When “Futurama’s” Professor Farnsworth announces “Good news, everyone!” what follows is usually not as genuinely exciting as what the immediate future holds for fans of the cult favorite sci-fi skewering animated series, which first debuted on Fox in 1999 and is currently enjoying a successful second life on Comedy Central.
Not only is the show’s seventh season now available for the holidays (if Robot Santa doesn’t deem you too naughty to live), another 13 episodes are currently in production and slated to air next summer.
Producer David X. Cohen, who co-created the series with “The Simpsons” visionary Matt Groening, looks back at the current collection of episodes – which includes one of the series’ most off-kilter (and hilarious) efforts – provides a glimpse into PlaneT Express’ future adventures.
Creatively, what made you happy about the most recent season?
The craziest thing is the 13th and final episode on this DVD that is called ‘Naturama.’ And as a former science guy myself, it was a challenge to do an episode which was more science-based rather than science fiction-based. This is one of our triple-decker episodes where we do three mini-stories, and the characters are re‑imagined as animals living in the wild in each one of these three things.
We tried as much as we could to keep it very scientifically accurate: we have an episode about the last Pinta Island Tortoise, which is this giant tortoise in the Galapagos represented by Professor Farnsworth in our episode. It was really kind of creepy because we showed his life in the wild trying to find a mate in the Galapagos, and like a week before it came on the air, the real last of its kind tortoise had just died, which became world-wide news.
Was there another one that kind of stood out for you that was just an extra bit of fun?
The very first episode, “The Bots and the Bees” – “Bender has a kid” is the basic idea of the episode, and right away when you hear it, you're like, “Uh-oh – it's going to be where he's going to jump-the-shark territory when they're adding a kid to the show.” And we wanted to fight that right away. It's got a lot more pointed jokes, violent jokes, Bender mistreating his kid badly – and after all was said and done, it ended up actually being very touching, which I wasn’t expecting.
How much involvement does Matt Groening have at this point?
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The nice thing about it for him is our offices are literally about a hundred yards from “The Simpsons'”offices here at Fox. As he likes to say, he can tell the folks at “Futurama” that he's at “The Simpsons,” and then he can tell people at “The Simpsons” that he's at “Futurama,” and then go to the beach. But in reality, he wanders back and forth. So he’s not here every minute, obviously, between two shows in the air, and he was still doing his comic strip even until this year, but he is here quite a bit.
And you still have more new shows coming up next summer. What can you tease, as far as some storylines or characters that are going to get some attention?
I'll tell you a little bit about next summer's three-parter: we've established this pattern where we make one of these specials per summer now. So next summer's three-parter is probably the writing staff's favorite of the group coming out for 2013. It's called “Saturday Morning Fun Pit.” And this one you will see “Futurama” re‑imagined as three different morning cartoons like, as I call them, Crap-tastic morning cartoons in the 70s and 80s. I can give you the name of the segments, and that will give you a hint of what you're in for: The first one is called “Bendy Boo and the Mystery Crew.” The second one is called “Purpleberry Pond,” and the third one is called G.I. Zapp”
As a connoisseur of so much science fiction as fodder for "Futurama" episodes, is there an homage or a trope that you haven't been able to crack yet?
There were some definitely, lying, untouched when the first run ended. When the DVD movies came out, we had these big areas that we had not done. For example, “Lord of the Rings”-type fantasy, which we did one of the DVDs about. And even really monster movies, which is sort of a section of “The Beast With a Billion Backs.” So at that point in “Futurama’s” history I would definitely say yes, there are big areas that we haven't trod upon. It's a little harder for me to think of obvious candidates now.
I'm guessing you're probably keeping your eye on the current stuff to see what you can tweak.
I read a lot of science fiction – well, I listen to it in my car on audio books. But I can't think of any huge areas. There was one other big area that we did not do until last year. That is an alternate history genre which we finally last year did this one where they messed up history, and the British had control of the United States in the year 3000.
“Futurama” has some of the best tie-in merchandise ever. Do you have a favorite?
I do have a favorite! There's a new thing out which I would never have believed would come into existence: It is the vinyl Hypnotoad. It's relatively new. It just came out. It came out one month ago. It's really beautiful. It has lenticular eyes. It vibrates when you tilt it back and forth. It's like lovingly sculpted, and it’s got its pet collar on. So if you had told me ten years ago, this side character, Hypnotoad – we had just created it, never said one word. It's still never said an actual word on “Futurama” – there was to be a toy of Hypnotoad. I definitely would have called you a horrible liar. Not so – It exists! That's stranger-than-fiction in the “Futurama” merchandise realm, so go out and get your Hypnotoad!