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By Jav Rivera

Welcome to the world of tomorrow...today!  In 1999, creator Matt Groening (The Simpsons) unveiled his latest series, Futurama.  Set in the year 3000, the story begins on New Year's Eve 1999 when pizza delivery boy Philip J. Fry gets frozen in a cryonic tank.  He wakes up a thousand years later to find a new world populated with aliens, robots, and sewer mutants.  It's the classic tale of a fish out of water, except of course that Fry was more out of place in his time than he is in the future.  In his time he was only a pizza delivery boy but in the future he's a delivery boy 1st class for his distant nephew's carrier company, Planet Express.

Fry, Bender, Leela
For years, the show has gathered a huge fan base ranging from hardcore nerds to casual appreciators.  And it's because of Futurama's wide sense of humor that the show is so universal.  Personally, I fell in love when it first aired but audiences were a bit standoffish during its first season, unfairly comparing it to Matt Groening's first series, The Simpsons.  Little by little, people started to clue in.  I was so happy when a friend reluctantly admitted to his appreciation during its second or third season.  Another friend (ten years older than I) fell in love with the series during its syndication.  And few years later, I turned my nephew onto it.  And even more years later I turned my other nephew onto it.  I literally witnessed the show win the hearts of new fans with huge generational gaps.

And as the years went by, the series grew stronger with the addition of new characters and ground-breaking episodes.  Animators, and fans of animation, were quick to notice Futurama's innovative style, using 2D animation with a 3D look.  This technique is hard to explain but very obvious to the eye when viewing any of the episodes.  Keep an eye out during the show's beginning title sequence or whenever they show an exterior shot of the Planet Express building.

Planet Express Building
The series' main cast includes: Philip J. Fry (Billy West), Bender Bending Rodríguez (John DiMaggio), Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal),  Prof. Hubert J. Farnsworth (Billy West), Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr), Amy Wong (Lauren Tom), and Dr. John Zoidberg (Billy West...again).  More characters were introduced and integrated within the series as important and hilarious core members to the show.

Futurama's Extended Characters, circa 2010
The series has gained notable attention by science fiction nerds everywhere (that's not an insult by the way; I proudly include myself in that group).  References can be found in nearly every episode, ranging from Star Trek to historical to everything in between.  In the Season One episode, "Love's Labours Lost in Space", we find Leela waking up in Captain Zapp Brannigan's room (within his ship, the "Nimbus").  A portrait hangs behind Zapp that strangely resembles John F. Kennedy's official white house portrait.  It's a small detail missed by many but makes repeat viewings of the show essential to fully appreciate the writers' and artists' devotion to quality.

Zapp Brannigan and his JFK-esque portrait
Official White House Portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler 
The show thrives on other kinds of silly historical references as well.  Ron Popeil, the inventor of several "As Seen On TV" products, for example, is featured in an episode as the inventor of the "Head in a Jar" technology.  Heads in jars frequent Futurama episodes, from former President Nixon to Conan O'Brien.  Even Matt Groening and David X. Cohen have their heads in jars.  (Cohen helped develop the series with Groening.)

Lrrr (Ruler of Omicron Persei 8), Leela, and Fry talk with Orson Welles' head.
Notice voice actor, and Futurama cast member, Frank Welker on the top row.
Just as amazing as the historical and geeky sci-fi references and award-winning scripts are the silly jokes.  Fry wooing in court like a 1980's sitcom is one of the most ingenious moments.  It's the clip that made my 10 year old nephew start watching the show.  It's even made my brother imitate it for days on end, and he doesn't typically watch animated shows.  That's the power of Futurama.

But inside jokes aside, the show's bread and butter are the characters.  We care about the show because we care about Fry and the gang.  A memorable episode, entitled "The Luck of the Fryrish" in Season Three, showcases Fry's life back in his time and the rivalry between him and his older brother, Yancy.  In the last few minutes of the episode, Fry discovers how much Yancy actually loved him in one of the most heartbreaking moments of the series.

Another episode, entitled "Jurassic Bark", brings a tear to any animal lover's eye.  The episode features another flashback to Fry's former life and a dog he befriended while working as a pizza delivery boy.  To avoid any spoilers I'll avoid writing more details but I will say that I get choked up every time I think about that episode.

Fry and his dog Seymour
The audience is given opportunities to witness most of the characters' back stories and essentially their motivations.  Throughout the series we learn of Leela's orphan upbringing, Bender's birth (and that he's Mexican), and in a recent episode, the bond between Dr. Zoidberg and Prof. Farnsworth.  The characters are flawed but genuinely good.  Even the bad guys such as Lrrr, Ruler of Omicrown Persei 8, has some decency in him.

It's no surprise, then, that the series has won a multitude of awards, including an Emmy for their time traveling episode, "Roswell That Ends Well".  The episode features the Planet Express crew accidentally time traveling to 1947 where Fry meets his great grandfather, and more importantly, his great grandmother.  The episode has been referenced in later episodes as well, connecting several elements introduced in "Roswell..." to future events within the series.

The surprise is more in the fact that show was unofficially canceled by FOX during its 2003 season.  FOX, never a supporter of the show, aired Futurama erratically during its first season which, of course, didn't help to create a strong following.  Fortunately for fans, Comedy Central bought both the syndication rights as well as newer episodes.  This new life began with four straight-to-DVD full length feature films including: Bender's Big Score (2007), The Beast with a Billion Backs (2008), Bender's Game (2008), and Into the Wild Green Yonder (2009).

And then there's Hypnotoad.  All glory to the Hypnotoad.

For many, there's a special place in their hearts for Futurama.  Whether it's because the show was the little engine that could, or because the series has been such an innovative force over the years, or simply because of Hypnotoad, Futurama truly is one of the greatest animated series.  And with new episodes due out this coming June (2012), who knows what the future holds for Futurama.

L-R: Amy Wong, Bender, LaBarbara and the head of Hermes Conrad, Leela, Dr. Zoidberg, Prof. Farnsworth, and Fry
For more information visit Futurama's official IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0149460

TRIVIA: Fry's first name, Philip, is a tribute to actor Phil Hartman, who was originally cast to do the voice of Zapp Brannigan. After Hartman's murder, Billy West decided that the voice of Zapp Brannigan should be reminiscent of Hartman's own voice.