Meanwhile, Futurama’s series finale (second series finale) is a charming goodbye to what used to make the series great not just because it once again draws on a big idea gimmick or links it to an emotional experience for Fry and Leela, though that combination has made for great episodes before, it’s also because Meanwhile gets the small stuff right.
Stuff like going back to the moon and meeting a mascot who lives out Georges Melies’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon, the St. Koch Cathedral, Bender barfing up nuts and bolts on a theme park ride or the use of a gimmick, a time button, in a dozen small clever ways from a moment that lasts forever to footprints on the ocean.
These were the kinds of things that Futurama used to do well and then it stopped doing them. It buried itself in repetitive lines, Hermes, Bender, Zoydberg and the Professor delivering their catchphrases in episodes with B stories almost as lame as their A stories. It brought in gimmicks, but wrapped them around weak stories. Like the Simpsons, it stopped caring about its characters and its stories and was satisfied bringing out Nixon’s head to deliver a Spiro Agnew joke that its aging writers still thought was as funny as it had been in the seventies.
Futurama used to do the New York stuff well. It used to fill episodes with tiny little details and milk laughs from its creative technobabble. It used to have great character moments instead of zombie catchphrases.
Meanwhile isn’t the first good episode this season, but it’s the best of them. It’s also Futurama going out on a high note that it doesn’t really deserve. Not coming after “Stench and Stenchibility”, “Leela and the Genestalk”, “T: The Terrestrial” or “2-D Blacktop”.
This season also had Assie Come Home and Game of Tones, but those would have been okay episodes in the old Futurama. Season 7 Part 2 wasn’t as awful as Season 7 Part 1 which was mostly unwatchable. There was nothing as bad as The Six Million Dollar Mon, Fun on a Bun or Naturama here. But there wasn’t all that much good either.
Like The Simpsons, Futurama began running on fumes years ago. Unlike the Simpsons, it wasn’t popular or profitable enough to keep doing it. It also couldn’t break out of its rhythm, introduce new characters or revitalize the formula.
Meanwhile is a nice goodbye to what the series used to be, but it’s better off canceled, just like it was the first time around.
The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings, its original series finale, was a funny and clever sendoff. It also came after a season whose first half included A Taste of Freedom, Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV and Crimes of the Hot. Were Jurassic Bark, The Sting and The Why of Fry a fair trade?
I thought so back then. But the trade off between Futurama’s bad episodes and its great episodes stopped working years ago. And it became harder to put up with episodes that weren’t just bad, but lazy, cynical and refried.
If Meanwhile were the standard, or at least if Assie Come Here had been, Futurama wouldn’t be network shopping now. Instead Meanwhile is a nice exit.
Let’s leave it at that.