Matt Groening’s second animated primetime series was ahead of its time, pun intended. It is set in the futuristic city of New New York, where a displaced delivery boy from 1999 finds himself a thousand years in the future. He finds a job and some friends and tries to adjust to a new life with his new best friend. His best friend is a robot.
It is a much more complex and dynamic show than the Simpsons. The Simpsons was conceived in the waiting room before a meeting with TV execs. Futurama was planned out in advance. You can tell that the writers were all sci-fi geeks and the delighted in planning out arcs and storylines that would span over seasons. This is a zany, hysterically funny cartoon, but it has real continuity making it necessary to watch the show in order. With the Simpsons you can watch an episode from season 23, and one from season 5 and then one from season 17 and it wouldn’t matter. Futurama’s pilot episode has references to events that occur in the fourth season. In the fucking animatics of the pilot you can see Nibbler’s shadow, and finally in the tenth episode of the fourth season you find out why. That is incredible. There is even another reference to the previous Planet Express crew dying because of space wasps, and in the 12th episode of the 4th season the current crew discovers their bodies in a giant space hive.
The cast of characters is microscopic compared to the thousands of Simpsons characters. Futurama focuses on Fry, Leela and Bender. The main supporting characters are Prof. Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, Amy Wong, and Hermes. Than there are more supporting characters who only appear every couple of episodes like Zapp Brannigan and Kif, and Mom and her sons/henchmen. Of course there’s a lot more I’m neglecting like Nibbler, Scruffy, Robot Santa, and others, but Futurama stays focused on the main characters and they don’t need to have background characters having their own episodes like in the Simpsons.
The stories and plot lines were always funny, but sometimes they were so complex and heartfelt it transcends television. Jurassic Bark had a great premise: Fry finds his old dog’s body and plans to use technology to bring him back. Before he does he realizes that Seymour lived 12 years without him, and assumes that he had gotten a new owner and forgotten about him. Fry decides not to revive him, “I had Seymour until he was three. That’s when I knew him, and that’s when I loved him. I’ll never forget him. But he forgot me a long time ago.” It then cuts to a flashback of a lonely and loyal Seymour waiting patiently for Fry to return as the years pass until he finally lays down and dies. It is the most emotional ending to a TV show, animated or live action, drama or comedy that I have ever seen. Other great plot lines involve space, time travel, time paradoxes, parallel universes, the existence of God, and the nature of reality. They also have episodes about more zany things like Bender becoming a folk singer (which is another reoccurring gag).
Fox likes to produce amazing works of sci-fi television like Firefly and Futurama, but they don’t often realize what they have created. They treated Futurama like shit, they gave it a shitty timeslot and hardly promoted it. Thank god for Adult Swim and later Comedy Central for saving Futurama and bringing it back to TV. Great show, definitely the best comedic sci-fi show ever.
Critically Rated at 16/17.