BY PATRICK PHILLIPS
For fans of Matt Groening’s animated sci-fi farce Futurama, it may seem like a millennia has come and gone since we last saw the Planet Express crew in action. It’s hard to believe that a full 20 years have passed since the show made its auspicious premiere on Fox, and that somehow, it’s barely been six years since the its beautifully bittersweet finale brought it to a close.
The series’ fractured run saw it cop a handful of Emmys, score a fiercely devoted fanbase, and make a legitimate case for being one of the best animated series of all time. It also saw the perpetually ratings-challenged show get cancelled by Fox after five glorious seasons, only to be reborn at Comedy Central nearly a decade later, then cancelled again after an additional four seasons. Ratings challenges and cancellations aside, every step of they way, Groening and company consistently made Futurama that rarest of animated series that could just as easily make you double over in laughter as openly weep into the cosmos.
The show’s blend of low-brow humor, high-minded insight, and raw, unabashed emotion is what helped make Futurama a cult hit in its initial run on Fox. It’s a big reason the series’ storied legacy only grew (along with its fanbase) in syndication, which led Comedy Central to revive the show in 2010. And it’s why — even after that unexpected gift of a 52 episode revival — Futurama fans still clamor for more comically cosmic adventures with Fry, Leela, Bender, Hermes, Doctor Zoidberg, and the rest of the Planet Express gang.
Futurama may be gone, but it’s far from forgotten
Since you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering whether or not a new season of Futurama might eventually be on the horizon. Well, the truth is we can’t say for certain — although with each passing day, the prospect of new episodes full of humor, heart, and mega-obscure pop culture references seems about as likely as ridding yourself of a brain slug of your own free will. (That is to say, not likely.)
As sad as that fact may seem, we also can’t help but wonder whether we actually need new episodes of Futurama. This might seem a bit like blasphemy to those of you who reading this article in hopes of finding some good news about Groening putting the band back together for a fresh run of Futurama madness, but in asking it, we simply seek to acknowledge that all good things do eventually come to an end — and the absolute best of things often come to an end a little quicker than most.
That’s especially true of TV shows, of course, which tend to either sparkle and fade with the intensity of a lightning bolt (see Joss Whedon’s Firefly), or stay on air long enough to become a self parodying, pale shadow of its former self (see Groening’s The Simpsons). Although Futurama didn’t exactly burn out as hard as Firefly (which was canceled by Fox before its first season even ended), it still feels like the sort of sparkle-and-fade affair that will ensure that fans will remember the series fondly for all eternity, which in and of itself is a gift most TV shows never receive.
Either way, we can’t help but feel like Futurama ended exactly the way it should have back in 2013. That’s due in large part to the fact that Comedy Central’s brass did something Fox couldn’t be bothered to do so many years ago — give Groening and co-creator David X. Cohen a heads-up that the end was indeed nigh. That inside info allowed the duo to ensure that the series received a fitting swan song, one that tugged as much on the heart strings as it did tickle the funny bone. Said finale — titled simply “Meanwhile” — more than achieved that goal, with Groening and company imbuing the episode with all the wit, wonder, whimsy, and insight you’d expect from Futurama, and icing their cake with a ravishingly romantic bent rarely seen in the annals of animated television.
In all honesty, we can’t help but feel that new Futurama episodes would seem extraneous in the wake of that finale. Not just because “Meanwhile” was one of the best and most effective series finales in the history of television, but also because such fond farewells are so rare in an era when networks and streamers always seem to have their axes at the ready. After all, one of the key narrative threads throughout Futurama’s largely marvelous 140 episode run was that time is finite, and no matter how many time-shifting devices and/or scenarios you encounter, it’s important to appreciate what you have while you have it.
With that in mind, perhaps the best way to honor Futurama is not to keep begging for more, but simply to continue appreciating it for millennia to come — and given the series’ continued success via syndication, streaming, and even a mobile gaming venture, it seems certain that fans will be flying the friendly skies with Fry and the gang for the foreseeable future. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have some binging to do.