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November 29, 2007 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | November 29, 2007 |

We’re living in a very interesting time, when the power of pop-memory is pervasive enough to bring life back to defunct bands and unjustly cancelled TV shows, or any other invention whose fires still stoked in the public’s consciousness long after their “official” demise. Television in particular has benefited from the glories of the Information Age and its internet synapses, seeing the return of shows like “Family Guy” (puke), “FarScape” and “MST3K” (in multiple new guises), shows whose fan base was a mile-long and an inch-deep. The latest show to rapturously rise from its digital grave happens to be one of my favorites: “Futurama,” the loveable sci-fi comedy and lovechild of Simpsons-deity Matt Groening.

Rather than a full-blown renewal, “Futurama” has been revived in the form of four direct-to-DVD movies, each of which can be viewed as a full-length feature, or which will later be minced into four separate episodes per movie and aired on Comedy Central as a pseudo-5th season. I’m not certain whether this revival could constitute an indefinite continuation of the show in one form or another or if it was merely meant to provide the plot with its intended conclusion. Either way, I’m just happy to see it back.

Bender’s Big Score, the first of these films/episode slurries, is a fanboy’s wet dream; in its surprisingly dense 90-minutes it packs almost every recurring joke, every peripheral character (with the notable exception of Mom), and every reference to its own best moments that made the show great in the first place, a simultaneous greatest hits reel and a proud new addition to the canon.

Picking up where the cancellation left off, the Planet Express crew enjoys a few brutal jabs at Fox’s expense and then resumes work, delivering a package to a nude beach planet. While there, they’re tricked into giving information to nude alien telemarker/scam artists (I love this show), who use the information to take over Planet Express and control Bender. The spam aliens, who can sense information, also discover that a tattoo of Bender on Fry’s ass contains the mathematical key to time-travel. The aliens, sensing the opportunity for further pillage, chase Fry, who flees back to the year 2000 with Bender in pursuit. These jaunts back in time also result in a number of different “paradox twins” of both Fry and Bender, clones with short life-spans.

The convoluted (though not confusing) time-traveling allows the show/movie to incorporate a number of different plot strands, with an impossible accompaniment of references to the show’s original run; anyone who only haphazardly kept up with the story before will be lost or baffled. The comedy, however, is top notch, incorporating Matt Groening’s sarcastic adroitness with the visual energy and perfect voice talent that made “Futurama” work in the first place. My only real quibble was the format. Much like The Simpsons Movie, Bender’s Big Score feels incongruously paced, the result of a 24-minute format being stretched into an hour-and-a-half feature, even when the arcs are familiar and the story never really lags detrimentally. The writers had a tough job trying to make the entire film make sense while also making certain that the future airing of four independent episodes would still work. It was a tough juggling act, but everyone involved pulled it off: Bender’s Big Score is a glorious return to form for a duly mourned comedy.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR, and does not give two shits about the Razorbacks.

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Bender's Big Score / Phillip Stephens

Film | November 29, 2007 |

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