Good news everyone! Futurama is back!

Is it just me, or are we fans of Futurama more tenacious than the few who have stuck by The Simpsons for so very long? Eleven years after the show first aired, and seven years after it was unceremoniously cancelled, the show has returned to rapturous applause from fans around the world. Would the same have happened for The Simpsons? It seems doubtful, seeing as there have been complaints about the show’s declining and patchy quality for years.

Futurama began life in 1999. It was created by Matt Groening – the man behind The Simpsons – and follows the adventures of a late 20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J. Fry, who, after being cryogenically frozen for a thousand years, finds employment at Planet Express, an interplanetary delivery company in the retro futuristic 31st-century.

In his new life in the 31st century, Fry finds friends and companions in his co-workers who include Leela – a Cyclops who believes she is an alien until she finds her real parents and discovers that she is, in fact, a mutant. Professor Farnsworth – Fry’s great, great, great (ad nauseum) nephew, Bender – a hand drinking, hard smoking, foul mouthed robot, Amy Wong – an intern at the Planet Express company who hails from Mars, Dr Zoidberg – some sort of a crab-like alien and Hermes – a Jamaican bureaucrat who loves nothing more than a well filled out form.

Futurama, with its retro futuristic style, played into the public love, and fear of the turn of the new millennium. This was especially well played out through the character of Fry, who managed to skip the 2000s altogether and go straight to the 3000s. This massive gap of time also allowed for new devices to be introduced into the world of Futurama, such as space travel, alien worlds and it’s satirical depiction of everyday life in the future and its comedic comparisons to the present. Fry was also the epitome of the slacker generation who were content, for now anyway, to watch TV in the dark and work in a dead end job.

The series was filled with in-jokes – many of which were aimed at the Dungeons and Dragons type market – but also made reference to quantum physics, Star Trek and the characters ability (or more frequently, inability) to cope in a mega corporate world both as individuals and as a profitable company. The world of Futurama was entirely self contained and included hovering cars, unique and complex alien beings and gadgets and gizmos galore.

While the show focussed on the Planet Express Company and its employees, it also had a rich supporting cast of characters who recurred time and again throughout the show’s four seasons, and subsequent movies. The best of these included deluded space captain Zapp Brannigan, evil corporation owner Mom and the Robot Devil. The show also included cameos from Sarah Silverman, Brittany Murphy and Al Gore – as himself.

Futurama was well received when it first aired in 1999 – pulling in 19 million viewers – but due to scheduling and erratic air times, the viewership numbers tumbled to an eventual low of 6 million in 2003, when the show was cancelled. The show developed a cult following on DVD later when it was syndicated on Cartoon Network and Comedy Central. In 2006, Futurama fans around the world rejoiced when it was announced that 4 new, straight to DVD movies were to be made. These were broken up for broadcast into 16 episodes, but comprised four movies – Bender’s Score, The Beast With a Billion Backs, Benders Big Game and Into The Wild Green Yonder.

Into the Wild Green Yonder was designed to serve as the finale for the show, as no new episodes were in production at the time. Matt Groening expressed a desire to keep the show going in some form, and it was announced in 2009 that Comedy Central had picked up Futurama for a revival of 26 episodes. There was some dispute over salaries and voice actors, but these were resolved and Rebirth was aired in June 2010 on Comedy Central, earning the show it’s highest rated night in 2010.

It seems that Futurama is the show that will just not stay dead, so we, here at Geek Syndicate count down our three favourite episodes of the original four seasons…

Godfellas Season 3 Episode 20

Bender is accidentally fired from the ship as it is travelling full speed. With no hope of rescue, he is doomed to drift through time and space forever. After an asteroid hits him, a civilisation of tiny humanoids develops on him and worships him as god. Through either too much involvement in their lives, or too little, Bender dooms the Shrimpkins to extinction and they annihilate each other through nuclear war. Bender then meets a cosmic entity who may or may not be god who crashed into a space station. Bender then tells this entity about his experiences at playing god. The entity tells Bender that he had much the same experience with helping those who pray to him, and has long since given up directly interfering in his worshipers lives. He instead uses a “light touch” because “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all”.

Fry spends the episode searching for Bender, eventually taking over a monastery whose monks use a telescope to search for god in outer space. It is his desperate cry of “I wish I had Bender back” that prompts the entity to send Bender back to earth.

The episode touches on themes of loneliness, religion and philosophy as well as the manifestation of prayer. These themes, as well as some comic quoting of John Donne’s For Whom The Bell Tolls and some beautiful animation, combine to make one of the most interesting, original and funny episodes of Futurama.

The Problem with Popplers Season 2 Episode 15

The crew lands on an unidentified planet, and find that it is filled with a new and incredibly tasty animal life form which they eventually patent and call Popplers. The new and tasty food becomes a new business venture for the crew as they haul trailers full back to earth and sell them to chain restaurant, Fishy Joes.

It soon comes to light, however that these Poppler’s are intelligent life and are the offspring of the warlike natives of planet Omicron Persei Eight, and the Omicronians arrive on earth, led by Lrrr, to avenge the death of their offspring.

There are many satirical references through this episode, from the protesters being members of Mankind for Ethical Treatment of Animals (MEAT – a parody of PETA), the U Haul trailer being renamed U Yank and the title of the episode being a parody of the Star Trek Episode The Trouble with Tribbles. The episode also pokes fun at the idea of marketing, sales and where the line should be drawn with regard to eating meat.

The best line of this episode has to be Fry’s delight at how good the Popplers taste: “They’re like sex, but I’m having them!”

The Farnsworth Parabox Season 4 Episode 15

Professor Farnsworth decides to destroy an experiment, contained in a yellow box, by ejecting it into the sun. He forbids the Planet Express staff to open the box, and Hermes assigns Leela to guard it. However, she is tempted by curiosity and tosses a coin to decide whether or not to look in the box. The toss results in favour of looking in the box. Upon doing so, she falls into the box and finds herself in a parallel universe where everyone has identical personalities to their counterparts but most have a different color scheme… And coin tosses come up with the opposite result.

During the course of the episode it is revealed that Fry and Leela are married due to Leela deciding to go on a date with Fry after a coin toss, Zoidberg is inexplicably blue and Bender’s counterpart is gold, resulting in the line “Bite my glorious golden ass”. The episode plays with the idea of parallel universes – which had only been touched on in Futurama before – and fate – how something as simple as a coin toss can change someone’s life. The parallel universes that are seen throughout the episode are fun, an more than a little silly, and add to the whimsical tone of the episode.

The finest line, and the one that sums up the episode best, has to go to Fry for “Oh my God. This is just like that drug trip I saw in that movie while I was on that drug trip”.

Honourable mentions also to: Parasites Lost, The Devil’s Hands are Evil Playthings, Bendin’ in the Wind and Time Keeps on Slippin’.

GS Reviewer: Brogen Hayes

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