One of the saddest days in TV history for me was when I finally discovered that Futurama was no longer going to be airing on Fox. At the time there was no Family Guy, Robot Chicken or American Dad – in fact at this time Seth McFarlane was still licking his wounds from the first time his show got canceled. The only animated shows airing on major networks were The Simpsons (obviously) and King of the Hill.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Futurama is like the genius baby to come out of the Matt Groening universe. Sure, he already had his all-star kid in The Simpsons, that show will (and probably already has) gone down in history as the greatest animated television series of all time, but Futurama was an absolute steal when it came to smart comedy on the edge of popular culture.
The character development and timeless story lines are undoubtedly genius and animation itself was extremely different for the time. But nobody watched… Maybe it was because nobody really “got” the show, maybe it was because it always had to look up to the bigger brother of the Simpsons, or maybe it was just because the comedy writing team behind it were so busy with their other projects (the Simpsons Movie). No matter the reason, the outcome was the same, no more Futurama.
Until a couple of years ago when Fox Home Entertainment announced that the show would be making a big return… In DVD Form! Matt Groening and his team became underground celebrities with Futurama and as the show stopped being aired, so did the like to Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, Lela, and of course Bender. They became a subculture, people were quoting lines from random episodes and the popularity seemed to increase with the show no longer on the air. As a result, Fox decided not to bring the show back in a traditional sense, but instead give them enough funding to produce 4 direct-to-DVD movies.
With the forth and final movie released, we can now look back and see why this show is considered one of the greatest animated series of all time.
The Futurama movies made their debut with Bender’s Big Score. The Planet Express crew are eagerly preparing for Xmas 3007 when an evil group of nudists discover the secret to time traveling is actually located on Fry’s ass. As an introduction back into the series, Bender’s Big Score was a good way to do it. The writers revisit the Fry and Lila dynamic and use Bender’s attitude and crude dialogue to sift through the difficult plot device of time travel. Although this movie probably doesn’t compare to some of the better episodes of the series, it still stacks up as a great re-introduction back into the franchise.
The second film was Beast with a Billion Backs. In this feature the Planet Express gang are again put into a strange situation where they are forced to discover why the universe is tearing itself apart. The reason? There’s a giant purple tentacle monster that is constantly striving for love. Strange, I know, but it seems to work – especially since the brilliant David Cross voices the Beast.
The third Futurama feature is thematically and culturally the most entertaining. In Bender’s Game the entire film centers around an uncanny game of Dungeons and Dragons. Bender is seemingly upset with the world because his robot origins prevent him from having an imagination. During a heated game of Dungeons and Dragons, Bender’s “ideas” are brought into reality with the help of a powerful hexagonal die.
The latest and final feature is Into the Wild Green Yonder where Futurama explores environmental issues concerning the entire universe. Amy Wong’s wealthy father Leo has decided to turn a large percentage of the universe into a gigantic men-only miniture golf course. Obvious problems aside, he also plans on destroying an exestential being that creates and preserves all life in order to complete the course. The final movie is nice in that the characters seem to know it is the end. Fry and Lela seem to finally get together and the last scene shows the entire crew headed towards a black hole. The interesting thing about black holes is that once something goes in, you never know when or where it will resurface – I think this was a brilliant way to “end” the series.