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Entry updated 23 October 2023. Tagged: Film, TV.

US animated tv series (1999-2003; 2010-2013; 2023-current). The Curiosity Company, 20th Century Fox Television, 20th Television Animation. Created by Matt Groening and David X Cohen. Producers include Groening and Cohen. Writers include Cohen, Kristin Gore, Groening, Eric Horsted, Ken Keeler and Jeff Westbrook. Directors include Peter Avanzino, Dwayne Carey-Hill, Bret Haaland, Ron Hughart, Rich Moore, Brian Sheesley, and Gregg Vanzo. Cast includes John Di Maggio, Phil LaMarr, Katey Sagal, Lauren Tom and Billy West. Eight seasons; 150 half-hour episodes (these include the four 90-minute movies which were each subsequently split into four-episode serials).

Groening's follow-up to the cultural phenomenon that was The Simpsons (1989-current), then in its tenth season and still going strong, opens on 31 December 1999 when delivery boy Philip J Fry answers a prank call and delivers a pizza to a Cryogenics facility. Accidentally frozen for 1000 years, he wakes up in New New York and, searching out his nearest relative, finds his great-to-the-nth-power nephew Professor Hubert J Farnsworth, an aged Mad Scientist who hires him to work in his delivery company, Planet Express. Along the way, Fry picks up two other employees, the cyclops Leela, who believes herself to be an Alien abandoned on Earth, and the hard-drinking, hard-partying Robot Bender, and as the show goes on these are joined by a host of secondary and recurring characters that soon rival the size of even The Simpsons's cast.

From its outset, Futurama was as much a show about science fiction as a science fiction show. The crew's adventures in space brought them in contact with Aliens and weird space phenomena, but also with overt references to the genre's history and staples. One of the series' most beloved guest characters, Captain Zapp Brannigan, is a clear Parody of Star Trek's Captain Kirk, a cheesy, self-aggrandizing Lothario who turns out to be a physical coward and an incompetent captain. When the crew accidentally Time-Travels to 1947, Professor Farnsworth so terrifies Fry with the prospect of the grandfather paradox (see Time Paradoxes) that Fry ends up stalking his grandparents and inadvertently becomes his own grandfather. When Bender is lost in space, Fry travels to a monastery whose monks are searching the sky for God, a reference to Arthur C Clarke's story "The Nine Billion Names of God" (in Star Science Fiction Stories, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl), then locks them in the laundry room and steals their telescope to look for Bender. Though it occasionally relies too heavily on ephemeral pop culture references for its humour, Futurama's best episodes combine an awareness of their genre and its history with well-crafted stories and absurdist humour.

Though an immediate fan favourite, Futurama's sf focus prevented it from achieving the cultural currency of The Simpsons, and it soon suffered from the by then familiar travails of a science fiction series on Fox (see also Firefly): it was under-promoted, its episodes delayed and aired out of order, and, in 2003, was unceremoniously cancelled. For several years the show existed only on DVD and in comic books, but in 2006 it was announced that Comedy Central had purchased four feature length Futurama movies – Bender's Big Score (2007), The Beast With a Billion Backs (2008), Bender's Game (2008), and Into the Wild Green Yonder (2009) – which were initially released on DVD and later aired on the channel in episode-sized chunks. These proved a disappointment, the longer running time defeating the show's humour and deliberately erratic plotting (like The Simpsons, Futurama often began its episodes with one plot, then veered off in a completely different direction at the five-minute mark). However, in 2009 Comedy Central ordered two seasons of half-hour episodes. The first of these aired in the summer of 2010, garnering record ratings for the channel and reigniting fans' enthusiasm by recapturing much of the show's humour and its heart. Although still going strong in 2013, Futurama was nevertheless cancelled at the end of its seventh season, whose final episode aired in September 2013. The series rose once again in 2022, when Hulu (owned by The Walt Disney Company) commissioned 20 new episodes, the first ten being broadcast July-September 2023. Though not reaching the heights of the first four seasons, they were solid and enjoyable. [AN]

see also: Brain in a Box; The Jetsons; Titanic; War of the Worlds.


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