Farewell, "Futurama"

The animated sci-fi comedy caps its on-and-off 14-year run Wednesday, ending one of geekdom’s more unlikely and resilient journeys.

By Jere Hester
|  Wednesday, Sep 4, 2013  |  Updated 12:13 AM PDT
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Futurama/20th Century Fox

"Futurama" is taking its final bow Wednesday. Here Leela (l.) and Fry finally get cozy.

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The most frequently employed phrase on "Futurama" – save for reprobate robot Bender's exhortations to bite his shiny, metal bottom – comes from befuddled inventor Prof. Farnsworth: "Good news, everyone!"

The announcement, which kicked off many an episode of the animated sci-fi TV comedy, rarely proved good for anyone – except the audience, heralding new misadventures spanning time, space and comic genres.

The latest news for "Futurama" fans isn't good or bad as much it’s as bittersweet: The show caps its 140-episode, on-and-off 14-year run Wednesday, ending one of the more unlikely and resilient journeys in the annals of geekdom.

The "Futurama" plot – and its start on Fox – began at the dawn of the millennium when 20th century pizza delivery loser Fry fell into a cryogenic chamber whose deep-freeze thawed in 31st century Times Square in "New" New York.

The show got initial attention for sharing an animation style and quirky sensibility with co-creator Matt Groening’s money machine, "The Simpsons." But its narrower sci-fi focus – the preserved heads of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and George Takei were among the many guest cameos – didn't attract near the audience of Springfield's pop culture free-for-all (even if every Comic Book Guy in every Springfield in the U.S. and beyond watched).

Fox canceled “Futurama” in 2003. But a loyal “Star Trek”-like fan base – along with the popularity of the “Futurama” reruns on Cartoon Network – led to specials and the series’ 2008 return on Comedy Central, which ultimately produced the last 50 episodes.

As we've noted, “Futurama” presaged the movement of fanboys and fangirls using the power of the Internet to lobby for the return of their favorite shows, as with “Arrested Development.” “Futurama” also proved a harbinger of the rise of geek culture as well as a lovingly mocking commentator on the phenomenon (just check out the show’s live and animated relationship with Comic-Con).

The Comedy Central years yielded some of the series’ best episodes – Bender’s fight for “robosexual” marriage is a favorite, along with Leela’s return to the “Metropolis”-like underground land of the mutants. Even if the latest run hasn't been the strongest in “Futurama” history, the final season boasted a pitch-perfect “Scooby-Doo” homage/takeoff and brought love at long last to fetid physician (and talking lobster) Zoidberg.

Love also could be in the air during Wednesday's goodbye episode, in which we’ll learn whether dopey, well-meaning Fry finally weds brave, mono-eyed Leela. The plot revolves around Prof. Farnsworth’s latest “good news” development – an invention that stops time. Sounds like a fitting final plot for a show that consistently got laughs out of tweaking time while defying it.

TV’s future looks a little less bright without “Futurama,” though you never know what time will bring. The Planet Express crew is expected to guest star on an episode of  “The Simpsons” this coming season or next. In the meantime, check out a preview of the series finale as we get ready to bid “Futurama” farewell:

 

 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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