Resurrecting a beloved television show is a bit like burying your cat at an ancient Indian burial ground. Sure, it comes back. But it comes back wrong.
It’s eerie. It meets your eyes with a cold empty stare. It goes through the same motions, but without a soul.
We saw it with Family Guy: A canceled show becomes a smash DVD hit among college freshmen, inspiring the FOX network toward necromancy. But Family Guy returned as a mere swarm of cutaway gags and gross-out moments, missing the old glimmers of sweetness and cleverness.
Of course, Family Guy wasn’t exactly high art to begin with. Futurama is another matter. Futurama captured the wit of The Simpsons and cranked it a thousand years into the future. The tone was even more devilishly satirical. The jokes were even smarter — or at least geekier. (Horse race announcer: “And the winner is number three, in a quantum finish.” Professor: “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!”) When Futurama was canceled, we loudly cursed the names of Fox executives. When it returned in the form of four 90-minute DVD movies, we cheered — until we actually saw them. Ninety minutes is a long time, especially when so many punch lines fall flat.
And now it’s back again, in the original 22-minute episode format.
The shorter pacing helps. But the writing still has a tragic deflated quality.
Compare tonight’s premiere, where everyman Fry dates a perfect robotic replica of romantic interest Leela, with the classic Futurama episode where Fry dates a perfect robotic replica of Lucy Liu. The classic was so packed with gags and energy that any dud lines were quickly swept away. Tonight’s episodes seem sparse, almost empty. The failed jokes hang in the air sheepishly, like they’re embarrassed to be seen in public.
At its best, there are genius lines, glimpses of the Futurama of old.
But most of the dialogue has the tinny sound of Futurama fan fiction, as if the writers were mechanically working through a “successful Futurama episode” checklist.
After enough seasons, all shows — 30 Rock, The Office, and, yes, The Simpsons — eventually lose their voice. The resurrected Futurama has the feel of a show in its weary 10th season, as if it’d never been canceled: lightly amusing, but soulless.
With the introduction of The Gates, a show about gated community brimming with vampires, witches and werewolves, the brooding pointy-toothed monsters finally appear on the small screen. Who knows! Maybe in the future they’ll show up on film. (Sundays, ABC, 10 pm)
People wake up in a motel and have no recollection how they got there. OK, that’s not exactly unheard of. How about this: The doors are locked, the entire town is empty and if they try to leave, implanted tranquilizers knock them out. That mysterious enough for you? (Mondays, NBC, 10 pm)
A sitcom based on the life of a stand-up comedian, played by a stand-up comedian with the same name as the character? That’ll never work. But Louis C.K.’s Louie has a much more modern documentary aesthetic than Seinfeld. (It’s only a matter of time, of course, before Dane Cook creates a sitcom on TBS using all of the Louie punch lines.) (Tuesdays, FX, 11 pm)