spoiler_alert (2007-49)

White Noise and Hypnotoads

Benderâ’s Big Score threatens to make off with your brain

by Dave Prince

Remember Family Guyâ’s rags-to-riches story? The one where Fox, in its infinite wisdom, decides to drop a perfectly good property instead of figuring out when its intended demographic actually wants to watch TV? And then Cartoon Network adds it to its Adult Swim lineup, ratings improve, DVD sales go up, and a straight-to-video feature-length spurs rumors of a triumphant return?

Matt Groening and David X. Cohen are hoping you liked that story enough to see the sequel. Benderâ’s Big Score purports to be the milestone for Futuramaâ’s comeback that Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story was for Family Guy. Given Groeningâ’s ubiquitous other property, itâ’s hard to think of him as an underdog, but despite three Emmys under its belt and the obvious stylistic similarities, new episodes of Futurama havenâ’t been seen since 2003, when Fox officially stopped buying it and Cartoon Network acquired the rights to air it. Adult Swimâ’s Futurama run had favorable ratings, and Comedy Central, perhaps smelling blood in the water, acquired syndication rights in 2005 for the post-Adult Swim era beginning in 2008 and have since announced their intention to produce 13 new shows.

All of this hoopla hinges on one key question: Can Groeningâ’s people translate a property which floundered in its mainstream tenure into an enjoyable (read: profitable) feature-length release? Given The Simpsons Movieâ’s box-office take (reportedly $525 million worldwide), even a multi-million dollar Futurama gamble starts to look promising.

Scoreâ’s plot, for better or for worse, is standard Futurama fare. E-mail-scamming aliens trick the population of 30th-century Earth into signing away basically everything they own. Bender steals, time is traveled, references are made, Evil Robot Santa terrorizes, and the disembodied head of Al Gore destroys a solid gold Death Star. You know, the usual.

Deep down at its core, the plot is merely the framework on which the humor is hung. Neither the storyâ’s characters nor its quirky, irreverent we-couldnâ’t-get-away-with-this-on-The-Simpsons-ness is a slave to it. The length and unrated status of the production offers some freedom in all those typical ways that network censors donâ’t allow, but Score uses this freedom sparingly. The envelope isnâ’t exactly pushed, at least not in The Simpsons Movieâ’s blatant â“Somebody throw the goddamn bomb!â” way (which is tame compared to, say, the average episode of South Park).

Stretching a premise designed for 22-minute bite-sized morsels into a 90-minute banquet is typically a risky proposition. Plots get convoluted, viewers become lost, bad reviews are written, DVDs go unsold, and before you know it, a perfectly good creative team is crying itself to sleep again. Groening and Co. have recognized this beast and their response to it is less of a preventive measure and more of an embracing of its inevitability. Score is purposely labyrinthine, so much so that it threatens to choke to death on itself. Itâ’s clever, though, and once you wrap your head around the idea that the creators must have meant the story to die, youâ’re free to enjoy the humor without that nagging sensation that you should be taking notes. In fact, Iâ’ll go so far as to say that this makes Scoreâ’s straight-to-DVD release not only savvy business sense but a boon to society, as cinema screenings would have resulted in theaters becoming rooms full of those people who sit through films and constantly ask questions about the movie theyâ’re seeing to the person theyâ’re with. Murder rates would have surely skyrocketed.

Score will undoubtedly help Futurama find its market. The only question that remains is whether its slapdash mix of the cerebral and the absurd will end up being found unsafe for consumption by the mainstream. Even those in the industry who arenâ’t interested will have their eyes on this one; after all, if the Wizard of Springfield canâ’t make lightning strike twice, who can?


All content © 2007 Metropulse .