Futurama is essentially a workplace sitcom, the plot of which revolves around the Planet Express interplanetary delivery company and its employees, a small group that largely fails to conform to future society. Episodes usually feature the central trio of Fry, Leela, and Bender, though occasional storylines center on the other main characters. *Philip J. Fry (Billy West) – Fry is an immature, slovenly, yet good-hearted and sensitive pizza delivery boy who falls into a cryogenic pod, causing it to activate and freeze him just after midnight on January 1, 2000. He reawakens on New Year's Eve of 2999, and gets a job as a cargo delivery boy at Planet Express, a company owned by his only living relative, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth. Fry's love for Leela is a recurring theme throughout the series. *Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal) – Leela is the competent, one-eyed captain of the Planet Express Ship. Abandoned as a baby, she grows up in the Cookieville Minimum Security Orphanarium believing herself to be an alien from another planet, but learns that she is actually a mutant from the sewers in the episode "Leela's Homeworld". Prior to becoming the ship's captain, Leela works as a career assignment officer at the cryogenics lab where she first meets Fry. She is Fry's primary love interest and eventually becomes his wife. Her name is a reference to the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen. *Bender Bending Rodriguez (John DiMaggio) – Bender is a foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking, cigar-smoking, kleptomaniacal, misanthropic, egocentric, ill-tempered robot manufactured by Mom's Friendly Robot Company. He is originally programmed to bend girders for suicide booths, and is later designated as assistant sales manager and cook, despite lacking a sense of taste. He is Fry's best friend and roommate. He must drink heavily to power his fuel cells and becomes the robot equivalent of drunk when low on alcohol. *Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (Billy West) – Professor Farnsworth, also known simply as "the Professor", is Fry's distant nephew. Farnsworth founds Planet Express Inc. to fund his work as a mad scientist. Although he is depicted as a brilliant scientist and inventor, at more than one-hundred and sixty years old he is extremely prone to age-related forgetfulness and fits of temper. In the episode "A Clone of My Own", the Professor clones himself to produce a successor, Cubert Farnsworth (Voiced by Kath Soucie), whom he treats like a son. *Amy Wong (Lauren Tom) – Amy is an incredibly rich, blunt, spoiled, ditzy, and accident-prone long-term intern at Planet Express. She is an astrophysics student at Mars University and heiress to the western hemisphere of Mars. In the second episode of season one, the Professor states that he likes having Amy around because she has the same bloodtype as him. Born on Mars, she is ethnically Chinese and is prone to cursing in Cantonese and using 31st-century slang. Her parents are the wealthy ranchers Leo and Inez Wong. She is promiscuous in the beginning of the series, but eventually enters a monogamous relationship with Kif Kroker. In the show's sixth season, she acquires her doctorate. *Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr) – Hermes is the Jamaican accountant of Planet Express. A 36th-level bureaucrat (demoted to level 37 during the series) and proud of it, he is a stickler for regulation and enamored of the tedium of paperwork and bureaucracy. Hermes is also a former champion in Olympic Limbo, a sport derived from the popular party activity. He gave up limbo after the 2980 Olympics when a young fan, imitating him, broke his back and died. Hermes has a wife, LaBarbara, and a 12-year-old son, Dwight. *Dr. John A. Zoidberg (Billy West) – Zoidberg is a Decapodian, a lobster-like alien from the planet Decapod 10, and the neurotic staff physician of Planet Express. Although he claims to be an expert on humans, his knowledge of human anatomy and physiology is woefully inaccurate (at one point, he states that his doctorate is actually in art history). Zoidberg's expertise seems to be with extra-terrestrial creatures. Homeless and penniless, he lives in the dumpster behind Planet Express. Although Zoidberg is depicted as being Professor Farnsworth's long-time friend, he is held in contempt by everyone on the crew. *Zapp Brannigan (Billy West) – Zapp Brannigan is the incompetent, extraordinarily vain captain of the DOOP starship Nimbus. Although Leela thoroughly detests him, Brannigan—a self-deluded ladies' man—pursues her relentlessly, often at great personal risk. He was originally going to be voiced by Phil Hartman, but Hartman died before production could begin. *Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche) – Zapp Brannigan's 4th Lieutenant and long-suffering personal assistant, Kif is a member of the amphibious species that inhabits the planet Amphibios 9. Although extremely timid, he eventually works up the courage to date Amy. Kif is often shown sighing in disgust at the nonsensical rantings of his commanding officer. *Carol "Mom" (Tress MacNeille) – Mom is the malevolent, foul-mouthed, cruel, and narcissistic owner of MomCorp, the thirty-first century's largest shipping and manufacturing company, with a monopoly on robots. In public, she maintains the image of a sweet, kindly old woman by speaking in stereotypically antiquated statements and wearing a mechanical fat suit. She occasionally launches insidious plans for world domination and corporate takeover. She had a romantic history with the Professor which left her bitter and resentful. She has three bumbling sons, Walt, Larry, and Igner (modeled after The Three Stooges), who do her bidding despite frequent abuse, and often infuriate her with their incompetence. In Bender's Game, it is revealed that Igner's father is Professor Farnsworth. Zoidberg in the episode "The Tip of the Zoidberg" refers to Mom as Carol, which is assumed to be her first name. *Nibbler (Frank Welker) – Nibbler is Leela's pet Nibblonian, whom she rescues from an imploding planet and adopts in the episode "Love's Labours Lost in Space". Despite his deceptively cute exterior, Nibbler is actually a highly intelligent super-being whose race is responsible for maintaining order in the universe. He is revealed in "The Why of Fry" to have been directly responsible for Fry's cryogenics freezing. While the size of an average house cat, his race is capable of devouring much larger animals. He defecates dark matter, which until Bender's Game is used as fuel for space cruisers in the series.
