“Kiss my shiny metal ass”: A Discussion of Animated Sci-Fi Comedy with Futurama…

Warning! Warning! The following is a discussion of Futurama (series 1-7) and so contains an extensive reference to the series along with other related movies, series and novels, contains spoilers for huge moments in the show. Read ahead at your own risk…

I’ve been a lifelong fan of animation as long as I’ve been a fan of Science Fiction. Often I think these films and shows are seen as child’s play by many audiences and even parts of the industry that create animation think so as well. I feel that animation often doesn’t get the respect it deserves, there are some great animation for both children and adult that treat people like they are, intelligent humans. It’s just a way to present a story in a way that can’t be visualised by photography and editing allowing for many interesting concepts to be made in a way that live-action can’t. One of these great forms that are often inhanced by animation is Sci-Fi. So for the next month on The Galaxy Wide Sci-Fi, I will be looking at animated Sci-Fi starting with two animated comedies Futurama and Rick and Morty as a sequel to my previous discussions on Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

This week we are discussing one of my favourite Sci-Fi shows Futurama. Created by Matt Groening, one of the creators of a pretty niche 30 year old show called The Simpsons (prehaps you’ve heard of it), Futurama follows the crew of The Planet Express, a universe wide delivery crew in the future of the 31st century. Most the episodes are self contained but much like Red Dwarf, Futurama works best as a Sit-Com with Sci-Fi themes and concepts. The show acts as a way to both satirise american culture and Sci-Fi themes.

Much like when I discussed Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker’s Guide, I want to break down the show into some of my favourite moments and how they work in creating not just great comedy but also great Sci-Fi. Here I want to explore what makes the show work, the great animation and generally look back at the full scope of the show so far. To go into the future we first must go into the past, New Years day, 2000, the millennium and when Fry got cryogenically frozen leading to the show to begin.

The show begins with the lovable but dumb Fry that we all know and love in the year 1999, the night before the beginning of the new century. A delivery boy (pizza time anyone?) with little direction in life and down on his luck, making a delivery, he ends up at a cryogenics laboratory in New York where in an accident, (although not so much an accident if you know what happens later) which causes him to fall in a cryogenic tube which launches him exactly 1000 years into the future.

The year, 2999, the night before the beginning of the 31st Century. After travelling up to the surface from the underground remains of foreshadowing, he ends up being sent to prison but escapes with help with a robot named Bender and a one-eyed officer named Leela. On the run, they end up at Fry’s great times 30 nephew and mad scientist’s home, the headquarters for the Planet Express, the intergalactic delivery company. This is where the story begins.

The show is made up of great characters which flourish in both the comedic and providing interesting backstories to play Sci-Fi themes of. You have Fry, the pizza delivery boy and lovable idiot, Taranga Leela (the cyclops who turns out to actually be a mutant from Earth), Bender (the sarcastic robot and best friend of Fry, who will tell you to kiss his shiny metal ass) Hermes (the Jamaican Accountant and one of the surviving members of the original crew), Professor Farnsworth (mad scientist and runner of planet express), Zoidberg (giant lobster, surviving member and crew’s incompetent doctor or in other words, Jar jar if he wasn’t a bad character), Amy (the intern who’s family owns some of the universe’s most profitable casinos) and many other great characters that I haven’t mentioned. They, however, make up the main crew of the Planet Express (minus everyone that died previously).

Although I’ve mentioned Fry most so far in this discussion, much like Red Dwarf or even the Simpsons, the show has those elements of Sit-Com which utilises a large cast of characters that have their own quirks, personality traits and story beats. Unlike most shows, even the systems, it looks more at how our society might behave in the world of the 31st Century. It can play around with Sci-Fi concepts and satirise them but in a way that still tries to take an interesting spin them such as Humans living with robots and other species, time travel, the destruction of the world and what if all the important people of our civilization were still alive… but just as heads in jars. Seeing there are 124+ episodes of the show, in this next section, I want to try my best to look at some of the best elements and episodes of the show and how they present great animated comedy with Sci-Fi themes.

