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The Year 3000 - Nothing has Changed

  • May 16, 2011
(Note: I first wrote this for Epinions in 2003, and it didn't transfer over for some reason, so just bear with the hilarious outdating.)

Well everyone, Fox has finally done it. They've gotten me to agree with the majority of tasteful people about how its programs are trash and its executives, morons. I guess it was only a matter of time. After all, in the past few years, Fox has been guilty of the following atrocities:
-Letting David Duchovney walk away from The X-Files
-Canceling Family Guy
-Dropping Dark Angel just when it was getting good
-Greenlighting gobs of juvenile sitcoms which had no chance of holding the public's interest (The Pitts, anyone?)
-Milking every bad reality TV trend until the cow had been dry for days, thus finding endless ways of robbing decent, hardworking people of their dignity
-Bringing baseball to the masses only after the season had been going for two months, making it almost impossible for those of us in cities without major league teams to access it
-Airing endless sequels to specials which were bad in the first place when they run out of replacement shows
-Airing Futurama at 7 pm on Sundays, where it was constantly overlapped by football
To think I used to defend this bug-filled wasteland for getting a few things right! I mean honestly, I can't totally dislike the purveyors of The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, The Bernie Mac Show, Mad TV, and 24, right?

Well, not anymore. Because what Fox is doing next is so vile, so disgusting, so horrible, it would be punishable by death if I ran the world. And what is this hideous crime of all crimes?

They're canceling Futurama, this time for good.

I'm so disgusted, I can't even think of a name bad enough to call the Fox suits. In dropping Futurama, they're depriving their viewers of one of the most creative, intellectually stimulating, and side-splittingly funny shows ever to air. And, like its older brother The Simpsons before it, Futurama was a brilliant satire of 20th century life and culture which always found ways to poke fun at current trends. Of course, longtime viewers of Futurama know the crime started way back when the show was given its once and forever time slot. At 7 pm on Sunday nights, the show was bumped a lot, even on a network as bump-happy as Fox. Not that I mind watching football, mind you, but when you cancel the best show in the Sunday night lineup, well, it just isn't right. Especially when the shows the cancellation makes room for include the so-so King of the Hill. But instead of just moving the show to another night when it was more accessable, like Monday, they just let it be bumped time and time again. Many times, it was never shown at all.

Futurama was the brainchild of Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons. I mentioned in the last paragraph that Futurama provided much of the same type of satire as The Simpsons. Since I know the ignoramuses out there are wondering what the big deal was (since you believe it was essentially the same thing), I'll tell you. Yes, The Simpsons and Futurama are both brilliant satires of 20th and 21st century life. But The Simpsons, however smart, still takes place in a closed environment - Springfield. Sometimes the Simpson family takes little trips - for instance, the family has been to Rio De Janero, Africa, Tokyo, Toronto, Bart was once an exchange student in France, and Homer once blasted off into space - but almost every episode is set within the confines of Springfield. And in the current century.

Futurama, on the other hand, took a very bold step beyond all that. In the pilot episode, the show's main character, Philip Fry, was cryogenically frozen on the last day of the 20th century and remained in suspended animation for the next 1000 years. When he awoke, he found himself on the verge of entering the next millenium. After the pilot, the show went on to do all of its trend-poking in the 30th century. And you can't deny that making fun of the 20th century while in the has-yet-to-come 30th century takes a group of really, REALLY talented writers.

After his reawakening, Fry continues to be the same slacker in the 30th century as he was in the 20th, and his naivete provides the writers with more than enough ammunition for satire. After he leaves the cryolab, he enters into the city of New New York (no, that's not a typo) and falls in with an eccentric group of characters who run an intergalactic delivery service. The characters are Professor Farnsworth, a 160-year-old senile genius and Fry's great-(repeated many times)-grand nephew; Hermes, a Jamiacan-accented limbo champion; Amy, a company intern and daughter of a rich family who is obsessed with her looks; Leela, the sexy, single-eyed, kickboxing needle of Fry's eye; Dr. Zoidberg, a lobster-like expert on humans who doesn't really know anything about humans; and Bender, a robot who has the personality of Homer Simpson, only with brains and no conscience. Supporting characters include Captain Zap Brannigan, a handsome womanizer who hasn't stopped hitting on Leela since the time he got her into the sack; Kif, his cynical/depressed alien sidekick; Nibbler, Leela's endless-stomached, ultra-intelligent (although he almost never shows it) pet, whose excretion is the delivery service ship's fuel. Richard Nixon's head occaisionally throws in its two cents.

