Futurama is an American adult animated science fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series follows the adventures of a late-20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J. Fry, who, after being unwittingly cryogenically frozen for one thousand years, finds employment at Planet Express, an interplanetary delivery company in the retro-futuristic 31st century. The series was envisioned by Groening in the late 1990s while working on The Simpsons, later bringing Cohen aboard to develop storylines and characters to pitch the show to Fox.
In the United States, the series aired on Fox from March 28, 1999, to August 10, 2003, before ceasing production. Futurama also aired in reruns on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim from 2002 to 2007, until the network's contract expired. It was revived in 2008 as four direct-to-video films; the last of which was released in early 2009. Comedy Central entered into an agreement with 20th Century Fox Television to syndicate the existing episodes and air the films as 16 new, half-hour episodes, constituting a fifth season.
In June 2009, producing studio 20th Century Fox announced that Comedy Central had picked up the show for 26 new half-hour episodes, which began airing in 2010 and 2011. The show was renewed for a seventh season, with the first half airing in June 2012 and the second set for early summer 2013. It was later revealed that the seventh season would be the final season, as Comedy Central announced that they would not be commissioning any further episodes. The series finale aired on September 4, 2013, officially ending the series. While Groening has said he will try to get it picked up by another network, David X. Cohen stated that the episode "Meanwhile" would be the last episode of season 7 and also the series finale.
Throughout its run, Futurama has received critical acclaim. The show has been nominated for 17 Annie Awards and 12 Emmy Awards, winning seven of the former and six of the latter. It has also been nominated four times for a Writers Guild of America Award, winning two for the episodes "Godfellas" and "The Prisoner of Benda", been nominated for a Nebula Award and has received Environmental Media Awards for episodes "The Problem with Popplers" and "The Futurama Holiday Spectacular". Futurama-related merchandise has also been released, including a tie-in comic book series and video game, calendars, clothes and figurines. In 2013, TV Guide ranked Futurama as one of the top 60 Greatest TV Cartoons of All Time.
Futurama is essentially a workplace sitcom, the plot of which revolves around the Planet Express interplanetary delivery company and its employees, a small group that largely fails to conform to future society. Episodes usually feature the central trio of Fry, Leela, and Bender, though occasional storylines center on the other main characters.
Futurama is set in New New York at the turn of the 31st century, in a time filled with technological wonders. The city of New New York has been built over the ruins of present-day New York City, which occupies New New York's sewers, referred to as "Old New York". Various devices and architecture are similar to the Populuxe style. Global warming, inflexible bureaucracy, and substance abuse are a few of the subjects given a 31st-century exaggeration in a world where the problems have become both more extreme and more common. Just as New York has become a more extreme version of itself in the future, other Earth locations are given the same treatment; Los Angeles, for example, is depicted as a smog-filled apocalyptic wasteland.
Numerous technological advances have been made between the present day and the 31st century. The ability to keep heads alive in jars was invented by Ron Popeil (who has a guest cameo in "A Big Piece of Garbage"), which has resulted in many historical figures and current celebrities being present, including Groening himself; this became the writers' device to feature and poke fun at contemporary celebrities in the show. Curiously, several of the preserved heads shown are those of people who were already dead well before the advent of this technology; one of the most prominent examples of this anomaly is Earth president Richard Nixon, who died in 1994 and appears in numerous episodes. The heads also appear to be in the age that the individual was most famous and not the older age in which they died. The Internet, while being fully immersive and encompassing all senses — even featuring its own digital world (similar to Tron or The Matrix) — is slow and largely consists of pornography, pop-up ads, and "filthy" (or Filthy Filthy) chat rooms. Some of it is edited to include educational material ostensibly for youth. Television is still a primary form of entertainment. Self-aware robots are a common sight, and are the main cause of global warming thanks to the exhaust from their alcohol-powered systems. The wheel is obsolete (no one but Fry even seems to recognize the design), having been forgotten and replaced by hover cars and a network of large, clear pneumatic transportation tubes.
