TIME Television

The Simpsons-Futurama Crossover: Not a Classic, But Beats Family Guy

THE SIMPSONS Meets ÒFuturamaÓ in a Special Crossover Episode!
FOX

A weird half-hour celebrates the Matt Groening shows' shared DNA.

Spoilers for last night’s episode of The Simpsons follow:

Back in the distant past, in another technological era, another century–that is, in 1999–Futurama was supposed to be the next Simpsons. It too was created by Matt Groening; it had Simpsons talent aboard (including producer David X. Cohen); it had a vast cast of characters and a satirical edge. The TV world and animation fans donned their shades on the launchpad and waited for Fox’s next big comedy to take off like a Planet Express rocket.

But Futurama was not the next Simpsons. Fox’s next big animated hit–eventually, after cancellation–would be Family Guy, which also premiered in 1999. It wasn’t the next Simpsons in quality (dear God, no), but it was the more direct, slavish imitation, building itself around a boorish fat guy and his family while cranking up the speed of its non sequitur jokes.

Futurama, on the other hand, was more obviously its own thing. It was a workplace comedy, but it was also, in its weird way, legitimately well-constructed sci-fi. It had The Simpsons’ cynicism about consumer culture–it saw the future as one big drink of Slurm–but it had a darker, less sentimental spirit. If it borrowed anything from The Simpsons, it was the tone of the Treehouse of Horror episodes, with their inspired grotesqueness, free from fealty to Earthbound realism.

Earlier this season, Family Guy aired a crossover episode with The Simpsons–or really, a Family Guy episode with Simpsons characters in it, but with Family Guy-style beats and gags. The whole exercise had an off-putting, “Dad, why don’t you love me!” feel to it, with Seth MacFarlane’s crew expressing sincere affection for the older show, but also seeming to try a little too hard to show they were cool with being a successful franchise that never got Simpsons-sized respect.

It says something, then, that the “Simpsorama,” the Simpsons-Futurama crossover, took place on The Simpsons‘ own air, in its own time slot. Of course, it’s not like there was another option; Futurama finally ended for good (or for now) last year, on its second home Comedy Central. But The Simpsons didn’t just let its spiritual heir crash at its house; it gave it the keys, producing an episode that was much like an episode of Futurama than The Simpsons.

Not a great episode of Futurama, to be totally honest. Compared with Futurama‘s regular-run episodes, which is their own goofy way were built on strict sci-fi plotting logic, dropping Bart’s DNA into a pool of radioactive sludge was a bit of a something-gets-hit-by-lightning crutch. (It was a stretch by The Simpsons‘ latter-year standards of disregarding its own rules of cartoon reality. This really might have worked better as a Treehouse of Horror episode–it even included Kang and Kodos.) And the resulting Homer-Simpson-must-die story was little more than an excuse to put the characters together and take a tour of Futurama‘s greatest hits.

But great hits they were, and for a fan of both shows, “Simpsorama” was at least a way to show how the two series–to borrow the episode’s metaphor–shared DNA but manifest it in different ways. Bender may look like metal Homer with an antenna, but his mercenary trickster personality is distinctly his own. (I could imagine him happily fleecing Moe for free drinks for the rest of his days.) The Simpsons aspects of this Simpsons half-hour mostly receded into the background, allowing a parade of favorite Futurama bits and characters (Lrrr and Ndnd, the Nibblonians, the Hypnotoad, Hedonism Bot–twice!–and a cameo by earlier Groening creation Binky from his comic Life in Hell.)

It wasn’t a classic episode, but–by imagining an alt-universe in which Futurama still shared Fox airtime with The Simpsons–it was a generous one. Toward the end of the episode, as the devil-bunny-Barts were slingshotted into space, Bart said, “You realize you’re cheering the deaths of millions of my children.” Really, “Simpsorama” simply celebrated the life of one of them.

TIME Television

Aaron Sorkin ‘Pretty Certain’ He’s Done Writing Television

Aaron Sorkin filming "Newsroom" on July 20, 2014 in New York City.
Steve Sands—GC Images Aaron Sorkin filming "Newsroom" on July 20, 2014 in New York City.

"But, again, you never know. Maybe I'll get another idea," says the West Wing creator

As HBO’s The Newsroom returns for its third and final season Sunday, creator Aaron Sorkin says he might be done with television for good.

“I know the whole ‘Never say never’ stuff,” Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing and Sports Night, told the Los Angeles Times. “But I’m pretty certain I’m about to write my last three episodes of television.”

