The creators and cast of Futurama revealed what lies ahead for the show's twenty remaining episodes: brain-switching, mutant rights, unlikely kissing, Futurama reborn three times over, and, yes, Fry and Leela. All that, plus our thoughts on this week's episode!
At a press conference before the Futurama panel, creators David X. Cohen and Matt Groening confirmed Comedy Central is breaking the 26-episode order into two seasons, with the final episodes of the show's new run not airing until summer 2011. They noted that the reviews and ratings have both been very good thus far, although there was no talk of what it would take to get further episodes from Comedy Central, or what the timeline on that decision would be.
David X. Cohen stressed how much they're enjoying working with Comedy Central, saying they've received no censor notes so far. In fact, he said the only note they did get back was when a censoring spaceship bleeped one of the characters, and they asked what word had been bleeped...because they could probably just say it on Comedy Central.
As for what lies ahead, they dropped some intriguing hints. They stressed that next week's episode, "The Late Philip J. Fry", is one of their favorite episodes ever, and an idea - the Professor and Fry travel into the far future on a forward-only time machine - that Matt Groening has wanted to do for a long time. This episode will also return to the Fry and Leela relationship (and slyly allude to Fry being his own grandfather), although the show is really going to deal with Fry and Leela in the second-to-last episode, which is the de facto series finale.
And what's the last episode, you ask? In a return to the anthology territory of the Tales of Interest episodes, the 26th episode will see Futurama reborn in three completely different animation styles. If that isn't enough awesome for you, the 100th episode will see Leela team up with Devo to fight for mutant rights, another anthology will be a trio of "surreal holiday musical environmental stories" featuring Coolio and Al Gore , we'll see characters kiss that you never thought would lock lips (one of which is Dr. Zoidberg, who I'm not sure even technically has lips), and one episode all about the characters switching bodies requires the Professor and the Harlem Globetrotters to devise a mathematical theorem that will be left unfinished on a blackboard in the episode, as the ultimate test for the show's nerdiest fans.
And now, our thoughts on this week's episode, "Lethal Inspection." (Sorry for being late - the madness of Comic Con doesn't allow a lot of time for TV watching.) This was another of the new season's stronger efforts, pairing off Bender and Hermes on a quest to find the particular bureaucrat that had approved Bender despite the fact he's defective. Some of the storytelling felt a little sloppy - it was a bit weird to introduce the idea that Bender has unlimited backup copies and then immediately reveal that, no, he actually doesn't, and the b-story about Leela as fill-in bureaucrat was less than an afterthought - but the shaky setup did get us to a richly rewarding episode.
Part of what made this episode succeed was its ability to mine the show's mythology without feeling gratuitous. The show didn't just call back to Dr. Zoidberg's ink defense, it unleashed the biggest and most ridiculous ink attack ever, complete with a merry "Goodbye friends!" as he ran off. We didn't just return to Hermes's Olympic limboing past - it was practically elevated to his superpower this time around. The decision to not ignore previous jokes about Bender being built in Tijuana wasn't just satisfying in how it linked the show's past with its present, but it also gave the episode a great, exotic place to visit and an opportunity to explore comedic territory we haven't really seen before on Futurama.
And then there was the Central Bureaucracy. Something as fundamentally boring as bureaucracy isn't the easiest thing to wring humor or emotion out of, but "Lethal Inspection" succeeded at both. The gigantic Rubik's cubicle was another spectacular setpiece for the show after last week's da Vinci spacecraft, and the screams of falling bureaucrats really sold the gag. The twist ending, in which it's revealed Hermes himself was Bender's mysterious inspector, wasn't exactly shocking, but it was the sort of emotional reveal that the show has done so well in episodes like "Leela's Homeworld" or "Jurassic Bark", and it's a testament to the confidence of the storytelling that they can reach a similar emotional beat with something as relatively mundane as young Hermes approving the defective Bender. (It helps that baby Bender was so damn cute.)
Honestly, if you had told me the most emotionally satisfying episode of the new season would focus almost exclusively on Bender and Hermes, I would have dismissed it as ridiculous. And yet, here we are, and it's proof Futurama can still defy expectations. Indeed, between this and everything we've heard at Comic Con, it sounds like the show's still got plenty of surprises left.