The first time I saw Futurama, the long-running (but off-and-on) animated series from Simpsons creator Matt Groening, I was a kid watching it on summer afternoons at my grandmother's house. I don't think I'd ever laughed that hard--not at its colossally influential older cousin The Simpsons, and possibly not at anything since. The show ended its run (again) last night.
Here's the setup, if you haven't seen it (and if you're reading this site, which I assume means you have at least a passing interest in The Future, I'd recommend you give it a shot): a pizza delivery man-child accidentally cryogenically freezes himself in New York on New Year's Eve 1999, then wakes up on New Year's Eve 2999, where he is, uh, also a pizza delivery man-child. Except a space-exploring one.
I bought the DVDs of the show, and would turn on re-runs I had seen more times than I'd like to admit here. I couldn't put my finger on it then, but the show always struck me more than other TV sci-fi, even the more challenging, adult Star Trek, which I'd flip on after Futurama was over.
But I think I understand now why the show mattered to me. While most TV science fiction is an exaggerated metaphor of the creators' ideas--or, at its worst, a sterile attempt at imagining the future--Futurama understood that the future would always subvert our expectations. So the show did the only reasonable thing: revel in all the ways the future could be absurd, wild, poignant, hilarious, bizarre, terrible, wonderful, and so, so close to reality without being a thinly veiled version of the present.
Compare that to the other great works of sci-fi television, and even the most daring of them seem conservative. There are the time-traversing tales of shows like Doctor Who, where the future isn't something we barely make out in the distance, but a malleable tool for the hero. Then there are those works where the future is just a re-imagining of the present. You can find it in The Twilight Zone, where surreal morality plays became metaphors for Cold War-era paranoia. If you're digging for a more recent example, consider Battlestar: Galactica, which is a re-imagining of the Iraq War with Star Wars tropes.
It's not that I don't like these shows--in fact I think The Twilight Zone is one of the greatest shows ever to make it to the small screen--but I also think it's disingenuous to think of them as shows about the future when they're blatantly about the present--and only the present.
Futurama, meanwhile, understood that making a show about the future meant really embracing the uncertainty of the future (without ignoring the past and present). In one episode, the ex of Fry, the show's lead, is cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the future, too. She says she's having trouble "adjusting to all the strange stuff here in the future," when another character replies, "I'm from Mars."
The show's strange sensibility certainly wasn't for everyone. But it was always strange for the right reasons. Consider this snippet of conversation between Fry and his friend and occasional love interest, Leela:
Weird! Funny! And like the best satire, it gets at a truth: our predictions of the future are, more often than not, terrible. You can check out the Popular Science archives for proof. We're not embarrassed! Futurama understood that it's unreasonable to even try to make predictions--that messy uncertainty is the future's only real certainty, so why not own it?
Which ties in perfectly with the herky-jerky trajectory of the show. It aired for a while, got canceled, came back, and now it's gone again--except it may come back on another network, possibly, Matt Groening has said. Or maybe it won't! Who knows.
I haven't seen the series finale yet. But I will, sometime in the future. Maybe.
Why are scientists obsessed with human or mechanical time travel?
To me it makes a lot more sense to first perfect time-communication.
Wouldn't you want warnings from future society, yourself or family?
And scientifically I think time-communication would be a lot more feasible.
Yet, as I research sending information through time, most of the websites I find are pseudo-science and most of the time travel websites are actual scientific research.
I read years ago in a different science magazine that some scientists using lasers and super cool gas or something had received information before they sent it. This was probably 15 years ago. I haven't seen much info about it since.
One of my favorite jokes from the series falls very much in line with this article:
(after falling asleep guarding a valuable item)
"They must have used a sleep ray on me! Those exist in the future, right?"
"Hm. Then I must have fallen asleep."
[showing his spaceship to his 10 year old clone]
Professor: And these are the dark matter engines I invented. They allow my starship to travel between galaxies in mere hours.