Futurama is set in New New York at the turn of the 31st century, in a time filled with technological wonders. The city of New New York has been built over the ruins of present-day New York City, which has become a catacomb-like space that acts as New New York's sewer, referred to as "Old New York". Various devices and architecture are similar to the Populuxe style. Global warming, inflexible bureaucracy, and substance abuse are a few of the subjects given a 31st-century exaggeration in a world where the problems have become both more extreme and more common. Just as New York has become a more extreme version of itself in the future, other Earth locations are given the same treatment; Los Angeles, for example, is depicted as a smog-filled apocalyptic wasteland.
Numerous technological advances have been made between the present day and the 31st century. The Head Museum, which keeps a collection of heads alive in jars and was invented by Ron Popeil (who has a guest cameo in "A Big Piece of Garbage"), has resulted in many historical figures and current celebrities being present, including Groening himself; this became the writers' device to feature and poke fun at contemporary celebrities in the show. Several of the preserved heads shown are those of people who were already dead well before the advent of this technology; one of the most prominent examples of this anomaly is Earth president Richard Nixon, who died in 1994 and appears in numerous episodes. The Internet, while being fully immersive and encompassing all senses—even featuring its own digital world (similar to Tron or The Matrix)—is slow and largely consists of pornography, pop-up ads, and "filthy" (or Filthy Filthy) chat rooms. Some of it is edited to include educational material ostensibly for youth. Television is still a primary form of entertainment. Self-aware robots are a common sight, and are the main cause of global warming due to the exhaust from their alcohol-powered systems. The wheel is obsolete (no one but Fry even seems to recognize the design), having been forgotten and replaced by hover cars and a network of large, clear pneumatic transportation tubes.
Environmentally, common animals still remain, alongside mutated, cross-bred (sometimes with humans) and extraterrestrial animals. Ironically, spotted owls are often shown to have replaced rats as common household pests. Although rats still exist, sometimes rats act like pigeons, though pigeons still exist, as well. Anchovies have been extinct for 800 years. Earth still suffers the effects of greenhouse gases, although in one episode Leela states that its effects have been counteracted by nuclear winter. In another episode, the effects of global warming have been somewhat mitigated by the dropping of a giant ice cube into the ocean, and later by pushing Earth farther away from the sun, which also extended the year by one week.
Religion is a prominent part of society, although the dominant religions have evolved. A merging of the major religious groups of the 20th century has resulted in the First Amalgamated Church, while Voodoo is now mainstream. New religions include Oprahism, Robotology, and the banned religion of Star Trek fandom. Religious figures include Father Changstein-El-Gamal, the Robot Devil, Reverend Lionel Preacherbot, and passing references to the Space Pope, who appears to be a large crocodile-like creature. Several major holidays have robots associated with them, including the murderous Robot Santa and Kwanzaa-bot. While very few episodes focus exclusively on religion within the Futurama universe, they do cover a wide variety of subjects including predestination, prayer, the nature of salvation, and religious conversion.
Futuramas setting is a backdrop, and the writers are not above committing continuity errors if they serve to further the gags. For example, while the pilot episode implies that the previous Planet Express crew was killed by a space wasp, the later episode "The Sting" is based on the crew having been killed by space bees instead. The "world of tomorrow" setting is used to highlight and lampoon issues of today and to parody the science fiction genre.
