Futurama is coming back - again! - in 2010! No time like the present to acquaint yourself with Earth's most beloved animated science fiction comedy. But first: bitter recriminations from before we got that news.
The basics of Futurama are these: on New Year's Eve, 1999, "shiftless 25-year-old delivery boy" Philip J. Fry delivers a pizza to an empty cryogenics lab, falls into a tube, and is frozen. For some reason the staff at the cryogenics lab never notices this tube-squatter, and he remains frozen for a thousand years.
Fry, you dick, those tubes aren't cheap.
After awakening in the World of Tomorrow, he meets Leela, a hot female cyclops with a penchant for Arcturan Kung-Fu, spends some time with The Probulator, and runs away to avoid having his hand pierced with the Career Chip which will determine the path of his life. After nearly killing himself by mistaking a Stop-n-Drop Suicide Booth for a silly, obsolete phone booth, he meets his new best friend, a foulmouthed bending robot named... Bender. There are some wacky hijinks as Leela tries to hunt Fry down and force him to submit to being a delivery boy, but eventually the three of them end up hiding out at the home and place of business of Fry's distant nephew, Professor Farnsworth. Farnsworth offers them all jobs at his interstellar delivery company, Planet Express, and the series gets underway. The Planet Express crew then spend four seasons getting into hilarious scrapes, saving the world, and occasionally delivering packages.
And one time they were superheroes.
Philip J. Fry
Fry is the protagonist and the Everyman of Futurama. Fry's most important characteristic is that he lacks the Delta Brain Wave, which is produced by all other animals, as well as some trees (Some Everyman) . In episode 4.10, "The Why of Fry," it is revealed that this is because Fry is his own grandfather (check out episode 3.19, "Roswell That Ends Well," to see Fry hooking up with his Grandma Mildred in 1947). Accordingly, Fry could be generously described as "not very bright." Fry's lifelong ambition has been to go into space, a dream he now gets to fulfill regularly as the official delivery boy of Planet Express. He is "good at video games, and bad at everything else." He is madly in love with Leela and pursues her throughout the series.
Bender Bending Rodriguez
Bender is a Bending Unit, designed to bend girders. He drinks, smokes cigars, steals, swindles, and is generally awesome. He also harbors desires to be both a folk singer and a cook. Bender does not half-ass anything, except of course his job at Planet Express (neither we nor the characters are sure what exactly that is). A complete list of Bender's incredible exploits would take far more space than we have here (you should probably just watch the series), but here are a few highlights:
-Getting addicted to electricity after "jacking on" backstage at a Beastie Boys concert, hitting rock bottom and trading it in for extreme religion, then renouncing his religion and going to Robot Hell (episode 1.09, "Hell is Other Robots")
-Arranging to have himself made Pharaoh of Osiris 4, a planet suspiciously similar to ancient Egypt. Bender proceeded to have his slaves build a statue of him "One billion cubits high!" The statue was so tall it exceeded the atmosphere of the planet. After surveying the finished monument, Bender decided it was too large and ordered his people to tear it down and try again, "and this time, don't embarrass yourselves." The priests promptly kicked him into his tomb and announced he had died. (episode 3.17, "A Pharaoh to Remember")
-After being accidently shot out of one of the Planet Express Ship's torpedo tubes, Bender was doomed to drift endlessly through space. In that time he became a god to a community of small creatures called "Shrimpkins" that established a town on his body. Unfortunately, "the Metal Lord" was not so great at granting miracles, and eventually the Shrimpkins split into different factions and killed each other off with the use of Bender's "nuclear pile." After that, Bender met God, or at least the remains of a computerized space probe that collided with God, had a nice chat, and was miraculously sent back to Earth, in what Leela described as "by a wide margin, the least probable thing that has ever happened." (episode 3.20, "Godfellas")
After Leela fought Shatner, they totally made out.
Leela was abandoned on the doorstep of Cookieville Minimum Security Orphanarium as an infant. Because she has only one eye, and pinned to her blanket was a note written in an alien language, everyone assumed she was an alien of unknown origin. However, in episode 4.02, "Leela's Homeworld," it was finally revealed that Leela's parents were not aliens, but sewer mutants who lived beneath the surface. At Leela's birth she was proclaimed to be "the least mutated mutant ever," and her parents decided she would have a better chance of a good life on the surface. Leela is the most responsible and ethical member of the Planet Express crew (whatever that's worth), and the object of Fry's affection. She has a reputation for being opinionated and bossy.
Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth
Good news everyone!
Fry's great-nephew (to many degrees), the Professor is a "senile, amoral crackpot," who enjoys inventing crazy things, and ranting like old people like to do. A few of the Professor's inventions that see regular use in the show:
-The Smell-o-Scope makes its first appearance in episode 1.08, "A Big Ball of Garbage." This invention is exactly what it sounds like: a telescope for your nose, that allows the user to smell distant objects. We are told that Jupiter smells like strawberries. In the Planet Express office, the Smell-o-Scope seems to be the preferred, or possibly only, method of searching space from the comfort of home.
-The "What-If" Machine can be posed a question in a variety of fashions, including lighting incense and praying to it, and will simulate what would happen in those circumstances (for instance, Fry asks what would happen if he had never come to the future). It appears in the Anthology of Interest episodes, once in Season 2 and once in Season 3.
-The Professor also posseses numerous doomsday devices, which appear periodically, but thus far have only been used to save the world, rather than destroy it.
Dr. John Zoidberg
Dr. Zoidberg is a Decapodian, from the planet Decapod 10. He describes himself as a lobster on a regular basis, and does vaugely resemble one. He is the staff physician of Planet Express, despite knowing next to nothing about human anatomy (the exception is something he learned from a decongestant commercial). In episode 4.05, "A Taste of Freedom," we learn that Zoidberg was pushed into being a doctor by the female who raised him, despite his lifelong dream of becoming a comedian. This may explain some of his horrifying incompetance. Zoidberg is desperately poor and eats out of dumpsters. He was also the alien captured at Roswell (he was being interrogated while Fry was knocking up his grandma). The rest of the staff hate him, especially Hermes.
The official beauracrat of Planet Express, Hermes is a Jamaican who loves rules, regulations, and filing. He is also a mostly-retired limbo champion who has participated in the Olympics at least twice (seen in flashback in episode 1.10, "A Flight to Remember," and in present-future-time in episode 4.18, "Bend Her.")
Amy Wong, of the Mars Wongs, is an extremely wealthy young woman, longtime student of Mars University (although only seen attending in the episode of that title), and intern at Planet Express. It is generally unclear what exactly Amy does at the company, although she is occasionally seen washing the ship, and in the second episode "The Series Has Landed," she is responsible for cleaning Bender's body before he can go into space. Her main function is apparently to serve as a source of blood in Professor Farnsworth's type, in case he should need it. The rest of the time she paints her nails, hooks up with men, and offers unsolicited advice to Leela on how to meet men. In season three, she and Kif Kroker begin a relationship which continues through the remainder of the series.
Like The Simpsons, Futurama has a huge cast of supporting and tertiary characters (although quite a few more of them are robots or aliens). Here are a few of our favorites.
Zapp Brannigan and Kif Kroker
Zapp Brannigan is a high-ranking member of the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP) military, despite his disasterous incompetence (basically, he is to military leadership what Zoidberg is to doctoring) and all-around boneheadedness. The best night of Zapp's life was the night when Leela's good sense was overwhelmed by pity, and she slept with him. He remains convinced that she will come back to him, although Leela views him with disgust and contempt. Kif Kroker is Zapp's long-suffering lieutenant and personal assistant, who is in love with Amy, and even had her babies (well, technically they were Leela's... it's kind of a long story? Episode 4.01, "Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch").
Mom is just your average sadistic billionaire disguised as a kindly old lady. She is the CEO and primary shareholder (99.7%) of MomCorp, the parent company of Mom's Friendly Robot Company (manufacturers of Mom's Old Fashioned Robot Oil, and also all of the robots in the world), Mom's Friendly Delivery Company, and Mom's Friendly Advanced Weapon & Munition Company, among others. Her three sons, Walt, Ignar, and Larry, are the other shareholders, and are regularly slapped and berated by their mother. To be fair to Mom, though, they are kind of dumbasses.
