that I feel bad for everyone involved in the show’s production. It’s hard to believe this is the same franchise responsible for the brilliant “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” which took hoary old Star Trek jokes and made them new and hilarious by bringing in the actual cast of the original TV series to play themselves, riffing on clichés and generally doing a piss-take on the show and the surrounding fan culture. Compare that to “Momon,” the heelarious Lord of the Rings satire created by combining — wait for it — Mom and Sauron! Yeeeeah.

Thankfully, Into the Wild Green Yonder soothed the pain a bit. I mean, it wasn’t quite up to par with the series’ best moments, but it still managed to capture the energy and wit of a solid episode (or four solid episodes, if you will) while taking the time to repair all the character damage inflicted by the previous two movies. The ending was clearly left open to the possibility of further episodes, but at the same time it offers a nice sense of closure. I just hope the production crew will do the right thing, rather than drag the poor horse’s body for another round of beatings.

Meanwhile, I need to find a new video distraction, stat. Difficulty level: I’m broke.

42 thoughts on “The well is dry

  1. Any interest in something not animated? If so I just started watching 30 Rock and The Office and it turns out they are both pretty good.
    Oh and if you haven’t already seen it I’d highly recommend the Critic. It’s a personal favorite, even if it was only 3 turnicated seasons.

  2. Seth Macfarlane sang the opening song.

    I much prefer Beast With A Billion Backs to Green Yonder. The story was a lot better and more original.

    As for suggestions, the only comparable DVD sets that the significant other and I have spent as much time with are DS9 and the new Doctor Who.

  3. Is there a computer monitor that can be situated in a way that it’s viewable from your workout setup? If so, I hear good things about the hulu.

  4. Well I guess that proves Matt Groening isn’t too hard on Seth MacFarlane.

    That said, I wouldn’t mind at least a season or two of new Futurama. Four just isn’t enough.

  5. Something about Green Yonder didn’t sit well with me. Maybe it was all the deeply unfunny feminista jokes? I couldn’t figure out what they were trying to get at with that whole feminist-environmentalist subplot.

  6. Check Hulu for a show you are interested in and see if you can set to your TV.

    If you want to stay with relatively light-hearted animated television, you can try the Ventures Brothers.

  7. they’re doing new episodes on Comedy Central now right? i remember them saying when the 4 dvds are done they’ll begin production on a new season.

  8. Poor Internet reception in the back room — streaming is out. I just remembered I own The Tick, though. That should keep me entertained for a month or so.

  9. If you like comedy based off of characters, I’d suggest the American version of The Office. It’s awesome.

  10. I completely agree with everything you wrote here. I kinda just want to watch the series again now.

  11. I don’t know many people who *don’t* watch 30 Rock/The Office, but yeah, at least they’re available on the Xbox Netflix channel-thingamabob, along with a ridiculous number of other shows/documentaries/etc. The service started out kinda crappy, but it’s literally getting better everyday.

    That aside, Hulu is your friend. Strangers w/ Candy and The Dick Van Dyke show? Yes, please.

  12. I’m certain the “new” Futurama TV episodes on Comedy Central are the 4 movies cut up into 22 minute episodes.

  13. Now, I love The Office to no end, but watching that while working out might not be the fast-paced escapism you are looking for. One of the key elements of the show is awkward moments. These are likely to just make you more aware of your physical suffering and torment. Give it a shot, though, what the heck. TBS has re-runs of that on Tuesday ( I think ) and then catch up with the new episodes.

    Also, the entire 3 episodes of the new Demetri Martin show on Comedy Central have been golden.

  14. “Or you could watch Family Guy. Quite a few seasons of those.”

    Yes, but only about 2 and a half that are watchable. That show has been completely off the rails since Fox brought it back.

  15. Depending on whether you can survive without comedy, I give full props to the new series of Battlestar Galactica. Hot holy hells, that’s an awesome show. I was initially turned off by how popular it was, but I guess sometimes things get popular because they’re GOOD. Weird huh?

  16. Fun as it is to blame all the evils of the world on Seth McFarlane, his mention on the credits here comes, oddly enough, as a result of him singing the opening themesong.

    Anyway, my only big problem with Beast with a Billion Backs there is how it managed to set itself IMMEDIATELY after the end of the previous movie, what with the whole fabric of the universe tearing open bit, but just kinda dropped everything else back to default positions (particularly on the whole Fry and Leela front).

    Bender’s Game though just plain sucked. To a degree that I’m baffled it came from the same writers. Aside from the really really lazy predictable humor, of the sort it can be argued Futurama’s whole existence is based on actively avoiding, it kinda seems like halfway through they just completely forgot how they were rationalizing all the fantasy shenanigans, leading an ending which not only isn’t funny, but completely fails to make sense.

  17. The quality of the writing in Bender’s Game aside, I found it weird that they spent the vast majority of the time poking fun of the Lord of The Rings movies (which is about as a fresh and exciting a comedy target as The Matrix these days) rather than making fun of real D&D bullshit.

    (That aside, Futurama episodes heavily featuring Mother and her three sons just drive me batshit insane. They’re like second-string characters from an entirely different show or something. WAGH.)

  18. My fiancee watches episodes of The Girls Next Door when she runs on the treadmill. She’s watched every season probably 8-10 times but she says it’s the only show that she finds entertaining without having to actually be paying too much attention.

  19. Everyone seems to forget that the first half of Bender’s Game was actually funny; the awful fantasy riffs just left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouths that they forget about anything else.

