Ah, Futurama (1999-2013). A once brilliant show from The Simpsons’ Matt Groening. The first four series were fantastic! And then it all went a bit weird.
It was big news when Simpsons creator Matt Groening announced a NEW series. Whoo! And the first season aired in March 1999 in America.
In England, Channel 4 picked it up and it started airing towards the end of the year—right on the cusp of 2000, the Y2K bug, and all that ancient jazz.
And that’s where Futurama kicks off. It’s New Year’s Eve ’99 and Philip J. Fry (Billy West) is a pizza delivery boy and dumbo loser.
Instead of out partying, he’s been ditched by his girlfriend, and he’s tricked into delivering a pizza to “I.C. Weiner” at a cyrogenics lab.
He accidentally falls into one of the pods and is frozen solid, before he knows it waking up in 2999.
Sure enough, the world is enormously different. As he attempts to rehabilitate into a futuristic life, he’s assigned a job by Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal).
She only has one eye (along with purple hair) and it’s initially believed she’s an orphaned alien.
Fry also meets Bender (John DiMaggio), a bending robot who’s a kleptomaniac, alcoholic, profane, sociopathic, misanthrophic swindler.
These three form a friendship of sorts and are soon hired by Fry’s only living relative, Professor Farnsworth (also voiced by Billy West). He’s a mad scientist super genius, but he’s 100+ and thoroughly lost his marbles.
Farnsworth runs a shambolic delivery business to help fund his many doomsday experiments and inventions.
His catchphrase is, “Good news, everyone!” Which is typically followed by some sort of horrendous job his employees have to do.
So he takes on his grandson, Bender, and Leela. There they meet the show’s other main characters.
Bender and Fry move in together, sharing a strange sort of robot/human relationship. Although it’s never quite clear if Bender has any affection for Fry.
Or if he just views him as something to get him alcohol and other stuff.
Bender regularly abuses the situation, basically, with the gullible Fry often taking a thrashing.
That includes the spoiled apprentice Amy Wong, bureaucratic Hermes Conrad, and loveable freak of nature Dr. Zoidberg (a giant lobster thing).
We think Dr. Zoidberg is the best of the lot, with his complete incompetence as a doctor for humans apparent from the off.
He’s also utterly poverty-stricken and prone to bouts of self-pity, but is a relentless source of humour in the show.
Zoidberg often annoys his colleagues with his erratic behaviour, which can include spraying ink everywhere in a defensive reflex.
From the first episode the show worked very quickly to establish the core theme of each episode, which was to send Fry, Bender, and Leela across the universe to do something weird.
One episode, they come across a seemingly crazed (but cute) creature Leela calls Nibbler.
Again, this thing had us laughing ourselves stupid at its ridiculously efficient way of going about being an unstoppable killing machine.
And the thing about Futurama’s early seasons is the writing. The concepts are nuts and brilliant, but really the dialogue and characterisation remain incredible.
Crucially, you grow to love the characters. Even peripheral ones, such as the crazed monster newsreader Morbo and his misanthropic ranting.
But the writers also weren’t afraid to steer clear of drama.
We remember being quite astonished by season five’s epiode Jurassic Bark. It’s episode two and just bowled us over—one of the most heartbreaking but beautiful things you can imagine.
And most people are happy to acknowledge it makes them cry every time (there’s a bit about it in Production & Problems further below).
Well, there’s a lot of history here for us with this show. We first watched it in 1999 it remains one of our favourites ever, even the flawed later series.
Series one and two are quite brilliant (the latter the best, as most fans agree). And three and for offer many gems along the way.
And, yet… studio Fox went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid like cancelling the goddamn thing.
Production & Problems
Matt Groening began work on the concept in 1996 and (unsurprisingly after the success of The Simpsons)
Despite excellent reviews and a steady cult following, the show didn’t quite have the same thunderous impact of The Simpsons.
And studio Fox freaked the hell out about it. During seasons three and four, it began shifting episodes around without warning in America.
Some episodes weren’t even aired, bizarrely. It held onto them and ran them into a sort of “fifth” season.
In August 2003, there was then the shock news Fox wasn’t happy and the show was cancelled.
That, frankly, comes across as an inability to see the possibilities of the show. Suits didn’t see a smash hit on their hands and called it quits early.
A few straight-to-DVD type films were penned in, including Bender’s Big Score (2007). It was okay.
Comedy Central then eventually picked it back up again in 2008—and fans enjoyed three more (hit and miss) series.
Season seven wrapped in September 2013 on a relative high note, ending up a return to form (season six wasn’t the best). And… that appears to be it.
It’s a beloved series with a big cult following, but we think the end has come for Futurama. Something of a wasted opportunity given how good it was at its peak.
Fox—bloody well back off next time, yeah?