Comic Con Day 3: Cartoon capers (and the ongoing Futurama controversy)

Comic Con Day 3: Cartoon capers (and the ongoing Futurama controversy)

Can I mint a phrase for the occasion? “Survival of the fannest.” Here’s who’s getting into these panels: The hardest of the hardcore, those willing to plot, strategize, and sacrifice to get where they want to go. My plan for today was to hang in Ballroom 20 from morning until afternoon, kicking things off with a panel for Chuck, a show I’ve come to like quite a bit. I was in line to enter the Convention Center before the doors opened at 9:30. Once in, I stopped by the bathroom then got in line for the 4200-capacity room at 9:40. This was a horrible mistake. That pit stop insured I would not make it into the room to see what was, by all reports, an awesome session that involved a performance from the Chuck-created band Jeffster and other delights. I’m a fan, but I wasn’t fan enough.

Sticking it out, I did make it in for the next panel, a focus on Family Guy that kicked off a stretch of FOX animation panels. This that would go on to included an awkward, sad panel for Futurama, the beloved, Matt Groening-produced series that’s due to be revived next year.

Riding high off its continued success and the newfound respectability of an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, The Family Guy crew seems to be in good spirits. Much of the panel was given over to clips from the in-the-works sequel to the Star Wars parody Blue Harvest, which looked pretty funny, though not the sort of thing to designed to please those who see the show as little more than a gross-out-and-reference factory. MacFarlane and the rest of the panel teased future episodes, including one in which Mila Kunis’ Meg gets raped in prison—it’s taken this long for them to get to that?—and an abortion episode that FOX has already declined to air but which will be released on DVD and possibly the Internet. The fan questions are lamer than usual, led by two dudes auditioning funny voices for an annoyed MacFarlane. When asked if the cast likes working together, Seth Green and Alex Borstein fake a make-out session. Then Kunis turns it into a simulated orgy.

A preview of The Cleveland Show follows, which looks to be much in the mold of the other MacFarlane shows. The clips look funny enough, even if there’s not anything unexpected. Jamie Kennedy plays a Wafrican-American teen named “Federline.” And so on. My personal prediction: I’ll tune in, laugh, and never watch again. I respect shows from the MacFarlane factory, but I also tend to forget about them unless they're directly in front of me. The mileage of others varies wildly in both directions, I know.

Then: Futurama. Shortly before the Con, news broke that talks between 20th Century Fox TV and the original voice cast broke down, leading to an audition call to replace Billy West, John DiMaggio and others. The panel opened with a clip of Hypnotoad, speaking in an unfamiliar voice, telling the audience, “All is going well at Futurama. You will not notice that the voice cast is not here today.” Anyone hoping it was set up for a revelation that all actually was well with Futurama set themselves up for disappointment. Groening issued an inspirational affirmation and made some vague remarks about FOX before a segue into a fake making-of-Futurama documentary. The central gag, that actress Lauren Tom is secretly being behind all aspects of the show’s production from script to ADR work landed with a thud.

So did a panel segment in which Groening, co-creator David X. Cohen, and others from the writing and producing staff shared funny notes from the writers’ room. At least I think they were supposed to be funny. The topic of the voice cast was verboten during the fan Q&A session that followed, which featured some spoilers about upcoming episodes, including one involving an Amy/Bender marriage that sparks an anti-robosexual marriage movement and a push for something called Proposition Infinity. Cohen closed by asking the crowd, “Keep your fingers crossed. What’s going right now is business.” Clearly they wanted their actors back and put the blame for their absence elsewhere.

A fairly sedate Simpsons panel followed, featuring a few seconds of footage from this year’s “Treehouse Of Horror” episode, including a spiffy-looking, if not all that funny, homage to Hitchcock that veered from Psycho to North By Northwest to the Dalí sequence from Spellbound in a matter of seconds. The Q&A that followed included a kid asking Groening about what influenced The Simpsons to which Groening quipped, “I was inspired by The Family Guy.” He then gave the kid a Homer doll signed by Seth MacFarlane. Revelations about the new season include a bunch of guest stars, some inevitable (Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen), others out of left field. (Gary Larson? Really?)

Though excitement felt tempered both on the panel and in the audience, everyone on stage seemed grateful for fans’ continued support and fans seemed grateful there was still a Simpsons to watch. At panel’s end, someone from Guinness gave Groening a plaque for being the longest-running sitcom in the world. Is that a new record? At any rate, it’ll be tough to beat. “Simpsons forever,” Groening says at the end. 21 years into its run, that almost seems like a possibility.

Tomorrow: That’s (probably) all for me today since it’s getting late here and there’s not a lot happening that I could conceivably get into at this point. (I’ve refrained from bitching about the lines too much, but I know it’s already too late to get into a Venture Bros. panel located in a too-small room.) I’m following tradition and skipping the typically sleepy Sunday installment of Comic Con. Todd will be on hand to cover the Doctor Who panel and any other excitement. Thanks for reading.