Cubert: That's impossible. You can't go faster than the speed of light.
Professor: Of course not. That's why scientists increased the speed of light in 2208.
Cubert: Also impossible
Professor: And what makes my engines truly remarkable is the afterburner, which delivers 200% fuel efficiency.
Cubert: That's especially impossible.
Professor: Not at all. It's very simple.
Cubert: Then explain it.
Professor: Now that's impossible! It came to me in a dream, and I forgot it in another dream.
Also - Fry's Dog.
That's right internet, go have a good cry.
Futurama and Star Trek are the two best futuristic TV shows.
Star Trek explored some deep themes based on futuristic ideas, technology, morality, and species conflict. It was a space western, but it was handled very well.
Futurama took the world today, added some classic sci-fi topics to it, and wrote it in neatly with the show. It put its own spin on most of them, including aspects like time travel, christmas, holidays, robots, and alien invasions.
I'm going to miss Futurama. :(
Some day when I get some extra money I'll own all the seasons.
Thankfully the voice of Bender lives on as Jake from Adventure Time.
- Just trying to keep my girlish asymptote!
It was great, until it decided to come back from the dead.
I remember it well, although I never kept up with it. It was like the Jetsons meet the Simpsons with a pseudo family instead of a real one. I remember a episode about Fry having a bank account with a few dollars in it and lo and behold it was like millions after he woke. Too bad in real life Government would have claimed it if no one else did.
Battlestar Galactica was not, "a re-imagining of the Iraq War with Star Wars tropes," and the mere fact the author believes this is sufficient proof that the author never watched BSG and derived his entire view of the series from a single source, which had a dislike of the Iraq War and wished to use a popular television program as vehicle to express that dislike.
Another one of my Sunday night cartoons down. :(
Well technically I dont know what day it was on but I watched it on Sundays via my DVR.
I had missed quite a few seasons in the middle so even reruns were mostly new to me.
@AmyLiz90 - I love your Avatar by the way.
Thank you. That was one of many quick doodles I do. I use an App called Procreate to make them. I also missed a few seasons in the middle so I'm just going to get them all when I get the money.
- Just trying to keep my girlish asymptote!
Well now I've heard of futurama.
I was just thinking about science fiction futures last night. A marvelous novel from 1992, set in 2024. Some of the 2024 technology is stuff that many adults in 2013 have never imagined FOR IT WENT EXTINCT 20 YEARS AGO.
Such as video tapes and mainframe tape drives. Others are outrageously inadequate for the alleged purpose: a library stored on a 100 mb USB-like SSD. A gigabyte SSD supporting an intelligent entity. The baby steps as usual are way way off. Like the famous plying private automobiles.
But the full bore vision stuff that's something else again. Explaining the threat of atomic annihilation back when it was in no way possible, as it came to be in the 1960s. Imagining a world without major wars. Permanent and useful human stuff in space, people visiting other planets.
Sounds like another cartoon situation comedy to me.
Futurama can't RIP, it's in the future (hahahahah). Futurama even got viewers from other galaxies (remember that episode).
i have not seen one episode but this got me curious and watched it on Netflix...man o man, i haven't stopped laughing yet. you know, i am pretty much disappointed with most of PopSci's editorials and I shall not stop pointing out the error of your ways. But, Colin, you pointing out the genius of this show and lamenting its passing, proves you are a swell guy. Not bad at all, mon ami. You have my express gratitude. Kudos !
What I love of this show is how they use incredible technologies with retard mechanics.
Just from the top of my head...
- The laser gun soldier recharged by turning a crank which made the famous sound of the cube with a clown inside that pops to "scare" you
- The mini spy camera that recorded everything on a freaking 5 1/4 inches floppy
And so on... This show is filled with non sense like that all the way.
aww Futurama ... hate to see it go. i loved the humour of the show.
