Why The 'Simpsons'/'Futurama' Crossover Failed (And What It Could Have Been)
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The news that Futurama is (mostly) coming back has made the show's devoted fans rejoice, and also ask themselves, "Wait, which one's Futurama again? Is that the one where the guy turns himself into a pickle?" It's been a long time since we last saw a new outing from these characters on TV, which didn't even happen on their own show -- the most recent official Futurama adventure to date is, technically, "Simpsorama," the 2014 Simpsons episode where Bender and the rest of the Planet Express gang travel back in time to murder Homer and prevent a catastrophe (no, not Simpsons seasons 11 onwards, come on).
Although it was a neat idea, "Simpsorama" was kind of underwhelming, as evidenced by the fact that half of you probably watched it and forgot it existed until the previous paragraph. The "kill Homer and save the future" conundrum (which sounds like a decent "Treehouse of Horror" premise) is quickly forgotten as the characters move on to the customary "join forces" part of every crossover. The plot never really goes past the surface-level "look, characters from different shows on the same scene!" gimmick and lacks the intricate storytelling of Futurama's best episodes or the emotional stakes of the Simpsons' golden era.
To be fair, you'd need more than 22 minutes to really explore this idea with the nerdy detail it deserves. Luckily, something like that does exist ... just not on TV.
See, in 2002, Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening's Bongo Comics published The Simpsons Futurama Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis, which has an appropriately meta starting point: Fry is reading a Simpsons comic ("the only non-pornographic comic that's still being published") when he and his friends are transported into it by those evil floating brain guys as part of a plot to rule the universe via comic book market speculation. Like on "Simpsorama," Bender inevitably ends up at Moe's Tavern, but we get more than just a few seconds of him interacting with his fellow booze enthusiasts there.
Another subplot finds Fry pretending to be a substitute teacher at Springfield Elementary and making Bart's job much easier by bullying himself.
But Fry inadvertently gets back at him by dropping the existentially devastating revelation that Bart is little more than a logo used to sell t-shirts (he takes it pretty well, though).
Zoidberg wanders into Mr. Burns' nuclear plant, where he's mistaken for the tragic result of a workplace accident. Later, he falls into a vat of nuclear waste and emerges turned into a monster.
Meanwhile, Hermes gets along pretty well with Mr. Smithers due to their similar work ethic. Professor Farnsworth also finds a place where he fits in: the Springfield Retirement Castle.
But not everyone gets along with the residents of Springfield; Nibbler makes a powerful enemy ...
As usual, Lisa provides the emotional center of the episode when she and Leela bond over being neglected by their respective families. Later, after Bart figures out how to reunite the scattered characters by simply looking into Fry's Simpsons comic, Lisa uses the object responsible for one of Futurama's most heartfelt moments to save the day. The story ends with a plot twist (hint: We hope New New York has a decent donut shop) which was followed up by a 2005 sequel. The end of that one hinted that there would be more crossovers in the future, but, in keeping with one of Futurama's main motifs, they got canceled.
The Simpsons Futurama Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis isn't perfect (a lot of the gags fall flat, especially in the sequel) but, by giving the crossover more breathing space, it ends up being a lot more satisfying than the TV version of the same idea. We do have to give "Simpsorama" credit for its beautiful rendition of Futurama's opening theme, though.
Top image: 20th Century Television