Sorkin made that declaration in May but reaffirmed his decision to the paper later in the year. “All these months later, I still don’t see another series in my near future,” Sorkin said. “But, again, you never know. Maybe I’ll get another idea.”

Though he’s best known for his television work, Sorkin has written the screenplays for movies such as The Social Network (which won him an Oscar) and Moneyball. He’s currently working on a Steve Jobs biopic.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME Television

Watch the Couch Gag from The Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Episode

Homer has an oddly sensual moment with Hedonismbot

The Simpsons and Futurama are both Matt Groening creations, so it makes sense that the Springfield clan and the Planet Express posse are sharing the screen during an upcoming crossover episode of The Simpsons.

In advance of the special, catch the episode’s couch gag — one of the most beloved Simpsons traditions — which finds Hedonismbot from the canceled cartoon having an oddly sensual moment with Homer.

The episode, hot on the heels of September’s Family Guy crossover, airs Sunday and involves Bender going on a mission to travel back in time and get rid of Bart before he causes trouble.

TIME Television

Watch Jay Leno Poke Fun at Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show

The show's former host gave Fallon some car advice and delivered a stand-up set

Former host of The Tonight Show Jay Leno stopped by current host Jimmy Fallon’s set to gently needle his successor Friday.

In his first appearance on the show since Fallon took over, Leno recalled the time he gave the former Saturday Night Live star some car advice about buying an “old-timey” car: don’t get one if you don’t want to get your hands dirty fixing it.

“Look at these hands, ladies and gentlemen — that’s like a puppy’s paw,” Leno joked. “This is the hand of a five year-old.”

Elementary star Lucy Liu — who recently chatted with TIME about directing, TV diversity and Destiny’s Child — also stopped by. Leno interrupted the interview to tell Liu that he could always interview her if Fallon’s interviewing technique wasn’t up to par. “This is your first time with Jimmy,” he said, “but I was your first.”

TIME Television

Go Behind the Scenes of Better Call Saul

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Featuring 'surprises that Breaking Bad fans are just going to eat up." 

A new behind-the-scenes video of the making of Better Call Saul gives Breaking Bad fans little information about plot but does reveal what they can expect from the spinoff: Just what they’re looking for.

Bob Odenkirk and co. remind fans that the Vince Gilligan spinoff will feature “surprises that Breaking Bad fans are going to eat up.”

The cast and crew, including star Breaking Bad alumns Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks, seems just as excited as fans that the spinoff rumor turned into a reality. “It’s like a high school reunion,” says SFX supervisor Werner Hanlein. “With great people, not like high school.”

The much-hyped prequel arrives in February and will follow Odenkirk as he reprises his role as the sleazy attorney Saul Goodman. The only plot secret that’s been slipped: Goodman won’t be so familiar to fans at the start. Set in Albuquerque in 2002, the story will follow Jimmy McGill as he transforms into the shady criminal defense lawyer everyone is familiar with. Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are returning to work their magic on the script. No word on Bryan Cranston reprising his role as Walter White just yet, but a car wash scene has not been ruled out.

Check it out for yourself:

TIME Television

Watch the Girls Season 4 Official Trailer

Hannah embarks on a new journey in Iowa. Meanwhile, Marnie's making music, Jessa faces legal troubles and Shoshanna deals with the real world

HBO’s ever-divisive hit show Girls returns on Jan. 11, and thanks to this new trailer, we finally get a closer look at what the fourth season will entail.

Hannah, played by the show’s creator/director Lena Dunham, has officially moved to Iowa, where she’s honing her creative writing skills (maybe), riding a bike and even eating grapes as a snack. Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, her friends are, of course, getting into shenanigans of their own.

The trailer, which features the song “I Believe” by Nico Vega, is only a minute and a half long — just enough to give us a brief taste of what’s to come. “To Hannah, taking the next step in a series of random steps,” Adam toasts, at what appears to be a farewell dinner with Hannah’s parents. Hannah, however, says she’s confident she made the right choice.

Dunham, who’s typically vocal on social media, has been on a Twitter hiatus in light of a recent controversy surrounding sexual abuse claims in her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Dunham issued a statement exclusively to TIME, where she apologized “if the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read.”

TIME Television

The Newsroom Has One More Chance to Get Its Story Straight

HBO

In its last, short season, Aaron Sorkin's media romance is still flawed, but it might finally turn from an editorial into a drama.

The fans of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom may not be legion–though it had enough to carry it to its third, abbreviated and final season–but they are ardent. Over the previous two years, as I’ve criticized the series, there’s been a common refrain in their defense of it: Sorkin’s cable-news drama may not be at the level of his past series, but it and its messages are needed on TV.