The last season seemed to be really heavy. some were really sad and touching.
hopefully, they continue to make the dvd movies like they did, when they ended ,,, the first time.
hopefully this isnt the end. But if it is. its better to go out when in good standing, than getting stretched out so long that it becomes something people make fun of ... jumping the shark, lol.
I saw the first episode of Futurama in, -97? -98? Long time ago, anyhow.
At the time, I was still studying (engineering, eh...), and suddenly my parties became Futurama sessions as I had them on my tricked out "box". Girls? Poof. Gone.
Well, so were we. We identified with the loser Fry on all counts, and we didn't mind our "friend-zone" girls gone either way.
Fast forward five years or so. We ARE in the future. In every single way. Fast forward yet another five years. Poof. We have a generation on our heels who have known nothing but the future. Instant messaging and the lot. And BAM into the year 2013 where everything we have known is suddenly different from 1990.
Until about 1996, I actually carried with me my personal (paper) notebook with all the contacts I needed, along with a calling card to call with from a phone booth.
What is a "phone booth" you say? Well, technically speaking it is a box where there is phone and a telephone book. Before there where phone catds, you were supposed to insert a a quarter and call your number, or if you were (a bit) desperate you could attempt to place a collect call. This is a bit complicated, so look that up. In the first episode of Futurama, fry is attempting to go into what he assumes to be a phone booth, but is, in fact, a suicide machine.
The real phone booths usually stank of urine, the phone books were burned and in many (but not all) cases the handset had been yanked out.
So thank you, mobile phones. I don't miss public phones that much at all, now that I think of that.
I do miss the time between 1998 and 2001 though. At that time, we really believed we were entering a better and happier era. Alas, we did not. Things, happened.
I seriously think Futurama is going to resurface again, once there is enough new future to parody. :-)
Wow, how many people today don't know that the clown that pops out of the cube when you turn the crank is a Jack in the Box? When the 21st century arrived, I was disappointed that things weren't more futuristic, but now I see so many things have changed, and I realize a lot of them had already changed back then, from when I was a kid in the '60s and '70s.
So the thing about Futurama was that it showed how absurd the future could be? Well, I'd say part of it was that it showed how absurd predictions about the future could be. But I'd say its greatness, or goodness anyway, was in several things. One of the major ones was that, even in spoofing sci-fi ideas (and "Ufology" and other strange scientific, science-related, and pseudo-scientific ideas), there was a certain respect for them, like a friendly joshing with a wink and a smile, rather than a superior smirk.
I think the biggest thing for me, though, was that the first several seasons had an underlying theme of, no matter how strange things might be, humans (and other beings) are all pretty much the same, both in their good and bad points, and there is value and comfort in being part of a "family," even if it's really just a motley crew in a company. There was a certain continuity, too, and a sense that each character was valuable, even Fry the failure, Dr. Zoidberg the alien quack who got no respect, and Bender the lying, thieving hedonist.
I'm afraid as the series went on, that last part started to slip and finally was tossed out, and the show lost a lot of its heart. By the last season or two, it seemed the whole cast was disposable, easy enough to bring them back through some sci-fi Deus ex Machina such as cloning or cyclic time or multi-universe theory. But were they really then the same beings? Plus they seem to have left out things that provided continuity, or made them optional from one episode to the next, such as Fry's relationship to Leela, Amy and Croaker, Croaker's offspring, the Niblonians and their secret interest in Earth and particularly Fry (and Leela).
Favorite episode: The one where everybody was given money and Fry used it to buy 100 cups of coffee, seemingly a ridiculous waste, but at the end everybody's plans for their share comes together at a party where a fire breaks out and threatens them all, just as Fry drinks his 100th cup and the caffeine rush turns him into a hyper-speed hero, and everybody ends up joining Zoidberg and his hobo friends for hotdogs. Well, that and the ones where Fry saves the universe from the Brains, of course. Well, the one where they go back in time and end up at Roswell... um... OH and of course the one where they go to the planet where the original cast of Star Trek are living, along with videotapes of the show, which has been banned...