Matt Groening himself admitted that the concept behind Futurama is the times change, but the people don't. The lowlifes of New New York are still out pedalling illegal items, but the business has evolved beyond merely selling drugs and guns and is now pedalling body organs. In one episode, Bender converts to Christianity, and his friends eventually get fed up with his constant preaching. Bender's newfound faith sets up some ripe satire of the evolution of religion. "Why couldn't he have chosen a more mainstream religion, like Oprahism or Voodoo?" Leela muses at one point. In another episode, Fry rents a 20th century-style apartment and resumes leading his old 20th century slacker lifestyle. When his friends break in, Leela refers to the rap Fry listens to as "classical music." People living in the 30th century aren't averse to soap operas or celebrity gossip, either. Among the most popular programs in Futurama are an Entertainment Tonight-like news show which is co-anchored by a large green alien who periodically shouts about the inferiority of humans. And the popular soap of the future revolves around robots, which gives the program the rather cliched name All My Circuits. As for the Ms. Universe pageant, well... Let's just say it has taken a whole new meaning.

Since people still love vintage, 20th century movies and music, many 20th century celebs still carry on with their careers, despite their obvious handicaps of being nothing but heads in jars. Among the show's guest voices were Beck and the Beastie Boys, all playing themselves in concert. I mentioned Richard Nixon's head earlier - seems Tricky Dick wants to continue with his political career. But while The Simpsons is getting into the habit of bringing in too many celebrity voices for its own good (seen the episode where Homer went to rock'n'roll camp? Appalling), Futurama never went overboard.

Since the Planet Express is an intergalactic delivery company, the characters would of course have to travel to different planets every now and then. With the futuristic setting, the writers were free to make the entire universe their playground - and they didn't stop there, either. The writers also worked quantum physics into story ideas. In one episode, time begins skipping forward in large segments, and Fry travels back in time in another. Among the planets the characters traveled to was a desert world with two suns... With inhabitants made entirely out of water (Fry winds up accidentally drinking their leader.) The moon has become entirely commercial, with a Disney World-like theme park, and there is a University of Mars. One of the common villains on Futurama was a race of giant brains which drained away peoples' intelligence. Nibbler's race, which was commited to fighting the brains, often turned to Fry to perform the dirty work in these battles. Fry was special, immune to the Brains' attacks ("When you say special..." inquires Leela upon hearing this explanation). If the writers wanted something to happen, they made it happen.

Like The Simpsons, the characters on Futurama are stereotyped, but not as much as the Simpsons characters. The most stereotyped character is probably slacker Fry, who has unrivaled knowledge of the 20th century's pop culture, but knows very little about the century itself. Farnsworth is almost as senile as Abe Simpson, but he's much smarter. And Zap Brannigan is a typical male bimbo. Beyond all them, it's very tough to stereotype a lobster doctor or a one-eyed mutant or a robot. So the writers winged it, and some of the things they came up with are simply unbelievable. Zoidberg's race dies after mating, and there is a race of aliens which will bring mental pictures to fans of Douglas Adams.

Anyone who was put off by the yellow characters in The Simpsons will be happy to know the characters in Futurama are all colored realistically. The characters still have overbites and missing pinkies, though, but that's typical Groening. Everything in Futurama seems much busier than The Simpsons. There's more going on at the same time, thus making sight gags just as prevalent. And computer animation, the kind used in the ballroom scene from the 1991 Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, is a way of life for Futurama. Or at least it looks that way. Either way, New New York is a world both familiar and unfamiliar to longtime Matt Groening fans.

Don't expect robots to have computerized voices in Futurama. Robots in the Future all have unique personalities, and so all the robots sound like they're emulating their personalities. Bender is an egomaniacal boozehound, and speaks with what can only be described as a southern drawl without the accent. While everyone speaks according to stereotype and personality, I can only really give credit to a few voices. The best voice belongs to Dr. Zoidberg, who sounds like he's trying to talk while underwater. Katey Sagal of Married With Children brings life to Leela, and she even got a chance to spoof her Married With Children character in one episode. I'd love to go on about the other voices, but Groening neglected to mention who voices who in the end credits, so blame him for my lack of information.

I can't believe a gem like this is getting cancelled. It's just enough to convince me that Fox is evil. So people, heed my advice: Watch and enjoy the next two episodes of Futurama, for they will be the last new ones ever made. Then watch the reruns on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block. Maybe if enough people take an interest, we can revive it, or at least make it into a cult phenomenon so it doesn't just die out. And also go out and buy the first two seasons on DVD. The second one comes out next month.

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More Futurama reviews
review by . September 09, 2010
   Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I started to get a little bit tired of The Simpsons in the late 90's so it was a perfect time to give Futurama a chance. So basically it was, goodbye 20th century, hello 31st century!      I enjoyed it for how well the show was written and found myself quoting lines from the show on a regular "dasis" (insert obscure Futurama reference).      I was pretty bummed when the show was canceled …
Quick Tip by . November 25, 2009
One of the smartest, funniest shows ever animated. Self-aware and unapologetic, it gets me every time.
Quick Tip by . August 21, 2009
Like a delectable snack, Futurama delivers bite-sized futuristic comedy in every episode.
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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Accidentally frozen, pizza delivery guy Fry wakes up 1,000 years in the future. He is taken in by his sole descendant, an elderly and addled scientist who owns a small cargo delivery service. Among the other crew members are Capt. Leela, accountant Hermes, intern Amy, obnoxious robot Bender and lobsterlike moocher "Dr." Zoidberg.
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