Here’s a more direct approach to the problem than mine.
It’s been happening ever since the first movie with the whole flimsy Nigerian scammer plotline, but since the show rose from the grave on Comedy Central, it’s permeated it to the core. The problem is that the show has taken a bizarre need to shoehorn literal “8 months ago” references and plot points for just about every single episode. Last week, it was the Mayan apocalypse (and, to a lesser extent, TRON Legacy).
Now that I think about it, yes, the topical references are much more out of control. That may be a function of moving to Comedy Central. It might even be a note from CC that Futurama should be more like The Daily Show.
Or maybe it’s just insecurity. The Futurama producers are old. They’re insecure about being able to hold on to younger viewers. And they also seem to feel the need to “say something”. Decision 3012, like the farting robots and flag burning episodes, came out of that.
But “Ripped from the Headlines” isn’t what’s really wrong with Futurama. It’s a symptom that the show has no ideas. It has “big ideas” for pulling off Science Fiction concepts that play with time and space. And those make the show seem like it’s worth watching. As with The Thief of Baghead, the show occasionally even uses them to add an interesting plot element to a show. Those are the few good episodes.
Futurama has no ideas. It has no ideas what to do with its characters. They’re here. They do the same monotonously wacky things in every episode. They’re frozen leftovers from the show as it used to be going through their routines.
Futurama has no idea how to tell a story. It takes a sitcom plot, a cheesy adventure show plot or resorts to the Simpsons’ usual “Homer gets a wacky new job” plot. The last episode about Leela’s mother was a sitcom plot. It was bad because it was sitcom plot dressed up with aliens. When the plot sucks, the show sucks.
This is why Futurama is dead. The occasional big concept makes it briefly look smart and clever, but the show is still dead. Its characters are a bunch of tics. Its plots are taken from old sitcom episodes. Its characters behave like they’re on an 80’s sitcom.
Watching Futurama, like the Simpsons, is a reminder of a show that ran on creative energy before it ran out.