Beware the show whose fans or makers believe it to be “needed.” Because there is almost always a corollary to that “needed”: “…by other people, besides me.” By the TV newspeople who are failing America. By voters led astray, through sensationalism and demagoguery, to make poor, uniformed choices in their leaders. If only these messages got out to them, if only they were made to be exposed to reason, then by God they would finally see, and we could begin unmaking the mess we, which is to say they, have made of the world.

You cannot make a great story starting from that posture. There is too little oxygen on that pinnacle. And for all its other faults (thinly drawn characters, its women in particular) and flashes of twinkle-tongued brilliance, that has been The Newsroom‘s founding flaw: to imagine itself less as a work of art than as a repair manual for civic society. The most quintessentially Newsroom tableau is a group of characters looking up (see photo above)–toward a monitor, maybe, or toward Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) making an impassioned speech, but really, their eyes are elevated Heavenward, as if gazing on better angels that only they can perceive. “Wake up, sheeple!” is not a dramatic principle.

To The Newsroom‘s credit, its second season seemed to acknowledge some of the problems with the first. Rather than positioning McAvoy and his ACN crew as the Gallant to the mainstream media’s Goofus on one true-life story after another, it built a story arc around the fallout from the network’s running with a bombshell military exposé that turned out to be a hoax. It was a less bad season, but also a less remarkable one.

But The Newsroom does have one asset going for it, one that runs through the rest of Sorkin’s TV work from Sports Night on: the belief that there can be hope even in a failed cause. And in the first three episodes of its six-episode final season (premieres Nov. 9), there are signs that The Newsroom could end its run as its best self.

Not at first, though, as suggested by the title of the first new episode: “Boston.” Oy gevalt. It’s become a parlor game to play “Next season of The Newsroom” whenever the media commit some screw up that Sorkin could later show ACN getting right, even if their principles cost them ratings. Sure enough, the first hour centers on the Boston marathon bombing, when major media outlets erroneously reported arrests and passed along the Reddit-posse “identifications” of suspects who weren’t. ACN, still reeling from last season’s Genoa fiasco, plays it careful, even if their principles–well, you see where this is going.

But at the same time, Sorkin starts building a final, fictional news-story arc that, like Genoa last season, serves the show better than its ripping-on-the-headlines approach has. Without giving away too much, the story does–again, as you might have guessed in 2013–borrow from the Edward Snowden NSA leaks (with Dev Patel’s Neal Sampat in the Glenn Greenwald role). But it uses that story as a jumping-off point rather than op-ed material, heading in different directions and imagining the ethical and legal peril for a news outlet trying to report on a secrecy-obsessed administration, and trying to balance its news responsibility with legitimate security concerns.

By the third hour, I can’t say I was in love with The Newsroom at last. But I felt like I was finally seeing the better version of itself that it could have been. I wasn’t watching a lecture–though several small ones still creep into the first hour–but simply the work of a sharp, intellectually engaged screenwriter taking a scenario ripe with conflict and seeing where it took him.

The same characters are here–albeit with fewer of the daffy moments that have plagued female characters like Mac–and they’re still operating in Sorkin’s preferred flawed-heroic mode. (Chris Messina’s corporate scion Reese sums up the philosophy well: “I’m a douche on the side of the angels!”) But it’s more compelling watching them when Sorkin has simply put them under plausible pressures–a potential hostile takeover of ACN on one hand, a federal investigation on the other–and lets them feel their way to an answer without instructing us on the way. This isn’t an editorial, it’s just drama with ideas built in. How do you run a business that has goals beyond just making money? How can a media outlet defend its independence against an ever-more-powerful security state–and how should it?

The Newsroom in the end will not, to paraphrase its Coldplay quote of the first season, fix America. But give it another few hours, and it might at least fix itself.

TIME Comedy

Jerry Seinfeld to Brian Williams: ‘I Think I’m on the [Autism] Spectrum’

Jerry Seinfeld
Kevin Wolf—AP Jerry Seinfeld pauses as he is interviewed on the red carpet at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Oct. 19, 2014, in Washington.

The comedian was promoting the fifth season of his series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Jerry Seinfeld said in a recent interview he believes he has traits that align with those who have autism spectrum disorder.

“I think–and on a very drawn out scale–I think I’m on the spectrum,” Seinfeld told NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams. “You’re never paying attention to the right things. Basic social engagement is really a struggle. I’m very literal. People talk to me and they use expressions and sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying.”

