Futurama Futurama

Even the savvy prognosticators behind Futurama — the absurdist animated science-fiction comedy set in the 31st century — could not have predicted the convoluted path their series has taken since its 1999 premiere.

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A victim of frequent preemptions and extended hiatuses, it was canceled in 2003 after 72 episodes on Fox. But thanks to robust DVD sales and strong ratings in repeats (first on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and then Comedy Central), the show was revived for four DVD-movies. When those sold well, Comedy Central ordered 26 new episodes, the first two of which air Thursday at 10/9c and 10:30/9:30c. "You hope that your show is going to be Star Trek, when the fans will not let it die for decades after it goes off the air," says exec producer David X. Cohen, who developed the show with The Simpsons guru Matt Groening.

The new episodes pick up where the last DVD-movie ended, with the hapless Planet Express delivery crew being sucked into a wormhole and heading toward doom. "We have a relatively fast but sci-fi way of getting back to normal," Cohen says. "Once we're back I think it's going to feel like classic Futurama."

That means more of the misadventures of Philip J. Fry — a pizza delivery boy who was accidentally frozen in suspended animation on January 1, 2000 and woke up a thousand years later — as he continues to slack through his job at Planet Express while pursuing romance with one-eyed pilot Leela and maintaining a friendship with rude and crude robot Bender. The entire cast returns — including the original voice actors Billy West (Fry), Katey Sagal (Leela) and John DiMaggio (Bender) — following intense negotiations last summer.

The time away has given the writers lots of fodder, including an upcoming episode about social media snafus and another, titled "Project Infinity," satirizing California's anti-gay marriage initiative with Bender seeking to legalize "robosexual" marriage between human and robots. And later in the year, in a special holiday episode, former Vice President Al Gore returns for his fourth appearance, making him the series' all-time leading guest star.

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