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Matt Groening talks about Futurama's comeback

by Joel Keller, posted Jan 31st 2007 6:33PM
Matt GroeningProbably my favorite moment during the TCA press tour week -- and this is a week where I joked around with Greg the Bunny and visited the set of Scrubs -- was when I met Matt Groening at FOX's party on the last night of the tour. Because just about all the questions I had about The Simpsons were asked during the show's press session earlier in the day, I took the opportunity to concentrate on his other show (and a perennial favorite amongst our readers), Futurama, and its impending return to TV.

Groening gives the show's loyal fans all the credit in the world for helping the show come back. "The continued devotion of the fans, chiefly on the Internet, kept us thinking that maybe we could bring this back," he said.

"And so, whenever people would ask, I'd say, 'Futurama lives,'" Groening continued. "And, you know, that was wishful thinking on my part." But the continued fan interest, including online petitions, good ratings on the Cartoon Network, and high DVD sales, couldn't be ignored, especially when Family Guy was brought back based on its DVD sales "That gave us a blueprint," said Groening.

Groening and the show's executive producer, David X. Cohen, were happy that the demand was there, because they both felt they had more to say. "Not that I think our show is like Star Trek, but (the original) Star Trek didn't last that long, but it went on and on and on (after it was cancelled). And David Cohen and I talked about it; we had so many story ideas and so many characters that we hadn't gotten around to introducing yet. So I'm so pleased."

Something he really enjoys about the show is that below it's cartoon exterior lies some really sophisticated science-fiction. "Our goal in the beginning was... We know that it looks like a silly cartoon show, with a cyclops girl and a lobster alien and all that stuff. But that we were actually going to have, underlying the goofy comedy, was going to be legitimate literary science fiction concepts," Groening said.

He acknowledges that Futurama got more "science-fictiony" as the show went along, and he gave an example of how complex things got. "Like the one where Bender gets shot out in the universe, and a civilization grows on him, and he becomes their god? That's great!"

It's a nod to the fact that Groening, Cohen and the other writers don't underestimate the intelligence of their audience, even if that audience is smaller and maybe a little geekier than the average fan of The Simpsons. "I love the character of Fry," he gives as an example, "but the reason that Fry exists is that we thought maybe he would be somebody the audience could relate to that was from our times." But the audience bought into the world of New New York in the year 3000 sooner than they planned. "We quickly realized in the second episode was that everybody was on board, and he just became another character."

During the Simpsons session earlier in the day, Groening had mentioned that, even though he's still very involved with The Simpsons his "day job" is creating the sixteen new episodes of Futurama that will be airing on Comedy Central starting in 2008. But he also still draws Life In Hell, the weekly comic strip he's been doing for almost thirty years (he told reporters that he "puts it off for as long as possible," doing the strip on Friday afternoons -- it's due at 5:30 PM on Fridays).

He clarified the Simpsons / Futurama balance to me during our brief interview: "I would say David Cohen runs Futurama and I'm along for the ride. And Al Jean is the show runner for The Simpsons, and he's running (both) The Simpsons and The Simpsons Movie. I get to go wherever I want to go." Ah, the luxuries of being the mogul of the bunch.

Groening "loves" the fact that Futurama has landed on Comedy Central, because "we have a lot of leeway" there. He didn't give me too many details about the episodes they're developing for the new season (David Cohen gives more details in this interview), but he left me with an interesting preview of what I'd imagine would be the first episode: "We have a really funny run about being cancelled; it's a metaphor for being cancelled; it's very funny." So, instead of a straight take on cancellation, like Family Guy did, cancellation will be represented by something else. Wonder what it is?

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Nobody doesn't like Molten Boron!

I can't wait for more episodes--I've heard so many different rumors, saying that these episodes were just the made-for-tv DVDs split up into parts for Comedy Central, etc.

I'd praise more, but I have to go watch Futurama...

March 15 2007 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Joel When will your two question interview with James L. Brooks pop up?

February 28 2007 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Three Hundred Big Boys" -- wow, I think that's the first time I've ever seen anyone refer to that as their favorite episode. It's fun, but I thought it was pretty weak, overall. One of the few weak episodes in the entire series, actually...though the whole Fry subplot building up to the coffee-time sequence at the end is pure genius.

> "I don't need tearjerkers when I'm watching comedy."

Actually, Futurama fandom seems to be split into two distinct factions: The "It's a comedy/cartoon, make with the jokes and obscure references already" camp, and the "when oh when are Fry & Leela finally going to get their freak on? / episode x made me cry like a baby" camp. (Succinct, eh?) Both points of view are valid, but I'm solidly in the latter group.

Mind you, I'm a huge fan of the straight ahead, ruthless, everything-is-subservient-to-the-joke approach of Family Guy (and love the writers' obvious glee in going way beyond over-the-top at every opportunity).

But shows like Futurama, King of the Hill, and the Simpsons (consistently up to about season 12, and when it's still on its game today), invite the viewer to become emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships just as effectively as any prime time drama, and, for my money, far better than any live-action sitcom in recent memory. And to me, that is a much more satisfying experience.

February 25 2007 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
red five

Lets bring back the Zapper....stardate....aaahhhhhhhhhh!
Gotta be the coolest character. Can't wait for the new episodes.

February 25 2007 at 7:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"snoo snoo" needs to go the way of "frak".

February 03 2007 at 5:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please tell me there will be more Amy Wong. Preferably sans clothes and in a hot spring on planet Xeldaphron. More air surfing, too. Someone needs to design that and I'll hang up my kiteboard. No such thing as too much Amy Wong. That said, my favorite episode is "Three Hundred Big Boys" - it satirizes current pop culture in a hilarious climax that still cracks me up every time I watch it. I don't need tearjerkers when I'm watching comedy. I want well-crafted scathing satire ala Walt Kelly or Breathed. That episode was awesome. Whenever my friends need to move fast (or do something in record time) we say "Gotta pull a Fry." I started reading Life in Hell in high school and still love it. Groening rocks!

February 03 2007 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ah yes I agree the episode in which Fry finds his old dog's fossil is such a good "cinema like" moment, the song, that final scene followed me for a week. The characters and the story have so much detail, they suck u into their world, and one just can't but to suffer with them. That just great art.

February 03 2007 at 8:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Also "TheLuck of the Fryish" is a really great and sad episode.

February 03 2007 at 7:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


Somebody put me in a cryogenic freezer. I can't wait that long!

February 03 2007 at 7:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Both episodes mentioned are definite high points, but the best episode and the one that most completely captures the emotions of the audience is the one in which Fry finds his old dog's fossil. That ending is by far the saddest moment in TV history. Aside from Hawkeye dying or other moments which rely upon more than a single episode for history and setup. I cried. I bawled.

February 03 2007 at 4:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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