Boston Med, Futurama
From the never-say-die TV files comes this joyous comeback: the rebirth of the long-ago-canceled animated sci-fi spoof Futurama on Comedy Central Thursday night (10/9c) with an episode not-so-coincidentally titled "Rebirth." As you'd expect, these intergalactic punsters are in on the joke and milk it for all its worth.
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"Yeah, we're back," grumbles the incorrigible robot Bender as the characters emerge, some more intact than others, from their fateful encounter with a deadly wormhole. Exercising the show's patented gag reflex — make that gag-a-second — Fry finds himself torn between two Leelas, while Bender is forced to live his own version of the movie Speed, required to party nonstop lest he trigger a doomsday device. Which is why, at one pivotal moment, we hear this unlikely phrase: "Bender, stop shutting the hell up!"
Fans who feared they'd seen the last of Matt Groening's cult classic will be thrilled to see the show return in good form (and glorious 'toon color), after having been terminated by Fox in 2003 and tentatively resurrected for a series of straight-to-DVD movies. Futurama is best in these 30-minute nuggets, and this week two air back-to-back.
The second episode, "In-a-Gadda-De-Leela," reminds us that part of the joy of Futurama is the way it gleefully sends up the cheesiest sci-fi/fantasy clichés. This story is framed with a Flash Gordon-like parody of primitive black-and-white serials, "The Transcredible Exploits of Zapp Brannigan," as the clueless space hero embarks with Leela on a mission to save Earth from a mysterious death sphere. They ride off on a stealth device invented by the Professor in infiltrate the menace, because "All death spheres have one vulnerable opening." Especially one labled V-GINY. (No one said the humor on Futurama aims particularly high.)
Watching these cheerfully silly episodes is the happiest development in TV animation since Fox reversed its decision to cancel Family Guy — and for my money, Futurama is at least as funny, and often much more clever. (May have something to do with my love for the genre that Futurama has such sport with.)
Also highly recommended for the next eight Thursday nights, ABC's medical docu-series Boston Med (10/9c) follows the pattern set by the 2008 Peabody-winning Hopkins, chronicling life inside three renowned Boston hospitals: Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Children's Hospital. With pulse-quickening immediacy and wrenching intimacy, the series is an intense and urgently emotional experience, following several cases a week as they illuminate the personalities of a community of caregivers.
The TV medical drama has hit hard times lately, with several duds (Mercy, Miami Medical, Three Rivers) in the last season alone. Boston Med reminds us that truth is often much more compelling and affecting than recycled fiction. Nothing is heightened or cheapened with newsmag-style manipulation on this series. It plunges us directly into the exhausting, exhilarating worlds of the ER and the OR. Some memorable characters quickly emerge, including Daniel "DiBar" Dibardino, a cardiothoracic surgery resident, known to his adoring patients as "Dr. D" and to his colleagues as "Mr. Energy." As he preps for a risky transplant surgery, in which a donor's lungs will be split up and transferred into two patients, we are impressed by his zeal and moved by the desperate hope of his patients and their families.
Meanwhile, an ER resident is repeatedly challenged on the job, calling into question her leadership abilities and self-confidence. In one revealing interview, she reflects on a mentor who later committed suicide, a reminder of the terrible pressures of the job. But the joys of healing are also vividly represented, in the case study of a police officer whose jaw is shattered by a robber's bullet and who undergoes facial reconstruction by an unflappable oral surgeon.
"We've still got some fight left in us," Dr. D insists at the end of his draining tour of duty. Boston Med brings that fight to life with admirable restraint and rewarding results.
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