'Futurama' Opened Its Third 'Final' Season Last Night

So, this is supposedly the end, unless yet another network picks up Futurama, or it just finally goes online only. And, as usual, they kicked off the season with two episodes back to back. So how were they?

Kind of a mixed bag, really. To be fair, both episodes are, in places, really, really funny. There’s no utter dud here, and they both feature hallmarks of some of the show’s best episodes, a mix of comedy, pop culture references, and genuinely thoughtful science fiction. But they also feature some of the show’s drawbacks, especially the clunky pacing that’s become more common as the show has gone on.

The first episode, “2D-Blacktop”, starts out as a parody of the Fast and the Furious franchise, and a lengthy shot at minivans, before taking a zigzag out of nowhere and going into the second dimension… as in literally. Honestly, this sequence shows the writing staff still has it: It’s inventive, funny, and manages to satirize both animation tropes and cram in lots of ridiculous gags about science, but it’s also about eight minutes of a twenty-two minute episode. Way, way too much time is spent on the “crew” of racers, the joke being that they’re thin characters with only the pretense of depth, but the problem is… well, they’re thin characters with only the pretense of depth. The joke wears itself out after one scene.

The same is true of the minivan jokes; aside from one truly hilarious payoff early in the plotline, it’s all pretty standard gags you’ll see coming. It’s stuff Zoidberg would put in his stand-up routine.

The second episode, “Fry and Leela’s Big Fling”, starts with what amounts to a sitcom plot about Fry and Leela getting away from it, or trying to, all while Amy, Bender, and Zoidberg go to the Planet Of The Apes. It takes off in a way we won’t spoil about halfway through the episode, and turns into a pretty funny send-up of zoos, biologists, and animal rights while offering a few fun nods to past episodes. But to that point it’s a pretty shopworn plot, even if Shawn, Leela’s former boyfriend, does manage to steal the show by being an absolutely brutal takedown of a certain type of person.

In all, it’s a solid launch to the season, and it’s still funny. But one hopes that for the ‘final’ string of episodes the show will have a few more home runs in it, especially considering the fact that it’s probably not going to be gone for long.