The Waterfall Family
The Waterfalls are a bunch of hippies and activists. They each make a single appearance and then die.
Old Man Waterfall was Zoidberg's defense attorney when he was on trial for his life after eating the Earth flag on Freedom Day. He believes in free speech and freedom in general, and if you can name a body part and a planet, he's taken a bullet in it, on it. He is also a Satanist and polygamist with seven wives and one husband. He was crushed to death by the Decapodian Mobile Oppression Palace. ("A Taste of Freedom")
Free Waterfall, Sr. An animal lover who organized a protest when the Planet Express team was hired to transport dark matter too close to a penguin preserve on Pluto; he also headed up the response to the inevitable oil spill, and, when it became apparent that dark matter oil was like "penguin estrogen, penguin viagra, and spanish penguin fly," he organized the massive penguin hunt to thin their numbers. He was killed by penguins. ("The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz")
Free Waterfall, Jr. A hippie complete with long hair and bellbottoms, and the first Waterfall we meet, Free Waterfall, Jr. was an extreme vegetarian who protested the eating of Popplers, the delicious fried prawn-like snack discovered by Fry, Leela, and Bender, and sold at Fishy Joe's. It turned out he was on to something, though, because Popplers were actually infant Omicronians (more about them later), and when their parents found out they were being devoured en masse, well, things were not looking so good for humanity. He was eaten by Lrr. ("The Problem with Popplers")
Frida Waterfall is an eco-feminist who decrys "The Man-o-centric Man-ocracy!" She is psionically strangled by "The Dark Ones." ("Into the Wild Green Yonder")
Lrr and Ndnd
The rulers of the planet Omicron Persei 8. They have attacked Earth a few times, for reasons as varied as missing the finale of their favorite television show (Single Female Lawyer), and because their children were being eaten, as mentioned above.
Richard M. Nixon's Head
President of Earth, and all-around terrifying guy. We'll let him speak for himself: "Computers may be twice as fast as they were in 1973 but your average voter is as drunk and stupid as ever. The only one who's changed is me. I've become bitter and, let's face it, crazy over the years. And once I'm swept into office, I'll sell our children's organs to zoos for meat and I'll go into people's houses at night and wreck up the place!"
Hedonism Bot apologizes for nothing.
Morbo and Linda
The hosts of the nightly news, a morning chat program, and any other time a host is necessary (the Freedom Day parade, for instance, or the presidential debates). Morbo frequently professes that he will DESTROY YOU, PUNY HUMANS, but he never actually does it. Linda mostly laughs a lot, whether it is appropriate or not (and it usually isn't).
In its original broadcast run, Futurama struggled to find an audience, thanks in part to that famous Fox scheduling incompetence (for more on this, ask any fan of Firefly, Arrested Development, Undeclared... or pretty much any other Fox program that doesn't have the word "Idol" in the title). We might have tried airing Futurama on Sundays, after The Simpsons (Matt Groening's suggestion), but Fox thought it made more sense to air it there for two weeks and then switch to Tuesdays. Then later back to Sunday, but at 7pm. Also sometimes it didn't air at all. But we're sure nobody found any of that difficult to keep up with.
After four years of this, Fox quietly neglected to renew, and the production team disbanded, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth (we assume).
But! Cartoon Network bought the syndication rights for Futurama and began airing it as part of Adult Swim, where it was quite successful, presumably because it was aired at the same time every night and was never pre-empted for a ten-hour baseball game.
Baseball is a jerk.
Comedy Central acquired the syndication rights in 2008. In the wake of Futurama's cable success, and strong DVD sales, Fox suggested a direct-to-DVD movie. In the course of negotiations, this turned into four DVD movies, which are also airing on Comedy Central as the 16-episode fifth season.
All four movies are currently available. Fan reaction has been somewhat mixed (See Michael Swaim ask Did I Like the Futurama Movie? You Decide! or check out the Futurama thread on the Cracked forum). Character reaction, however, was 100% positive.
The Planet Express staff celebrate renewal.
But wait, it gets better!
As of June 9, 2009, Futurama is officially getting a sixth season. Comedy Central ordered 26 new episodes that will air in 2010.