“Good news everyone!” The now infamous catchphrase from Professor Farnsworth still rings in our ears long after Futurama has left the air waves. It started out as a side project for Matt Groening, almost in a nod to The Flintstones and The Jetsons, allowing Groening to step away from family life with The Simpsons and looked to the future for his next project.
Although Futurama has never reached the same heights in popularity as The Simpsons, Futurama instead built up a loyal cult following of diehard fans that followed the crew members of the Planet Express delivery team through every adventure. Set a thousand years in the future, Futurama saw delivery boy Philip J. Fry cryogenically frozen at the turn of the 21st century and wakes up on New Year’s Eve 2999.
The show became such a cult classic that fans actually helped save the show from cancellation several times, and even though it’s officially ended now, many fans are still determined to see Futurama back on our screens in some form. With that in mind here, are 15 surprising facts about our favorite futuristic show that you may not know.
15. Fry’s Dog Was Supposed To Have Been His Mom
Over the course of Futurama‘s run, many episodes went back in time and focused on Fry’s life before he was frozen and what happened to the people, and dog, that he left behind. One of the best, and saddest, episodes that showed this was “Jurassic Bark.” In the present day (or future to us!), Fry finds his old dog Seymour fossilized and preserved in a museum.
The episode then shows us flashbacks of the two together and how close they were, and then of course we see Seymour patiently waiting for his friend, who would never return. Seymour grows old, sad and lonely. We defy anyone to watch this episode and not tear up!
However, the original idea for this episode was instead of a dog, it was supposed to be Fry’s mother that grows old and is saddened by the loss of her son. We’re guessing the writers thought that idea would be too depressing for a show like Futurama, and they’d be right.
14. Mathematical In Jokes
One of the great things about Futurama is that it’s littered with actual scientific knowledge and equations. Considering that Futurama is a silly show about a made up future in which the characters get into all sorts of ridiculous adventures and everything that happens is seemingly unrealistic and even impossible.
However, many of the crazy things that happen, especially Professor Farnsworth’s mad science experiments, actually have some practical knowledge behind them. Groening and co. have gone out of their way in order to give their silliness some gravitas. As well as many subtle jokes, such as Bender’s apartment number being 00100100 which is binary code for the “$” sign, a reference to Bender’s greed. The other notable sign is when everyone switches bodies in the episode “The Prisoner of Bender,” when the gang find themselves trapped in each other’s bodies and need a solution to fix it. Instead of just doing it, Groening didn’t want to annoy fans so he got fellow Futurama writer, with a PhD in mathematics, Ken Keeler to work out a real solution to their problem. That’s going above and beyond!
13. Billy West Is A Voiceover Genius
Many voice artists do multiple characters in animated shows. After all both Futurama and The Simpsons are famous for using only a few actors to voice entire towns and worlds. So why are we singling out one actor? Well that’s simple. Not only is Billy West responsible for some of the most iconic characters in our generation, voicing Ren and Stimpy, Doug, Bugs Bunny (and most of the Looney Tunes gang), Popeye, and many more, West also voices most of the male characters for Futurama: Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Zapp Brannigan, and Dr. Zoidberg.
That’s a very impressive resume but West isn’t just content with voicing multiple characters in one show, he actually does them simultaneously and in one take. In other words, if Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Zapp Brannigan, and Dr. Zoidberg all have a scene together, then West voices them all at the same time and flicks between the characters and different voices to have a conversation with himself. This is either genius talent or the early signs of multiple personality disorder!
12. Cubert Was Meant To Represent The Annoying Fans
If there’s one thing that Futurama is exceptionally good at then it’s planning characters and even storylines well in advance. The character of Cubert Farnsworth was intended from the very beginning, even though the character wasn’t introduced until the second season. Giving Professor Farnsworth a child, a cloned version of himself to be more precise, was always the plan although the character itself was supposed to be a bit different.
Eventually Cubert would be a typical bratty child, and quite an annoying character to watch, but initially Cubert was supposed to be a big know-it-all that pointed out the show’s flaws and inconsistencies. In other words, he was meant to be the voice of all those fans that constantly hounded Groening with questions about the show.
11. Two Headed Grover Cleveland
In the distant future, it seems that no one dies. Instead, if you’re famous enough, or rich enough, then you get to live out the rest of time as a head in a jar. Just like The Simpsons, Futurama is littered with celebrity cameos and references and it’s all made possible a thousand years in the future by having these celebrities appear as heads.
