Fox cancelled it after four seasons and now Comedy Central are axing it again after just three. Fry, Leila and Bender are once again being rubbed out of our TV schedules but will anyone actually notice?
With Matt Groening at the helm it was assumed that ‘Futurama’ would go on to be as big, if not bigger than his most famous creation “The Simpsons”. While many sci-fi fans did enjoy it the word ‘cult’ has been applied to it once too often for it to survive much longer as it’s a polite way of saying only a handful of people watch it. For me the big difference between ‘Futurama’ and other animations is it doesn’t know what it wants to do – the purpose is missing.
What I mean by that is that cartoons are tough to get right for adults because you either reflect society in a cosy mocking way like Homer & Co, or you satirize it like ‘South Park’ does. Being set in the future it couldn’t really do either and it tried to give us a will-they-won’t-they storyline instead which in a traditional sitcom was fine but lacked real heart here. And that for me is the crux of the show it lacks the emotional connection to the characters. ‘The Simpsons’ does that brilliantly by using Homer and Bart as two people who ultimately try their best but rarely succeed – in ‘Futurama’ with Bender stealing the limelight and Fry being stupid rather than misguided lacks that affection we need to have invested in the characters to really work.
When Homer eats Fugu in a very early episode and is told he has about a day to live there is a genuine heart in the centre of the show – we care about him and his relationships. ‘Futurama’ is built on jokes rather than emotion and when the jokes aren’t good then neither is the show. As individual characters there are some great set pieces like Dr Zoidberg and the Professor’s one-liners or actions but it’s surface level. In ‘South Park’ and ‘Family Guy’ they don’t have to worry about the sentimentality element because the joke ratio and satire levels are so high they stand on their own. There are some attempts at evoking the heart strings in ‘Futurama’ – the end of the fourth season in particular is very good – but it’s not as believable as it needs to be.
Just because it’s Matt Groening doesn’t mean it’s going to be good – and let’s be honest ‘The Simpsons’ has survived because it’s part of culture now and Homer is the ultimate western culture everyman. In critical terms it’s probably not the show it once was but we let it go because we care about the characters. So farewell ‘Futurama’ while I have chuckled your demise I not going to break hearts, much in the way your output failed to.