This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the show being covered here wouldn’t exist.
A complete decade after it was canceled for the second time, Matt Groening’s Futurama is back for an entirely new 11th season, reintroducing the characters fans have come to know and love for years to today’s “modern” times. Philip J. Fry (Billy West), Bender (John DiMaggio), Leela (Katey Sagal), Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (also West), Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr), and the rest of the crew are all back to lead the Planet Express into a season where the show’s signature sense of humor can evolve into something more fitting with what’s currently going on in the film industry, as well as the changing politics of the past decade. Nothing less should be expected for an animated series focused on the possibilities the future can open for humanity.
The very first episode of Futurama Season 11 deals with a very pressing matter that’s defining the future of the Hollywood industry, with both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA on strike when this review was published. Titled “The Impossible Stream,” the show’s narrative focuses on many of the topics central to the current conflicts between artists and studios. Residuals, production pipelines, and cultural legacy are all discussed in this first short chapter about how television has changed in the last decade. Not only does the episode reflect the journey Futurama has had up until the point where it began streaming on Hulu, but it’s sensible enough to discuss these matters without shining a bad light on the writers.
While the next six episodes of Futurama Season 11 are funny and innovative in their own right, it’s this first comeback episode that is wonderful at mixing current subjects with the series’ own personal relationship with the media landscape. The former two times Futurama managed to stay on the air were through broadcast and cable networks (Fox and Comedy Central), without having to adapt to all the rules streaming established when it became the most prominent option for watching television. Two cancelations proved to be not enough for the crew of the Planet Express, who have never been more hilariously ready to discover new worlds, allies, and enemies.
When it comes to the supporting cast, main voice actor Billy West does an incredible job at reprising Dr. John A. Zoidberg – the humanoid lobster who couldn’t care less about human culture. The disgusting character might not have much to say overall. Still, he usually steals every scene he appears in by coming up with the most unexpected reactions to any given situation. Awkward, aggressive, and simplistically dumb, Zoidberg is always ready to keep viewers on the edge of their seats with his remarks and unpredictable bursts of rage. An alien doctor who knows nothing about human medicine is the perfect candidate for a shipping company that doesn’t spend a lot of time moving cargo.
John DiMaggio’s return as Bender, the company’s careless robot with a gambling addiction included in his programming, is also a major highlight in Futurama Season 11. Whereas the previous two runs of the series might have glorified the machine’s behavior, the latest season tries explicitly to point out that Bender’s behavior is concerning for the people closest to him. His sense of humor and selfish tendencies are still funny, but it’s quite interesting to see him painted as a less-than-admirable individual this time. The Planet Express would clearly be much better at their jobs if Bender wasn’t constantly spending their resources on pointless endeavors, and the robot doesn’t walk away from this new season unscathed.
The other corner of this galaxy worth paying attention to is Amy’s (Lauren Tom) relationship with Kif (Maurice LaMarche). During an earlier run of the successful animated comedy, the couple had many children together, promising them that they would come back for their babies twenty years into the future. Due to unforeseen conditions, the time period passes them by, and they go back to Kif’s planet in order to meet their children. Futurama Season 11 confronts parenthood with the modern anxieties that come with it, asking Kif and Amy what it truly means to raise someone with all of the problems from an adult’s chaotic life getting in the way.
With its signature sense of humor, stellar voice performances, and a transition into the modern age of television, Futurama Season 11 shows that the crew of the Planet Express is ready to grow and move forward, evolving the series itself with them. Billy West shines in the multiple roles he portrays in the show, once again demonstrating the ability he has to make every person sound genuine. Perhaps if the viewing numbers match the quality of the new episodes, Futurama will be able to stay around just for a little bit longer. After all, they were the first ones to make fun of how many times they’ve been taken off the air.