Throughout its run, Futurama has had several of what could be considered series finalés. “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” was the end of the original run on Fox. Into the Wild Green Yonder marked the last of the direct-to-video movies. “Overclockwise” was written so it could be the last episode, even though it turned out not to be. And now “Meanwhile” appears to be the very end, although maybe we shouldn’t lose hope entirely. I know I miss the show already. It’s interesting that all of these focus on Fry and Leela’s relationship, although it does seem a little shoehorned in with Wild Green Yonder. I suppose that’s the main ongoing thread that hadn’t yet been wrapped up. I do appreciate that the final season kept Fry and Leela as a couple throughout. Still, I kind of feel that “Meanwhile” focused on those two at the expense of the others. Then again, there really weren’t any significant loose ends with the rest of the cast. There’s also the fact that, according to the ending, things will be reset so the episode never really happened. Therefore, the future (of the future) is still up in the air.
Futurama has always been a show that I felt was made for people like me. I was a fan of The Simpsons since it started, and Futurama mixed similar humor with a science fiction theme. That Matt Groening and other Simpsons writers had a soft spot for sci-fi was obvious, with cryogenic freezing, heads in jars, and mutation all being the subjects of some of the more unrealistic gags in the earlier show. Futurama allowed them to bring these ideas to the forefront. While there were many Simpsons references throughout Futurama, Groening’s early idea that the show would still be on the air in the thirty-first century was never used. Well, except for one reference in “Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences,” in which Bender asks Groening’s head when the second Simpsons movie is coming out. This scene also incorporated another early idea talked about in interviews, namely that there would be a show-within-a-show set in the forty-first century. Now I’ve heard that they’re planning on doing a crossover episode, presumably ignoring that the two shows don’t take place in the same continuity. Well, maybe they’ll address that. I obviously don’t know yet.
The show definitely wears its influences on its sleeve, frequently referencing both mainstream sci-fi like Star Trek and Star Wars, as well as more obscure material. Groening has gone on record as saying he’s never watched an entire Trek episode, but other writers obviously had. As an animated sci-fi sitcom, comparisons to The Jetsons were pretty much inevitable, and Groening has said he purposely didn’t want to make his show like that one, pointing out that it was rather bland and he’d already done the family comedy thing. Still, there were a few Jetsons references scattered throughout, most notably a cameo by Rosie in a robot insane asylum.
And the general idea of seemingly miraculous technology that doesn’t always work correctly is a significant theme on both shows. The similarities to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are also frequently noted, but I can’t think of any direct references Futurama has made to Douglas Adams. About the closest I can think of is the similarity of Bender going back in time and staying there for years and Marvin doing the same, but this was also done with Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. A lot of the main characters play on sci-fi archetypes, so it’s not surprising they’d turn up in plenty of other media.
There’s the everyman, the alien babe (who actually turns out to be a mutant babe), the mad scientist, and the robot with human intelligence. Dr. Zoidberg has been said to be sort of a counterpart to Dr. McCoy, an alien operating on humans rather than a human operating on aliens.
Hermes is a little harder to place, but I think his original function was to reference visions of the future where everything is super-bureaucratic (even more so than it is today). Making him Jamaican was apparently a later decision. I always thought the show worked best when it respected its setting and didn’t give us plots that could just as easily have taken place in the present day. “A Leela of Her Own” is an example that immediately comes to mind. Blernsball was earlier presented as a sport that’s really wacky by modern standards, while that episode makes it only slightly different from plain old baseball. The show has certainly had its share of weak episodes, and I often found myself thinking that a program that had stuff like Nibbler’s involvement and Leela’s heritage planned out long before they actually featured in plots should have paid more attention to continuity in other respects. Still, I found the show to be of generally high quality from beginning to end, and I’m going to miss it. It really drew us into its world, as ridiculous as said world was on occasion.