The Head Museum has been at the center of a lot of storylines within Futurama, most importantly when Fry worked there as Lars when everyone thought Bender had killed him. In later episodes, The Hall of Presidents would be featured in order for the Planet Express crew to travel back in time. Within The Hall of Presidents, only the most eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed that former president Grover Cleveland has two heads on the shelf. Always wanting to be factually correct, Groening put Cleveland in there twice as he served two non-consecutive terms.
10. Rats Have Been Exterminated By Owls
Another long running joke within Futurama is that owls are running wild in New New York. This has been a theme that Futurama has used a lot, including Mom’s dimwitted children often posing as owl exterminators to infiltrate the Planet Express headquarters.
Many fans out there may just think this is some quirky and silly joke, or that the Futurama writers have a thing for owls. Well, it’s actually more than that and the ever planning Futurama writers have worked the owls out. The justification for the owls goes like this: to rid New New York of its rat and pigeon problem, the city released a load of owls to feed on them. Unfortunately the owls liked their new home and decided to stay. Mating like crazy, owls soon became a worse pest than the rats and pigeons before them.
9. Fry Is A Tribute To Phil Hartman
Philip J. Fry, the central character in Futurama, is actually named after the late Phil Hartman. Being such a big part of The Simpsons, voicing characters like Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz, Hartman was due to be a part of Futurama by voicing Zapp Brannigan. Unfortunately, his untimely death prevented this from happening so Futurama‘s main character was named in his honor. Incidentally, Zapp Brannigan, who is modelled after Captain Kirk, is also a nod to Phil Hartman as Billy West does the voice of Brannigan in the way that Hartman was meant to.
The other characters in Futurama also have their names as nods and tributes to other people. Maybe not as heartwarming as Fry and Phil Hartman, but Bender is a nod to Judd Nelson’s character in The Breakfast Club. Professor Farnsworth comes from TV creator Philo Farnsworth and Leela comes from Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony.
Another fun fact about Groening’s character names is that all the main men in his shows has the middle name Jay: Homer J. Simpson, Bart J. Simpson, Abraham J. Simpson, Philip J. Fry and so on. This is a tribute to Jay Ward, the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
8. Last Minute Character Changes
The previous entry was about character names and their origins in Futurama, but before the show went to air, a lot of the characters and character traits were intended to be different.
There were subtle differences, like Dr. Zoidberg originally was drawn with teeth. In the first few episodes of Futurama, Zoidberg’s teeth can be seen but the animators decided to get rid of them as it made Zoidberg look too human.
The most dramatic character change comes in the form of Hermes. Originally the character was written as an American named Dexter. It wasn’t until the first voice recording, in which the actor decided to put on a Jamaican accent, that the character was changed and Hermes was born. That’s also why a lot of Hermes backstory, like his wife and his love of limbo, didn’t come into the show until later. The writers needed time to rewrite his history.
7. Futurama Was Almost “Doomsville”
If you have a show with a specific theme, such as The Simpsons for example, the show itself being about The Simpson family makes the title easy and pretty self explanatory. However, when you have a show as eclectic as Futurama then coming up with a great title for the show can be a difficult task.
According to Groening, many titles and phrases were talked about. “Aloha Mars” was a possible contender but the closest was “Doomsday.” We’re not sure if the show would have gotten the instant cult fans it got with titles like that! Within the show itself, there was another show called Futurella, which was always getting cancelled, a joke about Futurama‘s own fight to stay on the air. Many believe that Futurella was also a possibility for a name.
6. Howard Stern Is Overrated
Futurama, and in fact The Simpsons, is no stranger to voicing its opinions about current events, social commentary, and the world in general. Futurama in particular is littered with references on everything from celebrities, science fiction, and nods to popular culture. Matt Groening is not shy about using his characters to voice his grievances.
However, in the episode “Luck Of The Fryish,” Fry shouts out “Howard Stern is Overrated!” The episode itself sees Fry and the gang go down to Old New York and Fry gets to re-live his dreams of being back in the past. Many viewers may wonder why Fry proclaimed this about Stern, but it wasn’t Groening using Fry to make this statement, it actually comes from Fry himself, Billy West.