Environmentally, common animals still remain, alongside mutated, cross-bred (sometimes with humans) and extraterrestrial animals. Ironically, spotted owls are often shown to have replaced rats as common household pests. Although rats still exist, sometimes rats act like pigeons, though pigeons still exist, as well. Pine trees, anchovies and poodles have been extinct for 800 years. Earth still suffers the effects of greenhouse gases, although in one episode Leela states that its effects have been counteracted by nuclear winter. In another episode, the effects of global warming have been somewhat mitigated by the dropping of a giant ice cube into the ocean, and later by pushing Earth farther away from the sun, which also extended the year by one week.
Futurama's setting is a backdrop, and the writers are not above committing continuity errors if they serve to further the gags. For example, while the pilot episode implies that the previous Planet Express crew was killed by a space wasp, the later episode "The Sting" is based on the crew having been killed by space bees instead. The "world of tomorrow" setting is used to highlight and lampoon issues of today and to parody the science fiction genre.
Earth is depicted as being multicultural to the extent that a wide range of human, robot, and extraterrestrial beings interact with the primary characters. In some ways the future is depicted as being more socially advanced than Fry's, and therefore the audience's, reality. However, it is often shown to have many of the same types of problems, challenges, mistakes, and prejudices as the present.
Robots make up the largest "minority". Most robots are self-aware and have been granted freedom and self-determination, but while a few are depicted as wealthy members of the upper class, they are often treated as second-class citizens. Likewise, robot–human relationships (termed "robosexual") are stigmatized, and robot–human marriages are initially depicted as illegal. Sewer mutants are mutated humans who must live in the sewers by law. They are initially depicted as holding urban legend status and regarded as fictional by most members of the public. This was contradicted by later episodes that depict Earth society as having enforced laws regarding mutants. However, since the conclusion of Season Six, mutants have been granted full status as citizens and are therefore granted the same rights to surface use as normal humans.
Religion is still a prominent part of society, although the dominant religions have evolved. A merging of the major religious groups of the 20th century has resulted in the First Amalgamated Church, while Voodoo is now mainstream. New religions include Oprahism, Robotology, and the banned religion of Star Trek fandom. Religious figures include Father Changstein-El-Gamal, the Robot Devil, Reverend Lionel Preacherbot, and passing references to the Space Pope, who appears to be a large crocodile-like creature. Several major holidays have robots associated with them, including the murderous Robot Santa and Kwanzaa-bot. While very few episodes focus exclusively on religion within the Futurama universe, they do cover a wide variety of subjects including predestination, prayer, the nature of salvation, and religious conversion.
Earth has a unified government headed by the President of Earth. Richard Nixon's head is elected to the position in Season Two, and holds the office in subsequent episodes. Earth's capital is Washington, D.C., and the flag of Earth is similar in design to the flag of the United States, with the western hemisphere displayed in place of the fifty stars. The show is set mostly in the former United States, and other parts of the world are rarely shown. Citizens of Earth are referred to as "Earthicans", and English is shown to be the primary language of almost every sentient species.
The Democratic Order of Planets (D.O.O.P.) has been compared to both the United Nations and the United Federation of Planets of the Star Trek universe. Numerous other planets have been colonized or have made contact by the year 3000. Mars has been terraformed and is home to Mars University, Mars Vegas, and tribes similar to Native Americans, though they departed upon learning that the "worthless bead" they traded their land for (the Martian surface) was actually a giant diamond worth a fortune, deciding to buy another planet and act like it is sacred.
A derivative of baseball, called blernsball, is played, and the New New York Mets, a laughingstock of the league, still play in Shea Stadium. A New New York Yankees team also exists.