    I will second Venture Bros., if you haven’t seen it already. Solid show. Otherwise, do you have Netflix? You could always pay the cheapest (around $5 a month, I think) option, and then use your 360 to stream from that.

  20. If you haven’t seen the Venture Bros., then you’re really overdue. Seasons 1 and 2 are mandatory viewing (season 3 not so much).

    I think the problem with the Futurama movies is that Futurama stories are typically, what, 20 minutes? The writers don’t know how to make a Futurama-esque story go on for 2 hours. In their desperation for making something funny, they resort to easy gags and breaking character. It becomes something else, and something considerably less awesome.

  21. I find this funny, because I’m doing exactly the same thing these days: I watch Futurama episodes while on the exercise bike, usually two at a time. The only thing I don’t understand, and I’m pretty sure that saying this will make me pretty unpopular here, but I don’t understand why I seem to be the only person who thinks that the whole series is incredibly uneven in terms of its writing. For every truly great episode (like the aforementioned Where No Fan Has Gone Before or The Luck of the Fryrish) there are two that are completely forgettable. I enjoy them well-enough when I’m by myself, but if my girlfriend is watching with me then I become painfully aware just how not-funny a lot of them are. Even then, tough, the less interesting episodes are prone to contain one or two jokes that are 100% pure genius. For me, Futurama is filled with highs and lows, although it remains pleasant to watch even when it fails. Am I the only one who feels this way?

    Anyway, to answer the question at hand, I watched the whole first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex from my exercise bike and I quite enjoyed it. There are a few episodes that are slow-paced or static, but for the most part it is intriguing enough to help the time pass pretty quickly. The huge 6-episode end-of-season arc was fantastic, too, and I found myself inadvertently pedaling much faster during some of the more action-packed sequences. The whole series is available for relatively cheap, although it still costs more than a Futurama season. Otherwise, I’d recommend Arrested Development, another staple of my exercise routine.

  22. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is very very good, and that same quality even exudes to the spinoff Angel, just with slightly more noir nature. They are not in any way pontificating or filled with technobabble, just visibly intelligent, enough to well avoid the common cheesiness of the more typical nerd viewing.

  23. @MCBanjoMike: I used to love watching anime when I had an exercise bike. I had a lot of bootleg Dragonball Z tapes at the time and would watch them throughout my time exercising. I also tended to peddle harder during the action sequences, which are really hit or miss with that series.

    @parish: Does the Internet connection apply to your PC and your iPhone? The iPhone can be hooked up the TV for streaming too if it somehow gets better Internet reception.

  24. fyi Parish – Venture Bros was created by a protoge of the creator of The Tick.

    So, watch Tick first, then Venture Bros. That way it’s like the same show!

  25. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Akemi, Kaz, and I have been watching an episode an evening before bed. Totally surreal and awesome. It’s held up very well over the years.

  26. “I don’t know many people who *don’t* watch 30 Rock/The Office, but yeah, at least they’re available on the Xbox Netflix channel-thingamabob, along with a ridiculous number of other shows/documentaries/etc.”

    Actually it’s as if there are more people who watch the Office, but not 30 Rock. To which I would ask: what is wrong with you?

  27. If you haven’t watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Ask ANYONE who has watched it.

  28. Galactica might fit into your “timing” theme, with just 3 episodes left in the series, and an upcoming TV movie.

  29. I liked Bender’s Big Score okay, but The Beast with a Billion Backs was so fucking terrible that I sorta gave up on the whole thing. I suppose at some point I’ll watch the other two for reasons of completeness, but I can’t say I’m exactly looking forward to it.

    I don’t watch enough tv to recommend much of anything. Stewart/Colbert are always reliable. And I’m in the midst of rewatching The Wire, which is still The Best Thing Ever, but probably too intensive to watch while doing something else. And Not Free.

  30. Parish-
    TV DVD recommendations that you have probably already seen….but:

    Red Dwarf (in keeping with sci-fi theme. Think Star Trek if it was a situational comedy like Seinfeld.)


    NewsRadio (highly over looked series- watched again in a couple months ago and it’s just as funny as when it aired.)

    Both shows can be streamed through Netflix,if you want to give them a quick try…. so if you have the xbox360/Netflix setup- you are golden.

  31. About half the stuff on Adult Swim is pretty entertaining. Not so much recently when they’re showing mostly Family Guy followed by King of the Hill. Both of which are pretty tired and awful. Anything by Tim & Eric is awful too.

    Which probably only leaves about 20% of the non-anime shows currently on Adult Swim, but worth sifting the chaff to get at.

    Sports Night (available on DVD in its entirety I think) was also pretty good if nobody else mentioned it yet. Live action though, so I don’t know if it’s what you’re looking for.

  32. There’s already so much stuff here that I’m sure you won’t read this far down, but I noticed that there’s no mention of Home Movies here. That is my favorite show ever. I assume you have seen Metalocalypse on Adult Swim. Home Movies is by the same guys, but it’s much different – character-based, understated, melancholy. But still funny.

    And failing that, yeah… Venture Bros.

  33. I’ll second the vote for avatar, which was more detailed and layred than I could have expected, and I netflixed very effectively.

  34. Do you watch The Venture Brothers? You should watch The Venture Brothers. Quality animated series done by veterans of The Tick (with an episode written by Ben Edlund himself!).

  35. @destro713

    I’m sure you know, but there’s some vague linkage between Home Movies and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, another great show. It’s definitely slower paced than even Home Movies, but it’s got a simmering, quiet kind of humor I enjoy. Plus, the whole series is available for about $100 on DVD.

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