First of which is the set-up itself which follows many traditional Sit-Com conventions being set up as a dysfunctional crew taking on wacky missions and ending up getting in wacky situations is the common trend although what Futurama does to make itself unique is present this in the Simpson’s/Matt Groening style and interjecting Sci-Fi elements into the mix. The show looks at the wacky elements of Sci-Fi but does it in a light that isn’t mocking those tropes but is comedically sending them up which is backed up by good writing by some major league players behind the first 10 series of the Simpsons. This is shown straight from the pilot.

As the show involves a wacky but grounded cast of parody Sci-Fi characters, Sci-Fi themes can be looked in a way different from a lot of shows and movies in the genre one of which is the time travel paradoxes. A great episode which shows these themes is the episode The Late Phillip J Fry which sees Bender, Fry and Farnsworth take a trip through the future to see what holds of Earth in the far future. The episode follows a plot very similar to the movie The Time Machine but to avoid time paradoxes, they can’t go back in time, only forward and that is a really interesting idea. They see the world as it progresses in their universe. What happens is the universe eventually ends but it restarts and begins a new with the Big Bang with minor changes in how the world is laid out (such as being a few meters lower). It takes something old and pairs it with a new idea and joke, making a new fresh adventure for the characters.

Another great episode or episodes is when Bender ends up creating his own civilization known as Godfellas (series 3 ep . The idea has been explored before even in the Simpsons through one of the Tree House of Horror shorts but the episode of Futurama take it to new levels, in my opinion anyway. How does it do this? It takes religious themes and a God-complex and makes a robot like Bender the God of a tiny universe. This follows Bender being sent through space after stealing “swag” from an attack by space pirates. What transpires is Bender ends up creating a civilization, trying to help them but due to being selfish, his whole civilization splits and eventually is eradicated. This ends with Bender talking with the show’s version of a God character as he slowly drifts further into space.

What is great about the episode is that it looks at the questions of our creation and look how easily they can be destroyed, not just by a Godly being but our own fears, religions and politics causing us to become conflicted and kill each other. The episode acts as a microcosm of our wish for control, how that control takes a lot of effect and how society can as easily destroy itself as it starts. It’s a fantastic episode and also explores Bender’s morality and character upon a darkly comedic tone.

There are many other incredible episodes and arcs of the show such as Jurassic Bark, the episode where we explore Fry’s backstory through his dog they find frozen from the 21st Century. The episode is probably one of the saddest episodes of the show looking at abandonment, what happens when someone moves and even cloning. We see Fry and his old best friend, how his dog waited for him for 12 years before eventually dying without Fry ever coming back. He even ends up risking Bender, his best-friend in order to get his old best friend, Seymour back. What it does best is showing sometimes how reminders of our old life can catch up with us and how we can forget what’s right in front of us.

The episode is pretty melancholic but it has a good message. There’s something deeper there. It even takes a Scientific spin on the process of cloning and how it never really brings something back, they still lived and died in a way we can’t control, same thing with the passage of time and the event that causes Fry to be separated with Seymour, waiting 12 years for his beloved owner to come back to him. But there are many more stories that I would like to discuss so the show must go on.

The next great episode of Futurama is actually a Futurama movie and no, it isn’t that really weird one The Beast with One Billion Backs (although, I don’t really care for it, it’s a good representation of religious cults and how easily we can be deceived), the movie is of course, Bender’s Big Score. I think this movie, although because of the film style sometimes it doesn’t work, helps to encapsulate a great Sci-Fi story in the Futurama world. It’s a comedy, it’s an action movie but most importantly, it has an interesting Sci-Fi story and develops the characters such as Bender, Leela, Fry, Hermes and Nibbler.

The movie’s story could be simply described as Comedy Terminator mixed with Time Paradox shenanigans. To instead descibe the story in a more drawn out way, (if you haven’t watched it, which you should) it starts with some bad news, basically that Planet Express is being shut down. Except, it was a mistake and the executives *cough* Fox metaphor *cough* were fired as a result. So good news, the crew are back in business but bad news, an alien race is looking for the code to Time Travel and it so happens to be on Fry’s ass, also Hermes’s has been decapitated but that isn’t relevant for most of the story. So insert other story beats here, Fry gives the time code to the evil pink aliens, they misuse it, reprogram Bender and eventually use him to steal gold, cause time paradoxes and kill Fry.