As we’ve mentioned on this list already, Billy West is not only very talented but has been involved in some generation-defining TV shows. One of those shows was working with Stern on The Howard Stern Show. The two fell out big time and West refused to work with Stern ever again, although he can’t help but voice his dislike of Stern from time to time.
5. They Made A Full Length Episode Of Hypnotoad
Many popular TV shows have also had success with the “show within a show” concept. After all, Groening himself is no stranger to this with the cult popularity of Itchy and Scratchy in The Simpsons. It’s strange though that out of all the side jokes, mock TV shows, and references in Futurama, it’s actually The Hypnotoad that has the biggest fanbase.
Even though the character only appears in a few episodes, a lot of the time as a commentary on TV itself, the fanbase for the Hypnotoad is so big that a full length episode was made. At 22 minutes long, the episode is a sitcom parody entitled Everyone Loves Hypnotoad. Available as a DVD extra on Bender’s Game, Hypnotoad has also became a huge viral hit as well. Another fact about the Hypnotoad is that the sound he makes within the show is a recording of a turbine engine which they play backwards.
4. Secret Languages
It’s not surprising that a show like Futurama has different languages in it, especially when you have a show involving aliens and mutants. When the show first started, an alien language was put into the show, cleverly called Alienese. As with everything else on the show, Groening and co. wanted the language to be real and legitimate, in an homage to Klingon. So a code was worked out in which the symbols of the language actually spelt out words.
Unfortunately for Groening, eagle eyed viewers were quick to decipher the code. Having only been given one clue, an advertising board advertising Slurm gave us the letters D R I N K in Alienese. Fans didn’t hold back and quickly cracked the code. Being a bit frustrated by this, Groening changed the code and made it a lot harder to crack, but the hardcore fans cracked that one too. So another version of the language was introduced and has yet to be cracked.
3. Fry Is The New James Dean
There’s no denying that Philip J. Fry doesn’t really care about his appearance. Since the very first show Fry has been sporting the same outfit. Faded jeans, a white T-shirt, and a loose-fitting red jacket. Commonly thought that his look was just to illustrate his slacker ways and the fact that he’s not a vain person or fashion conscious, Fry’s outfit has always been out of date for the future. You may well be surprised to know that his outfit was actually decades out of style before he even went to the future. Not actually dressing like a loser, Fry’s outfit is modelled on one of the coolest movie stars there has ever been, taken from Rebel Without A Cause, James Dean was the model and inspiration for Fry’s look.
Incidentally, Leela’s look was modelled on Ripple from Alien. Her white tank top and boots are an homage to Sigourney Weaver’s character in the classic movies. That one may be an obvious reference but James Dean’s may go over a lot of people’s heads.
As we’ve mentioned on this list already, Futurama and its creators are very good at plotting out future events within the show in a way to keep continuity for when we watch the show back. As well as making sure that all their scientific facts are accurate, such as the mathematical elements we’ve mentioned, Futurama also likes to get all of its throw away lines correct as well. For example, the day Fry arrives in the future, it’s New Year’s Eve and Bender tells Fry to go into the Head Museum as it’s free on Tuesdays. New Year’s Eve 2999 will be a Tuesday.
However, more surprising than that is the shadows. There are a few examples of just how far Futurama plans its future, but the two big ones are the shadows of Nibbler and Leela’s parents. In season 4, Fry is transported back to the night he got frozen and Nibbler is there to help push him into the freezer. If you watch the pilot episode, a shadow of Nibbler can clearly be seen under Fry’s chair, an entire 4 seasons before this episode! Leela’s parents have also been seen in background sewer scenes two seasons before they’re introduced. That’s some serious forward planning.
1. Inspired By A Scottish Folk Group
We’ve already mentioned on this list about how Futurama got its name and the inspiration for most of the characters and stories, but what about the show’s inspiration itself?
The number one entry on our list of surprising facts about Futurama is where the idea of the show came from. Matt Groening and the rest of the team are very vocal about their love of all things science fiction, but the inspiration for the show itself came from an unlikely source. While listening to “Robot Blues” by Scottish folk band The Incredible String Band, Groening had an idea for a futuristic show. It may seem weird that a futuristic animated show came from a folk band, but Robot Blues is a psychedelic number that has a futuristic slant. Listen to the song and then picture Futurama and you may find it’s not that much of a leap.