Arts & Life

Navigating Netflix: Futurama

Matt Groening’s most notorious creation is The Simpsons. On the air since 1989, it has 24 seasons and 525 episodes, 300 of which are good. And among those episodes are some of the greatest pieces of TV to be broadcasted. But Matt Groening is responsible for another great animated series known as Futurama.

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It’s the story of Philip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy with a predominantly crappy life who makes a run to a cryogenic lab on New Year’s Eve 1999. It’s a prank delivery, so Fry decides to take a load off and enjoy a slice. He falls into a cryogenic tube, gets frozen, and wakes up on the cusp of the year 3000, deep into the future. Fry makes friends with a robot and a cyclops, then tracks down his distantly related and shockingly old nephew. He takes a job in this new future as a delivery boy, bringing the absurdity of his life full circle.

Admit it. You’d handle waking up in the future the same way.

Futurama derives its name from a pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair that showed a very distinctive vision of the future. That vision was quite obviously influential on the visual style of Futurama as a series. It’s futuristic yet still anachronistic, the way people living today look at the visions of the future from decades past.

In Futurama, humanity gets the jet packs, flying cars, and robots they were promised, though the robots are much drunker than anticipated…

From the James T. Kirk-esque Zapp Brannigan to the inept crustacean Dr. John A. Zoidberg, Futurama is filled with brilliantly insane characters that create moulds just so they can break them. Fry might be one of the dumbest characters in TV history, so epically idiotic that he is infamous across the universe for his stupidity. Bender, his robot companion, is amoral to the point of absurdity. And then there is Fry’s elderly nephew and employer, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth. He is the very definition of a mad scientist—part Frankenstein, part Oppenheimer, and all crazy.

Originally airing on Fox, Futurama ran from 1999 to 2003 until it was unceremoniously and unexpectedly cancelled. Many a conspiracy theory was bandied about as to why, but the fact that it was cancelled remained. Then came the advent of TV shows on DVD and reruns airing on Adult Swim. Its success in these mediums resurrected it in the form of four direct-to-DVD movies, which led into new seasons on Comedy Central. It’s currently in the midst of its seventh season, which we now know to be its last.

Comedy Central very recently announced that they would not be asking for new episodes after the completion of the current season, citing low ratings. There is potential for Groening to take the show to another network, though it remains to be seen if another network will bite.

In the meantime, all four movies as well as the six and a half seasons of the show currently out in the world are available on Netflix. Here are a few of my favourite episodes from the early seasons:

Season 1, Episode 13: Fry and the Slurm Factory – Fry and the crew go on a Willy Wonka style tour of factory where his favourite drink is produced. Disgusting revelations are around every corner.

Season 2, Episode 8: Raging Bender – Bender becomes a successful professional robot wrestler, eventually becoming a villain called the Gender Bender. What more do you need?

Season 2, Episode 17: War is the H-Word – Fry and Bender join Zapp Brannigan’s army to fight a planet of alien balls under the orders of the head of Richard Nixon. Yes, you read that right.

Season 3, Episode 20: Roswell that Ends Well – After accidentally combining the radiation of a supernova and a metal Jiffy Pop tin shoved in a microwave, the crew travels back in time to Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The results are both disturbing and Emmy-winning.

Season 4, Episode 11: Where No Fan has Gone Before – The crew finds themselves being debriefed by Brannigan, explaining how they ended up on an alien planet fighting the cast of the original Star Trek.

In some ways, this review is almost a post-mortem. As good as the new seasons have been, they just couldn’t match the energy of the first seasons or bring in the ratings necessary to keep it on the air. Even if Groening can’t find a new home for what is a multi-award-winning science fiction classic, hopefully fans can find more closure when the series comes to the end in 2013 than they did in 2003.

Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at@ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at