Due to the fact that the world of Fry's time was destroyed, much of the knowledge of history before then was lost. In the 31st century, facts gathered by archaeologists are portrayed as grossly inaccurate. For example, in "The Lesser of Two Evils", the theme park "Past-O-Rama" presents a history in which 20th-century car factories had "primitive robot" assembly lines in which cars were not assembled by giant robotic welding arms, but by robots dressed like stereotypical cavemen wielding clubs. Another example comes from "The Series Has Landed", in which knowledge of the Moon landing has been lost for centuries. As a result, archaeologists came to the conclusion that the idea to go to the moon came from the infamous quotation from The Honeymooners.
Much like the opening sequence in The Simpsons with its chalkboard, sax solo, and couch gags, Futurama has a distinctive opening sequence featuring minor gags. As the show begins, blue lights fill the screen and the Planet Express Ship flies across the screen with the title of the show being spelled out in its wake. Underneath the title is a joke caption such as "Painstakingly drawn in front of a live studio audience" or "When you see the robot: DRINK!" After flying through downtown New New York and past various recurring characters, the Planet Express ship crashes into a large screen showing a short clip from a classic cartoon. These have included clips from Looney Tunes shorts, cartoons produced by Max Fleischer, a short of The Simpsons from a Tracey Ullman episode, the show's own opening sequence in "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings" or a scene from the episode. Most episodes in Season 6 use an abridged opening sequence, omitting the brief clip of a classic cartoon. "That Darn Katz!", "Benderama" and "Yo Leela Leela" have been the only episodes since "Spanish Fry" to feature a classic cartoon clip. Several episodes begin with a cold opening before the opening sequence, although these scenes do not always correspond with the episode's plot. The opening sequence has been lampooned several times within the show, in episodes including "That's Lobstertainment!", "The Problem with Popplers", as "Future-roma" in "The Duh-Vinci Code" and as "Futurella" in "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences".
Series director Scott Vanzo has remarked on the difficulty of animating the sequence. It took four to five weeks to fully animate the sequence, and it consists of over 80 levels of 3D animation composited together. It takes approximately one hour to render a single frame, and each second of the sequence consists of around 30 frames.
Bender's Big Score has an extended opening sequence, introducing each of the main characters. In The Beast with a Billion Backs and Bender's Game the ship passes through the screen's glass and temporarily becomes part of the environment depicted therein—a pastiche of Disney's Steamboat Willie and Yellow Submarine respectively—before crashing through the screen glass on the way out. In Into the Wild Green Yonder, a completely different opening sequence involves a trip through a futuristic version of Las Vegas located on Mars. The theme tune is sung by Seth MacFarlane and is different from the standard theme tune. The end of the film incorporates a unique variation of the opening sequence; as the Planet Express ship enters a wormhole, it converts into a pattern of lights similar to the lights that appear in the opening sequence.
The Futurama theme was created by Christopher Tyng. The theme is played on the tubular bells but is occasionally remixed for use in specific episodes, including a version by the Beastie Boys used for the episode "Hell Is Other Robots", in which they guest starred. The theme also samples a drum break originating from "Amen, Brother" by American soul group The Winstons; however, the drum break is replaced in Season 6. A remixed rendition of the theme is used in Season 5, which features altered instruments and a lower pitch. Season 6 also uses this remix, but it has been reduced again in pitch and tempo. The theme has been noted for its similarities to Pierre Henry's 1967 Psyché Rock.
It was originally intended for the Futurama theme to be remixed in every episode. This was first trialled in the opening sequence for "Mars University", however it was realized upon broadcast that the sound did not transmit well through most television sets and the idea was subsequently abandoned. Despite this, beatbox renditions of the theme performed by Billy West and John DiMaggio are used for the episodes "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV" and "Spanish Fry".
There are three alternative alphabets that appear often in the background of episodes, usually in the forms of graffiti, advertisements, or warning labels. Nearly all messages using alternative scripts transliterate directly into English. The first alphabet consists of abstract characters and is referred to as Alienese, a simple substitution cipher from the Latin alphabet. The second alphabet uses a more complex modular addition code, where the "next letter is given by the summation of all previous letters plus the current letter". The codes often provide additional jokes for fans dedicated enough to decode the messages. The third language sometimes used is Hebrew. Aside from these alphabets, most of the displayed wording on the show uses the Latin alphabet.
