Welcome Back to the World of Tomorrow

If you’ve ever seen an episode of Futurama–an animated show from Matt Groening, the guy responsible for The Simpsons–you’ve probably had a good laugh at all those strange machines they have in the future. People, aliens and robots across the universe in the year 3000 have lots of terrific devices at their disposal: They’ve got memory rays that can sharpen the fuzziest of recollections, musical instruments that can produce entire operas (including the costumes and decorations) and gadgets that can detect how cool a person is. That last gizmo uses units of measurement referred to as “megafonzies.”

As bizarre as these inventions are, the strangest ones usually come from Professor Farnsworth, who’s spent the majority of his 160-year-old life producing them. The most notable of Farnsworth’s crazy contraptions might be the What-If machine, which takes hypothetical situations and visualizes them. You’d think something that novel would be put to some good use, but all the show’s characters have done with it so far is query it with scatterbrained questions, like how a robot would live if it were human, and what the world would look like as a videogame. You don’t want to know what happens when the Space Invaders run out of quarters.

If the show’s fans had one question for the What-If machine since it got cancelled back in 2003, it might’ve come in the form of a forlorn request: “What if there were new episodes of Futurama?”

Sure, the DVD releases and reruns were popular enough to pave the way for a few direct-to-video movies (Bender’s Big Score came along in 2007, followed by The Beast with a Billion Backs and Bender’s Game in 2008, then Into the Wild Green Yonder in 2009), but in spite of the fact that they’d been serialized and put into rotation, they were a long way away from a regular series that viewers could look forward to every week.

Actually, fans have more to look forward to than they might’ve realized. Those direct-to-video movies have done so well that the powers that be at Comedy Central and 20th Century Fox took the next logical step and ordered more episodes of Futurama, making it the first Fox show since Family Guy to find life after cancellation. (Who knows? There may still be hope for fans of Arrested Development, too.)

In fact, Futurama might be in a better place now than ever before. It wasn’t always easy to catch an episode of it on Fox back when it held down the 7 p.m. timeslot on Sundays, due to all those football games that went into overtime and pushed Futurama right off the schedule. Now that it’s starting its run on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central tonight, not only is it safe from tiebreakers that just won’t end, but it’s got one of the network’s most coveted timeslots.

Dave Bernath, the executive vice president of program strategy and multiplatform programming, said Thursday’s a pretty big deal in terms of what kind of audience the network wants to reach.

“Thursday night, like Sunday night, is one of the highest nights of television viewership,” he said on the telephone. “For us, primetime viewership on Comedy Central for our young audience is really sort of ten to midnight, so for us, 10 o’clock is the sweet spot for any show.”

Of course, an enviable timeslot doesn’t necessarily equate success. Neal Justin, the TV critic at the Star Tribune, seemed uncertain as to what all the fuss is about. “I’m not sure the timeslot will help or hinder the show, although anything fresh in the summertime is welcome,” he wrote over e-mail. “That being said, I don’t think Futurama has the water cooler status of The Simpsons or Family Guy. It’s a gentle satire with no breakthrough characters.”

Even though Justin might have doubts about Futurama, he admitted that he can see why it got a second chance. “Groening has a deep passion for Futurama,” he wrote. “When a guy that powerful is passionate about something, he carries some clout.”

That’s perhaps a very romanticized way of looking at it, although Justin’s theory does have some logic behind it. Maurice LaMarche, who provides a variety of voices for Futurama, recalled a conversation with Groening at a party about how sorely he missed working on the series. (It was a birthday party for John Di Maggio, another guy who plays countless characters on the show.)

“I said, ‘You know what? I miss the show so much. Let’s just have a party at one of our houses and just break out the scripts. We’ll sit around and have our own table reads, just to enjoy it,’” he said in a phone interview. “At that point, he leaned in and said, ‘I don’t think that’s going be necessary. I think we might be back in some form or another.’”

And here we are. These new shows on Comedy Central bring the series’ run to six seasons, and it’ll reach its milestone 100th episode on Sept. 2. After being on hiatus for so many years, should fans be prepared for any significant changes in the way the material is put together?

“Now that we’re on Comedy Central, we’re even a little freer with certain types of humor,” LaMarche said. “You’ll see us get a little grosser. At one point, we have a vomiting goat. I, of course, play the vomiting goat, this nonstop vomiting goat. I don’t know if we would’ve had that on the old Fox run.”

Probably not, but we’ll have to see those changes for ourselves.

This article originally appeared on AllMediaNY.com

About David Guzman 207 Articles
I just received my degree in journalism at Brooklyn College, where I served as the arts editor for one of the campus newspapers, the Kingsman. When it comes to the arts, I’ve managed to cover a variety of subjects, including music, films, books and art exhibitions. I’ve reviewed everything from “Slumdog Millionaire” (which was a good film) to “Coraline,” (which wasn’t) and I’ve also interviewed legendary film critic Leonard Maltin.

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