The television network Fox expressed a strong desire in the mid-1990s for Matt Groening to create a new series, and he began conceiving Futurama during this period. In 1996, he enlisted David X. Cohen, then a writer and producer for The Simpsons, to assist in developing the show. The two spent time researching science fiction books, television shows, and films. When they pitched the series to Fox in April 1998, Groening and Cohen had composed many characters and story lines; Groening claimed they had gone "overboard" in their discussions. Groening described trying to get the show on the air as "by far the worst experience of my grown-up life".
Fox ordered thirteen episodes. Immediately after, however, Fox feared the themes of the show were not suitable for the network and Groening and Fox executives argued over whether the network would have any creative input into the show. With The Simpsons, the network has no input. Fox was particularly disturbed by the concept of suicide booths, Doctor Zoidberg, and Bender's anti-social behavior. Groening explains, "When they tried to give me notes on Futurama, I just said: 'No, we're going to do this just the way we did Simpsons.' And they said, 'Well, we don't do business that way anymore.' And I said, 'Oh, well, that's the only way I do business.'" The episode "I, Roommate" was produced to address Fox's concerns, with the script written to their specifications. Fox strongly disliked the episode, but after negotiations, Groening received the same independence with Futurama.
The name Futurama comes from a pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Designed by Norman Bel Geddes, the Futurama pavilion depicted how he imagined the world would look in 1959. Many other titles were considered for the series, including Aloha, Mars! and Doomsville, which Groening notes were "resoundly rejected, by everyone concerned with it". It takes approximately six to nine months to produce an episode of Futurama. The long production time results in several episodes being worked on simultaneously.
Groening and Cohen served as executive producers and showrunners during the show's entire run, and also functioned as creative consultants. Ken Keeler became an executive producer for Season 4 and subsequent seasons.
The planning for each episode began with a table meeting of writers, who discussed the plot ideas as a group. The writers are given index cards with plot points that they are required to use as the center of activity in each episode. A single staff writer wrote an outline and then produced a script. Once the first draft of a script was finished, the writers and executive producers called in the actors for a table read. After this script reading, the writers collaborated to rewrite the script as a group before sending it to the animation team. At this point the voice recording was also started and the script was out of the writers' hands.
The writing staff held three Ph.D.s, seven master's degrees, and cumulatively had more than 50 years at Harvard University. Series writer Patric M. Verrone stated, "we were easily the most overeducated cartoon writers in history".
Futurama had eight main cast members. Billy West performed the voices of Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Doctor Zoidberg, Zapp Brannigan, and many other incidental characters. West auditioned for "just about every part", landing the roles of the Professor and Doctor Zoidberg. Although West read for Fry, his friend Charlie Schlatter was initially given the role of Fry. Due to a casting change, West was called back to audition again and was given the role. West claims that the voice of Fry is deliberately modeled on his own, so as to make it difficult for another person to replicate the voice. Doctor Zoidberg's voice was based on Lou Jacobi and George Jessel. The character of Zapp Brannigan was originally created and intended to be performed by Phil Hartman. Hartman insisted on auditioning for the role, and "just nailed it" according to Groening. Due to Hartman's death, West was given the role. West states that his version of Zapp Brannigan was an imitation of Hartman and also "modeled after a couple of big dumb announcers I knew".
Katey Sagal voiced Leela, and is the only member of the main cast to voice only one character. The role of Leela was originally assigned to Nicole Sullivan. In an interview in June 2010, Sagal remarked that she did not know that another person was to originally voice Leela until many years after the show first began.
John DiMaggio performed the voice of the robot Bender Bending Rodríguez and other, more minor, characters. Bender was the most difficult character to cast, as the show's creators had not decided what a robot should sound like. DiMaggio originally auditioned for the role of Professor Farnsworth, using the voice he uses to perform Bender, and also auditioned for Bender using a different voice. DiMaggio described Bender's voice as a combination of a sloppy drunk, Slim Pickens and a character his college friend created named "Charlie the sausage-lover".
Phil LaMarr voices Hermes Conrad, his son Dwight, Ethan Bubblegum Tate, and Reverend Preacherbot. Lauren Tom voices Amy Wong, and Tress MacNeille voices Mom and various other characters. Maurice LaMarche voices Kif Kroker and several supporting characters. LaMarche won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 2011 for his performances as Lrrr and Orson Welles in the episode "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences". David Herman voiced Scruffy and various supporting characters. During seasons 1–4, LaMarche is billed as supporting cast and Tom, LaMarr and Herman billed as guest stars, despite appearing in most episodes. LaMarche was promoted to main cast and Tom, LaMarr and Herman to supporting cast in Season 5, and promoted again to main cast in Season 6.
