Written by: Media Maiden, Special to CC2K
“Good news, everybody…” begins Professor Farnsworth in this wacky grown-up comedy cartoon from the creators of The Simpsons. Just these opening words from the grumpy professor and you know you are on your way to another loony adventure that will leave you stunned at its sheer brilliance and hilarity. An innovative, clever, well-scripted show that remains true to its vision, Futurama, as you may guess from the title, takes place in the future, which in this case is the year 3000, and because this series originated from the percolating, visionary mind of Matt Groening, it is one bizarro world. The show aired May, 1999 by Fox and was sadly cancelled after airing for only five seasons.
The main character is a nerdy 1,025 year old red headed pizza delivery boy named Phillip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth’s nephew. How, you ask yourself, can he be 1,025 years old?? A cliché if ever there was one, Fry is your typical lonely, goofy guy who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or was it the right place at the right time? (This is all revealed in “The Why of Fry” episode.) Well, on New Years in the year 1999 when he was 25, he was delivering a pizza to a warehouse. He says in retrospect that should have been suspicious when the person who phoned in the order said their name was “I.C.Wiener.”
Sitting alone in the suite eating a slice of pizza, he rocked back in the chair and accidentally fell back into a cryogenic chamber when the door slammed shut, sealing him in for 1,000 years. When he awoke in 3000, he found himself in a whole new world that we experience through his eyes. As it turns out, his fall into the chamber was no accident but part of the grand design put into place by the ancient race of Nibblers: small, cute, deceivingly innocuous creatures that look like dogs with antennas atop their heads. Gifted with enormous appetites, they can eat objects twice their size, such as cows for example, but sustain much value for the valuable fuel pellets they manage to expel through their poop.
The ancient Nibblers are able to see into the future and know that a race of beings, some creepy flying Brain creatures, will try to take over the world in the year 3000. Capable of absorbing intelligent thought, the Brains will zap people’s minds and render them stupid, so stupid that they will become incapable of remembering or doing anything. In short, people will become helpless idiots. (“The Day the Earth Stood Stupid” episode.) The Nibblers know that the Brains will take over planet after planet until finally only Earth will be left. The Nibblers believe that Fry’s brain will be able to withstand the rays from the Brain because 1) he is not too bright, and 2) something will happen to his brain as a result of being frozen for 1,000 years that will cause him to remain immune to the “stupid” rays of the Brains. In short, Fry will be able to save the world in the year 3000.
Yes, the fate of the world lies in the hands of a nerdy, redheaded dummy, the classic underachiever who has a good heart and the best of intentions but lacks hero material – until now, that is. And when he does save the world, the irony is that he can’t tell anybody because when all his friends are awakened from their idiot trance, the Nibblers have to zap him with a memory ray so that he will forget it all took place.
When Fry first gets out of deep freeze, he manages to track down his only surviving relative, the loony Prof. Farnsworth who happens to own the Planet Express, an intergalactic delivery service that will deliver virtually anything to any part of the solar system, which makes for some interesting adventures. Any respectable intergalactic delivery system must have a space ship, and Planet Express is no exception. Their captain is a one-eyed, purple-haired female named Leela, whose voice is played by Katey Sagal, of Married With Children fame. Leela is what you imagine an independent woman of the future might be like – brave, able to think for herself, and reliable. But as we all know, independence and self-respect have a price, especially for a woman, and that is loneliness. Fry loves her deeply for who she is, and rather than take the easy way and accept that love, she thwarts his affections, choosing to remain self-reliant instead.
Leela is an oddity because she has only one eye, unlike other humans on the planet’s surface. She always assumed she was an alien because her parents left her on the steps of the Orphanarium, the equivalent of an orphanage. As it turns out, her parents are human mutants who, along with the others, are only allowed to live in the underground sewer city especially designated for them. Only permitted to visit if given a pass (and how can they obtain a pass unless they visit first?), Leela decides not to tell anybody that her real heritage is human for fear of being banished to the sewers and that in fact, she is an outcast much like Fry.
Amy Wong is a bland woman whose rich parents own one half of Mars and breed lady buggalos, a sort of lady bug as big as cows. The rascally Bender is Fry’s best friend, a lovable robot with a fresh mouth whose trademark comment is “Bite my shiny metal ass.” Hermes is the lovable Rastafarian and Zoidberg is a bizarre crustacean that loves to eat garbage when he is not making bizarre comments with his heavy, George Jessel-like Brooklyn accent.
Supporting characters include the hysterical Zapp Brannigan, a starship captain that fancies himself an irresistible ladies man, which is made all the more laughable because he wears an effeminate, tiny short tunic that barely covers his butt. While his voice is low and husky, the thinly veiled innuendoes and come-on lines he delivers are in sharp contrast to the girly outfit he has on. His sidekick, by comparison, is a thin, painfully shy alien named Kif who is in love with Amy and hates Zapp because Zapp has him perform unbelievably demeaning chores. As he performs them, Kif lets out a defeated sigh, shrugs and slumps away.
Not convinced that this is a great show, just by the unique premise? Well, some of the more infamous episodes include the “I Dated a Robot” episode, where Fry learns he can buy a blank robot, download a program to have it look like any movie star he wants, and it will obey every (yes, I means every) whim he has. Nobody’s fool, he chooses Lucy Liu, and the robot called a virtual humanoid, correspondingly looks and sounds just like her. She finds everything he says absolutely fascinating, which for Fry the dork is a dream come true. Ladies and gentlemen, imagine that the movie star you have secretly fantasized about all these years is sitting in YOUR room listening to YOUR deepest secrets or YOUR most mundane thoughts, and actually finds you not just interesting but mesmerizing. And then imagine YOU are doing the wild thing with them!! Genius.
There is, of course, “Amazon Women in the Mood,” the “snu snu” episode where the Planet Express crew land on a planet inhabited with only women and in the course of offending the females, the men are sentenced to die by performing sex or “snu snu” on all the women. What a way to go. The voice of the female leader is played to the hilt by Beatrice Arthur. There are the clever Santa Claus episodes (“The Tale of Two Santas”) were Santa is a robot whose programming gets out of whack and tries to destroy and kill all humans on December 25th, making Christmas the worst night of the year instead of the best.
In “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” Fry must go on trial for having gone to the forbidden planet of Omega 3 to rescue the 79 original episodes of Star Trek which are apparently outlawed because people went berserk and started religions and cults based on the show to the extent that the show had to be banned in the 23rd century. While on Omega 3, they encounter William Shatner and Nimoy, et al who had presumably been dead or missing but in fact were being kept alive by some space alien that loved the show. My personal favorites are all the episodes with Zapp Brannigan. They are just hysterical. And the very last episode made was very poignant, and rather than give anything away, I will simply say it is entitled “The Devil’s Idle Playthings.” It is both creatively ahead of its time, visually interesting, and heart wrenching.
In all there are 72 Futurama episodes, each one of them engaging and masterful, innovative with something insightful to say about the state of affairs now. Biting and blisteringly amusing, from Prof. Farnsforth to Fry to Zapp Brannigan, all these characters will have you laughing, then crying when the episode is over because you wish you had another episode to watch. Yes, it is THAT good. You can catch the show week nights at 10:30 or 11 on Cartoon Network. I read Comedy Central also airs them but you will have to check your local listings.
And good news, everybody… rumor has it that 4 DVD movies are being formatted into 16 NEW episodes which will be aired on Comedy Central in 2008. The first movie is scheduled to be released sometime around Christmas, some speculate. So if you haven’t seen any of the old episodes, they are still on at night.
What are you waiting for?? Why are you still reading this article??