I’ve probably run onto too long already about this story so I’m going to skim to the most interesting bit. So Evil Robot Santa is amazing, but nah, there’s a character called Lars, who looks after the historical heads. He gets in well with Leela but whoops, he was actually a Fry that went back in time to the past and came back to the future (instead with darker/burnt hair and a deeper voice because well, his house got shot by Bender).

There’s many more elements I’m forgetting right now such as the giant gold Death Star fight with basically every Sci-Fi cliché ship you can find, Evil Robot Santa (yes, I said that twice, because it’s awesomely terrifying) and even the realisation of Nibbler being not a pet but part of a very intelligent slave race (and my second favourite character after Bender). What was that thing, I was trying to say is whilst, I mentioned all these things which I love about this TV movie. There’s an interesting Time Travel paradox which enhances Fry’s character (as we see what he would do if he was back home), we get some great Sci-Fi comedy and even though it isn’t perfect, it also helped revive the show in a great way.

Before I end this week’s discussion, I would like to speed though some of the other great moments from the show. You have the great four part movie Bender’s Game where they go into a Fantasy universe, allowing the show to become a great parody of Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy shows and movies (which is honestly much better then Disenchanted but that’s still an alright show). There’s the point in the show where we find out that instead from being the last cyclops from another planet, Leela is actual a mutant who’s parents live in the sewer and left her to adoption for her to have better life on the surface.

There’s the other episode of Fry development where he goes undercover to look for information on his brother who turns out to have taken his identity when he went missing in the cryogenic chamber. There’s the episode Farnsworth Paradox where you have the professor create an entire copy of our own universe in the form of a tiny box (with some changes), which is one of my favourite episodes from the show. You have the episode Neutopia which explores gender identity and an alien that doesn’t have gender on their planet, letting the show look and have a fun time with seeing how the characters would react as the opposite gender and how their differences can be both a bad and good thing. I think I’ve mentioned enough episodes although there are many more fantastic ones that I could mention such as when we meet Robot Devil in The Devil’s Hands are Idle Play things and the several great anthology episodes of the show.

In conclusion, Futurama is one of my favourite Sci-Fi shows. It takes Sci-Fi elements and has fun with them. There’s no limitation in budget like many Sci-Fi shows such as Doctor Who and Red Dwarf so often it can take the loving satire of Sci-Fi movies and shows to the full extent. It’s also backed by great writing right from the beginning and to a very end with the great episode Meanwhile which gives a touching end to the relationship of Fry and Leela whilst looking at the repercussions of creating a button that sends someone back 10 seconds in time, nearly leading to the death and saving of Fry’s life. The writing takes the elements and the smart dumb comedy of the Simpsons and can take the insanity and inventiveness of the Tree House of Horror episodes to the extreme in each and every episode (although there are some stinkers *cough* Beast with 1Billion Backs *cough*). It’s a great show that ended when it had to end, got cancelled several times and has given us some funny Sci-Fi worlds, concepts and characters. It’s a comedy but it’s a well-written animated Sci-Fi first and if you haven’t checked it out, even if you are someone that doesn’t really like Sci-Fi and finds it goofy, you’ll probably get a good laugh out of it.

And with that final note, that’s plenty from me today and me talking about how great the show is in both Sci-Fi and Comedy. It is great to be able to talk about some great animation in the Sci-Fi sphere but don’t fear, this is just one out of several posts I’ll be making on the topic this and early next month as I announce Animated Sci-Fi month on the website. Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, future thinkers. Are there any episodes or movies from the series you wished I mentioned, I missed or didn’t look at in enough detail? Let me know in the comments below…

Sometime within the next week, get your portal guns ready as we are launching straight into the second part of animated Sci-Fi month with Rick and Morty. There may also be a very short anime recommendation of something I have yet to pick. Stay tuned for that next week, fellow future thinkers and until next time…

Michael McGrady, Signing Off.

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