This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the TV show being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Among the pantheon of adult animation, Futurama is a particularly unique case. Where many of its contemporaries would go on to effective eternal life, Futurama has lived half-lives across the modern history of television. From network broadcast to the early 2000’s age of DVD box sets to cable’s golden age, the series has lived, died, and returned enough times to become a recurring gag in itself. This is not lost on the writers of Futurama‘s first Hulu exclusive episode, titled “The Impossible Stream.”
Choosing to resume right where the Comedy Central’s (nearly perfect) finale left off, “The Impossible Stream” makes the interesting choice to betray sitcom logic and acknowledge the passage of time in the aftermath. Fry (Billy West) realizes he’s been in the future for 23 years now and hasn’t accomplished anything. Debatable, but West is taking the opportunity to give Fry a slightly older inflection that really sells the disappointment. Deciding to set a goal for himself, he’s quickly inspired by a forced Hypnotoad reference on the TV—the second within minutes, counting the high definition intro—to watch every single show ever.
It’s a pretty classic set up for this series—passage of time notwithstanding—allowing Futurama to do some of its classic bits, like skewering its owner by having Fry subscribe to “Fulu,” the return of “The Scary Door,” and only chef in this world Elzar makes a cameo. However, none of this really generates a good laugh. The Scary Door bit in particular has writing less like a well worn Futurama gag and more of an Interdimensional Cable joke on loan from Rick and Morty. Even calling the streaming service Fulu is much more toothless and camera-winking than one would expect, given Futurama used to roast the Fox network like it was daring to get canceled.
Even as “The Impossible Stream” escalates with Fry strapping himself to a binging machine to consume thousands of “All My Circuits” episodes, the jokes never gain that iconic edge back. Things play out pretty standard, if extremely familiar, as Leela (Katey Sagal) and Bender (John DiMaggio) convince Fulu to revive “All My Circuits” after ten years to keep Fry’s brain from liquifying from having no more TV. Yes, it’s an episode about reviving a canceled show for streaming as the first episode of a show revived for streaming.
This is hardly the first time Futurama has commented on itself or the state of its medium—the early second season’s “When Aliens Attack” comes to mind in particular when Leela and Bender have to take over the production. Such episodes in the past have been gems for highlighting the quirks of the TV production business and commenting on its ills. In comparison, “The Impossible Stream” is just lampshading the current TV landscape and Futurama‘s place in it without anything to say about it. If anything, thanks to some unfortunate timing with the WGA/SAG strike, the joke about the “All My Circuits” writing staff dying on the job and being replaced by Bender is quite crass.
By the end of “The Impossible Stream,” which thankfully does have a genuinely funny climax complete with explosions, all the “Hulurama” era has presented is a case against itself. Ending an episode full of middling at best jokes and dull critique with a meta joke about the final few episodes of the fake show’s revival being unwatchable does not bode well for the real show’s revival. If there was a point to be made about the binge release model or streaming as a concept, this kind of lampshading would be just snarky enough. There’s not though, and this is the most restrained Futurama has been in some time. It’s too early to tell if this is the show shaking the cobwebs off or if the transition to streaming has brought with it a change in philosophy; but so far the old stuff is better.
Futurama is available on Hulu.
Featured image via Hulu
‘Futurama’ 11x01 - 4/10