In addition to the main cast, Frank Welker voiced Nibbler and Kath Soucie voiced Cubert and several supporting and minor characters. Like The Simpsons, many episodes of Futurama feature guest voices from a wide range of professions, including actors, entertainers, bands, musicians, and scientists. Many guest-stars voiced supporting characters, although many voiced themselves, usually as their own head preserved in a jar. Recurring guest stars included Dawnn Lewis (as Hermes' wife LaBarbara), Tom Kenny, Dan Castellaneta (as the Robot Devil), Al Gore, and George Takei, among others.
Rough Draft Studios animated Futurama. The studio would receive the completed script of an episode and create a storyboard consisting of more than 100 drawings. It would then produce a pencil-drawn animatic with 1,000 frames. Rough Draft's sister studio in South Korea would render the 30,000-frame finished episode.
In addition to traditional cartoon drawing, Rough Draft Studios often used CGI for fast or complex shots, such as the movement of spaceships, explosions, nebulae, large crowds, and snow scenes. The opening sequence was entirely rendered in CGI. The CGI was rendered at 24 frames per second (as opposed to hand-drawn often done at 12 frames per second) and the lack of artifacts made the animation appear very smooth and fluid. CGI characters looked slightly different due to spatially "cheating" hand-drawn characters by drawing slightly out of proportion or off-perspective features to emphasize traits of the face or body, improving legibility of an expression. PowerAnimator and Maya were used to draw the comic-like CGI whilst Toonz was used for Digital ink and paint and compositing.
The series began high-definition production in season 5, with Bender's Big Score. The opening sequence was re-rendered and scaled to adapt to the show's transition to 16:9 widescreen format.
For the final episode of season 6, Futurama was completely reanimated in three different styles: the first segment of the episode features black-and-white Fleischer- and Walter Lantz-style animation, the second was drawn in the style of a low-resolution video game, and the final segment was in the style of Japanese anime.
First started in November 2000, Futurama Comics is a comic book series published by Bongo Comics based in the Futurama universe. While originally published only in the US, a UK, German and Australian version of the series is also available. In addition, three issues were published in Norway. Other than a different running order and presentation, the stories are the same in all versions. While the comics focus on the same characters in the Futurama fictional universe, the comics may not be canonical as the events portrayed within them do not necessarily have any effect upon the continuity of the show.
Like the TV series, each comic (except US comic #20) has a caption at the top of the cover. For example: "Made In The USA! (Printed in Canada)." Some of the UK and Australian comics have different captions on the top of their comics (for example, the Australian version of #20 says "A 21st Century Comic Book" across the cover, while the US version does not have a caption on that issue). All series contain a letters page, artwork from readers, and previews of other upcoming Bongo comics.
When Comedy Central began negotiating for the rights to air Futurama reruns, Fox suggested that there was a possibility of also creating new episodes. Negotiations were already underway with the possibility of creating two or three straight-to-DVD films. When Comedy Central committed to sixteen new episodes, it was decided that four films would be produced. On April 26, 2006, Groening noted in an interview that co-creator David X. Cohen and numerous writers from the original series would be returning to work on the movies. All the original voice actors participated. In February 2007, Groening explained the format of the new stories: "[The crew is] writing them as movies and then we're going to chop them up, reconfigure them, write new material and try to make them work as separate episodes."
The first film, Bender's Big Score, was written by Ken Keeler and Cohen, and includes return appearances by the Nibblonians, Seymour, Barbados Slim, Robot Santa, the "God" space entity, Al Gore, and Zapp Brannigan. It was animated in widescreen and was released on standard DVD on November 27, 2007, with a possible Blu-ray Disc release to follow. A release on HD DVD was rumored but later officially denied. Futurama: Bender's Big Score was the first DVD release for which 20th Century Fox implemented measures intended to reduce the total carbon footprint of the production, manufacturing, and distribution processes. Where it was not possible to completely eliminate carbon, output carbon offsets were used, thus making the complete process carbon neutral.
The second movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, was released on June 24, 2008. The third movie, Bender's Game, was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on November 3, 2008, in the UK, November 4, 2008, in the USA, and December 10, 2008, in Australia. The fourth movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder, was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on February 24, 2009.
On September 15, 2000, Unique Development Studios acquired the license to develop a Futurama video game for consoles and handheld systems. Fox Interactive signed on to publish the game. Sierra Entertainment later became the game's publisher, and it was released on August 14, 2003. Versions are available for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, both of which use cel-shading technology. However, the game was subsequently canceled on the GameCube and Game Boy Advance in North America and Europe.
In 2012, an app inspired by the head in a jar gag was launched by Matt Groening.
Licensing for mobile games were done in 2016 with Futurama: Game of Drones and in 2017 with Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow, which was released for Android and iOS in 2017.