Several English expressions have evolved since the present day. For example, the word Christmas has been replaced with Xmas (pronounced "ex-mas"), and the word ask with aks (pronounced axe). According to David X. Cohen it is a running joke that the French language is extinct in the Futurama universe (though the culture remains alive), much like Latin is in the present. In the French dubbing of the show, German is used as the extinct language instead.
Although the series uses a wide range of styles of humor, including self-deprecation, black comedy, off-color humor, slapstick, and surreal humor, its primary source of comedy is its satirical depiction of everyday life in the future and its parodical comparisons to the present. Groening notes that, from the show's conception, his goal was to make what was, on the surface, a goofy comedy that would have underlying "legitimate literary science fiction concepts". The series contrasted "low culture" and "high culture" comedy; for example, Bender's catchphrase is the insult "Bite my shiny metal ass" while his most terrifying nightmare is a vision of the number 2, a joke referring to the binary numeral system (Fry assures him, "there's no such thing as two").
The series developed a cult following partially due to the large number of in-jokes it contains, most of which are aimed at "nerds". In commentary on the DVD releases, David X. Cohen points out and sometimes explains his "nerdiest joke[s]". These included mathematical jokes — such as "Loew's -plex" (aleph-null-plex) movie theater, — as well as various forms of science humor — for example, Professor Farnsworth, at a racetrack, complains about the use of a quantum finish to decide the winner, exclaiming "No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it", a reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. In the season six episode "Law and Oracle", Fry and the robot peace officer URL track down a traffic violator who turns out to be Erwin Schrödinger, the 20th-century quantum physicist. On the front seat of the car is a box, and when questioned about the contents, Schrödinger replies "A cat, some poison, and a cesium atom". Fry asks if the cat is alive or dead, and Schrödinger answers "It's a superposition of both states until you open the box and collapse the wave function." When Fry opens the box, the cat jumps out and attacks him. The run is a reference to the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment of quantum mechanics. The series makes passing references to quantum chromodynamics (the appearance of Strong Force-brand glue), computer science (two separate books in a closet labeled P and NP respectively, referring to the possibility that P and NP-complete problem classes are distinct), electronics (an X-ray — or more accurately, an "F-ray" — of Bender's head reveals a 6502 microprocessor), and genetics (a mention of Bender's "robo- or R-NA"). The show often features subtle references to classic science fiction. These are most often to Star Trek — many soundbites are used in homage — but also include the reference to the origin of the word robot made in the name of the robot-dominated planet Chapek 9, and the black rectangular monolith labeled "Out of Order" in orbit around Jupiter (a reference to Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series). Bender and Fry sometimes watch a television show called The Scary Door, a humorous parody of The Twilight Zone.
Journalist/critic Frank Lovece in Newsday contrasted the humor tradition of Groening's two series, finding that, "The Simpsons echoes the strains of American-Irish vaudeville humor — the beer-soaked, sneaking-in-late-while-the-wife's-asleep comedy of Harrigan and Hart, McNulty and Murray, the Four Cohans (which, yes, included George M.) and countless others: knockabout yet sentimental, and ultimately about the bonds of blood family. Futurama, conversely, stems from Jewish-American humor, and not just in the obvious archetype of Dr. Zoidberg. From vaudeville to the Catskills to Woody Allen, it's that distinctly rueful humor built to ward away everything from despair to petty annoyance — the 'You gotta do what you gotta do' philosophy that helps the 'Futurama' characters cope in a mega-corporate world where the little guy is essentially powerless." Animation maven Jerry Beck concurred: "I'm Jewish, and I know what you're saying. Fry has that [type of humor], Dr. Zoidberg, all the [vocal artist] Billy West characters. I see it. The bottom line is, the producers are trying to make sure the shows are completely different entities."