Unfortunately, it looks like Futurama, possibly the smartest cartoon in the history of television, is finally coming to an end after 14 years and 7 seasons. Now, those of you who are woefully unprepared to read this article may be wondering how a show could be on for 14 years and only have 7 seasons. Allow me to fill you in on that. The first season was aired over the course of one year: 1999. The second season started in 1999, and ended in 2000. The third season went from January 2001 all the way to December 2002. The fourth went from 2002 to 2003. Then the show was cancelled, before being revived for 4 four-part specials in 2008 and 2009. This was the fifth season. Comedy Central started airing new episodes of the show in 2010, splitting each season into two parts. The final season, #7, is ending on Wednesday. Now that we’ve gone over a general history, let’s get into the details.
It all started in the mid-1990s, when Fox was so happy with the success of The Simpsons that they wanted Matt Groening to make a new show. This is when he started to conceive Futurama. He asked David X. Cohen for help making the show in 1996. After years of research and development, the show was finally pitched to Fox in April 1998. Groening called the process of trying to get the show on the air the worst experience of his adult life. At this point, Cohen and Groening had already conceived many characters and plotlines for the show. Fox had ordered thirteen episodes, but were reluctant because of a few of the characters and aspects of the show. They were particularly concerned about suicide booths, Dr. Zoidberg, and Bender’s personality. Groening was adamant about making the show the way he wanted to make it, much like he was with The Simpsons up until about 2003. Like with The Simpsons, several Futurama episodes are produced at a time, since it takes six months to write, record, animate, and edit each episode.
So, the first episode aired, titled “Space Pilot 3000.” And it did terrifically. It garnered 11 million viewers, more than The Simpsons or The X-Files, which were on before and after it, and was the most popular show of the week among men and teenagers. The pilot, revolved around a pizza delivery boy named Fry who accidentally becomes cryogenically frozen for 1000 years just as the clock strikes twelve on January 1, 2000. He is unfrozen in the year 3000, where he has to run from being labelled as a delivery boy for his whole life. Along the way, he meets Bender, a sassy, alcoholic robot who is literally everyone’s favorite character. In the end, Fry, Bender, and Leela, who is trying to implant his “career chip” that would, like I said before, label him permanently as a delivery boy, decide to join an interplanetary delivery company headed by Fry’s distant nephew, Hubert Farnsworth. Yes, that all happened in one 22-minute episode. Unfortunately, a decline in ratings led this season to #89 in the Neilsen ratings. While not great, the ratings still warranted a second season.
The second season helped shape the Futurama we know and love, having further established the characters of Richard Nixon and Zapp Brannigan and marked the first first appearance of fan favorites Robot Santa, Cubert, the Robot Mafia, Mom, and Lrrr. This season also had the first Anthology of Interest, a staple for the show. Yes, this certainly was a great season for Futurama, even though there was a 6-month hiatus in the middle. Another slight dip in ratings put this at #97 on the end-of-the-year Nielsen ratings. However, the show won an Emmy, an Annie, and an EMA, in addition to two Annie nominations, including Best Prime-Time Animated Series. So, the show was renewed by Fox yet again.
This brings us to season three. This was a very hectic season, with several large gaps between episodes that led to a lack of structure, and the show finished a dismal #115 in the Neilsen ratings. That’s not to say it was a bad season. It may be the best, as a matter of fact. It included such classic episodes as “Amazon Women in the Mood,” “The Luck of the Fryrish,” “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” and “Anthology of Interest 2.” The only reason the show was doing so poorly was that Fox kept moving it from timeslot to timeslot, meaning viewers had a hard time finding the show. Its bad luck continued through Season 4, at which point it had only 6.9 million viewers, and was cancelled by Fox.
So, was Futurama gone forever? Of course not, it’s ending on Wednesday. So, how did it save itself from cancellation? Well, Comedy Central secured the syndication rights in 2005. They weren’t able to start airing them until 2008, because Cartoon Network had the rights up until then. While negotiating the acquisition of Futurama, which became the most expensive acquisition in the network’s history, Comedy Central discussed the possibility of new episodes. And after tremendous success in syndication, Groening and Cohen announced the production of 4 four-part episodes that would air on Comedy Central over the course of 2008 and 2009. Although the final movie, “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” was meant as a definitive end to the series, Groening was very open to producing more episodes in the future.
But before we get to that, let’s talk about the first movie, “Bender’s Big Score.” The story revolves around nudist aliens taking over planet express and using a time travel code on Fry’s ass to become the most powerful people in the universe. The movie ends with an epic battle to reclaim Earth, followed by the shocking revelation that Leela’s fiancé was an alternate version of Fry. Yeah, it was pretty weird. It’s still a really good movie, though. It has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The next movie was “The Beast with a Billion Backs,” whose plot is far too weird to accurately explain, so let’s move on to the third movie, “Bender’s Game,” in which Bender’s obsession with Dungeons and Dragons brings the crew into a fantasy world straight out of… Dungeons and Dragons. Yeah, these movies have really weird plots. Seriously, though, they’re fantastic. You should really check them out. Especially the fourth one, “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” which is my favorite Futurama episode of all time.
Getting back to the story, it was announced in June 2009 that Comedy Central would be airing 26 new episodes of Futurama starting one year hence. This new series would have a smaller writing staff, since many of the writers were not able to or interested in returning. Despite a salary dispute, all the original voice actors agreed to return for this sixth season. The premiere night was the highest-rated night in 2010 for Comedy Central, and the highest-rated Thursday in the network’s entire history. It wasn’t announced until July 2011 that a 7th season would be created, meaning that this week’s episode, “Meanwhile,” will be the fourth episode of Futurama meant as a finale.
So, how were Groening and co. gonna pull this? Were they going to give a simple explanation for how things got back to normal? Were they going to have things stay how they are and have the crew explore the galaxy a la Star Trek? Were they going to spoof Hollywood reboots by giving an overly complicated explanation for how everyone survived and things went back to normal? If you know anything about Futurama, you probably know which one. This overly complicated explanation also provided the “comedy central channel” line, which is my favorite line from any Futurama episode. And with viewership ranging from 1.5 million to 3 million, the new season was a hit (by cable standards). So, naturally, Comedy Central renewed the show for what would become the final season.
This brings us to our current season, #7. And although it’s certainly not as high-quality as say, Season 3, there are a few great episodes, like “Decision 3012,” “Viva Mars Vegas,” and one of my personal favorites, “Saturday Morning Fun Pit.” However, due to a dip in ratings (a July episode brought in only 810,000 viewers), the show was cancelled.
So, is this the end of Futurama? There’s a good chance. While Futurama doesn’t seem to take “cancelled” for an answer, there don’t seem to be many platforms on which it could continue (Netflix? Hulu?). So, this may very well be the end of Futurama for good. But in my opinion, they had a good run. In fact, the past five years have basically been a bonus round for the show, anyway. I’m very much looking forward to the finale and I can’t wait to see Fry and Leela’s wedding (we all know it’s going to happen).
After a review of the finale on Sunday, I’ll post a list of my top ten favorite episodes of Futurama. Until then…