I can still remember the first episode of Futurama, with Fry getting frozen and landing in a strange future, meeting Bender and Lela and becoming a delivery boy (again). The initial cast has been stable since then, but the first seasons had new and interesting stuff happen nearly every episode that it never felt stale or tired. I watched the show quite religiously until its first cancellation.
Then it got picked up again, first for four movies, then two more seasons. And yet it never felt like the show really recovered from its first death blow. The first seasons, despite the typical cartoon-reset button for a lot of what happened in the individual episodes, showed character progression and development beyond what Groening’s other (more famous) show allowed its characters.
Futurama’s cast gave the sense of growing and changing over time, and each season had one or two serious episodes that went against cliches and were more drama than anything else. This odd mix of forward momentum and setting-resets was never fully reconciled, but it gave the show something unique. Mixed with occasional biting satire (though most jokes were quite harmless) and Futurama felt truly great, surpassing the Simpsons in nearly every aspect that mattered.
Now with the show having finished its seventh and last season, I’m not actually all that sad to see it go, quite different from the first time. The last season exemplified the major weaknesses of the post-FOX era. Too many gimmicks, not enough meaty substance.
Many episodes now exclusively followed the classic “reset at the end of the episode” model, gone was the appealing mix of comedy and occasional drama with tiny moments of character development. When character development happened, it was much more haphazard and without any thought for pacing, as if they suddenly threw it in just because. Flanderization for the main cast became the norm and also entirely gone was any political or satirical bite.
It was still a fun show to watch, but I never got the feeling again that Futurama was lengths better than the Simpsons or other cartoons. Just there, peddling its science fiction persiflage setting and its stock characters without doing anything interesting with them.