He added, “but I don’t see it as dysfunctional. I just see it as an alternate mindset.”

The comedian spoke to Williams in preparation for the start of the fifth season of the his web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. In the interview, which aired Thursday, Seinfeld said comedians are the only people he feels comfortable around

“They’re the only kind of people I feel completely relaxed around,” Seinfeld said. “Every other social interaction I have is somewhat of a management.”

Seinfeld has been riding around in fancy, vintage cars and grabbing cups of joe with comedians for the past couple of years, but he says he never expected the web hit to make waves. “It was an experiment,” he said. “I didn’t know that this could be anything.”

The fifth season started Thursday with Seinfeld taking a ride with Kevin Hart.

[NBC News]

TIME Television

David Chase Teases More Details About Possible Sopranos Prequel

James Gandolfini
Anthony Neste—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Actor James Gandolfini in scene from HBO TV drama series The Sopranos.

Let's all start thinking about our dream cast now

Sopranos creator David Chase has been playing with fans’ emotions over the last year, by continually hinting at his interest in doing a prequel to the mob show. In a new interview, Chase revealed more details about the possible project, which would likely look rather unconventional.

“There are a couple of eras that would be interesting for me to talk about, about Newark, New Jersey,” he said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “One would be (the) late ’60s, early ’70s, about all the racial animosity, or the beginning, the really true beginning of the flood of drugs.”

Chase has gone on record several times with his interest in a prequel that would focus on Tony’s parents’ generation (can you just imagine Livia in her prime?). While promoting his film Not Fade Away in 2012, Chase told Showbiz 411 that he had even discussed the idea with HBO. “It would be with Tony’s father, and Uncle Junior, and Livia–Tony’s mother–long before any of the other characters we know now.”

In May, while participating in a panel at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, he said he still “flirts” with the idea of doing a prequel set in Newark.

One of these days, maybe HBO will announce they’ve actually green-lighted the project. Until then, we have plenty of time to pick our dream cast. Jennifer Lawrence as Livia Soprano? Bada bing!

[AP]

TIME Television

How The Comeback Nails the Double Bind for Actresses

JOHN P JOHNSON / HBO

Coming along in the season of Renée Zellweger and J-Law, Lisa Kudrow's Hollywood satire is more relevant than ever.

My review of the comeback of HBO’s The Comeback is in the new print issue of TIME. I wish I could share it with you here, because I like the review and I like the show, but I also like having a paid job, and the column is for subscribers only. (Thirty bucks gets you a year’s worth of TIME! Cheaper than HBO!)

What I particularly like about the new season is that it de-emphasizes what I thought was worst about the original–the shooting-fish-in-an-aquarium reality-TV satire–and builds on what was best: Lisa Kudrow’s microcalibrated performance, and its cringe-making yet sympathetic depiction of an actress, now around 50, trying to make it in an industry that stamps a sell-by date on women:

I watched the five episodes HBO sent around the time that Renée Zellweger, 45, tripped the Internet chatter alarm over her “unrecognizable” face, which was not long after the summer’s doxing of stolen nude photos of young actresses, including Jennifer Lawrence, 24. Valerie may be grasping and desperate, but she’s no dummy: she knows how actresses enter this cattle chute as hotties and exit as jokes.

One thing that’s compelling about Valerie is that she’s aware of this dynamic but has no illusions about her ability to change it. Early in the season, when she scores a career coup–she’s cast in an HBO series about the series made in the first season of The Comeback–she’s flabbergasted to discover that it starts shooting almost immediately. She won’t have time to “prepare,” she protests–where “prepare” means to set up and recover from plastic surgery.

The way our culture deals with its Valerie Cherishes is to make fun of them for being “phony”–for putting on false faces figuratively or, in the case of plastic surgery, literally. But that’s the easiest kind of sanctimony, to define actresses’ worth by their hotness and then blame and mock them for it when they accept the terms. Stay young forever! But never be fake!

The beauty of The Comeback is that it can be painfully funny dealing with Valerie, and yet it’s never unsympathetic–it’s conscious of why she is the way she is, and that’s the much tougher and ultimately more rewarding laugh. If I like the new season even better than the original so far, one reason may simply be that Valerie is nine years older, and by the simple harsh math of Hollywood, the stakes are that much more real.

And coming so soon after the mass Zellweger freakout, it feels all the more relevant. It’s easy to feel superior to celebrities willing to do anything to maintain their image, whether it’s landing a reality TV show or going under the knife. What Kudrow and The Comeback never forget is: there are a whole lot of us with our fingerprints on that scalpel.

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