The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on December 9, 1999 · Page 61
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 61

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Thursday, December 9, 1999
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Page 61
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Not The Simpsons KMTITTTil DWAS a late convert to The Simpsons. When it began on Ten almost a decade ago, all the hype accompanying it drove me away. It was not the first time or the last that the avalanche of publicity surrounding a new show has left me disappointed when it finally went to air. But it certainly was the one that sticks in my mind the most. To me, The Simpsons was little more than just another sitcom, albeit an animated one. True, this family was more dysfunctional than any other on TV. But the premise appeared to be the same as in the unending flood of sickly sweet and hopelessly implausible situation comedies that engulfs our screens. One or other of the kids usually Bart the Horrible breaks the rules, is counselled by mom and dad, mends his ways (or, at least, leads his parents to believe that he has) and everyone lives happily ever after until the next episode and the next family crisis. I cannot remember when or why it happened, but some time into that first series I revisited The Simpsons. The hype had subsided somewhat and I could look at it afresh. Suddenly it struck me that perhaps I had missed the point. This was not just another sitcom, despite the fact that it had most of the essential ingredients. It was a modern-day morality play. That may sound highfalutin, but that surely is what The Simpsons is. OK, 1 have just confessed to be being pretty thick. But nowadays, I am as big a fan as my 13-year-old son, although 1 cannot claim to have watched every episode at least eight times and be able to recite most of the scripts parrot fashion. 1 could learn to if I wanted. There is ample opportunity. The show has gone from being a weekly half-hour show to one that screens 42 times a week. That is how many episodes are being repeated this week, for example, on Channel 10 and pay-TV's Fox 8 channel. Nothing else has ever matched it, and probably never will. Futurama (Thursday, 8pm on Seven) certainly won't. It is the latest creation of the man who dreamt up The Simpsons, Matt Groening. He's a genius. And don't get me wrong Futurama is wholly entertaining. But it is not demanding. I know, it sounds silly to describe The Simpsons as demanding television. But it is. Futurama, despite an impressive start last week, is not. In The Simpsons, we might be challenged to wonder about anything from the sanctity of marriage or the power of the media to whether cheating on the boss or cheating on your exam results are hanging offences. That's the way of Vie Simpsons. In among the obvious humor are lessons in life and often powerful reflections on the ways of the modern world. In Futurama, set 1000 years from now, it's all played for laughs. The first episode, in which Fry, a New York pizza delivery guy, accidentally time-travelled to 2099 and found himself in a society in which everyone is implanted with a microchip delineating their work obligations, and 25-cent, coin-in-the-slot suicide booths line the footpaths for those who want to escape from it all, looked promising. Here, I assumed, we were to see more of that Groening magic, a comic critique, perhaps, on where the world is going and where our society might end up. Instead, I have to tell you that, having watched five episodes, Futurama is little more than just another sci-fi cartoon. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you are not expecting more. Like The Simpsons, the animation is first class. It is expensive animation, in which everything moves, like a good Disney cartoon, not like those cheap efforts where the background and the characters all stay stationary but their lips move. The comedy is sustained and, in places, very adult. The suicide booth scene, for example, might have raised the ire of some parents, but it was funny. The scene in a coming episode, in which Fry's shapely one-eyed alien friend, Leela, succumbs to the macho charms of a hunky space hero, Zapp Brannigan, and ends up in his bed, lacks a little subtlety for a show that is supposed to appeal across the age range. But whereas The Simpsons peppers every plot with observations on modern life that are not only funny but also quite incisive, Futurama heads towards something meaningful and drops the ball. After the first couple of episodes, any semblance of social critique is abandoned. It is a curious development, almost as if Groening were denying one of the ingredients that has made The Simpsons so successful. Futurama is funny, sometimes hilarious. But you can put your brain in neutral for the whole enjoyable trip. 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