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‘Futurama’ Review: Latest Go-Round Mines the Past

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It’s the formula that Matt Groening, who created “Futurama” and developed it with David X. Cohen, had already perfected in “The Simpsons”; Philip J. Fry (Billy West), the dopey delivery-boy hero of “Futurama,” is a younger and more guileless Homer Simpson. If “Futurama” were a person, you could imagine it saying “Doh” when it returns after 10 years and “The Simpsons,” the show in whose shadow it has always resided, is still around.

“Futurama” ended sweetly in 2013, with Fry and his one-eyed alien inamorata, Leela (Katey Sagal), who had spent a lifetime together while the rest of the world was frozen in place — the fallout from one of the harebrained schemes of Professor Farnsworth (also West) — about to be zapped back in time to do it all again. The new season picks up in the next moment, with both fictional time and the actual show rebooted. The problematic robot Bender (John DiMaggio) hopefully proclaims, “The important thing is, whatever happened, it’ll never, ever happen again.”

Casual self-mockery is the theme of the opener, a commentary on binge-watching with digs at Hulu, “Black Mirror” and the checkered history of “Futurama.” (Personal favorite fake television show title: “Better Call Cthulhu,” or maybe “Alien vs. Predator vs. Bluey.”) As the season goes on — six episodes were made available — it becomes increasingly clear that the show is going to have no qualms about mining its own past and iconography, returning to old plot lines and reviving a panoply of characters. (Personal favorite reappearance: the Méliès man in the moon.)

This insularity is a legitimate critical concern, though its effects will be specific. If you haven’t watched the show before, you won’t know what you’re missing, but you probably will be aware that you’re missing something and that this is a problem. If you’re already a fan, you’ll be perfectly happy. If enough fans are drawn to subscribe to Hulu, then party on.

A greater concern is that a little of the zip has gone out of the writing and the overall comic conceptualism. Episodes aimed at big, easy targets like Bitcoin and Amazon feel routine, no matter how many opportunities they provide for making connections to the show’s past. And what seems like a significant increase in the screen time devoted to the characters’ various family units gives the stories a dusting of sentimentality that wasn’t there before.

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