Futurama’s Bittersweet Tone Made It A Tough Series To Write

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On “Futurama,” the cigar-chomping robot, Bender, voiced by John DiMaggio, is known for his sparkling catchphrase, “Bite my shiny metal ass.” It’s a variation on his five most frequently used words, which are actually (in descending order) “bite,” “my,” “shiny,” “daffodil,” “ass.” The point is, Bender has attitude, and the same could be said for the brand of irreverent humor “Futurama” employs. This was, after all, the first TV show Matt Groening created after “The Simpsons.” Yet even as Groening built off the success of that show, he was working with a writers’ room that included multiple PhDs and master’s degree holders.

One of the writers in that room was Eric Kaplan, who penned the bittersweet, fan-favorite episode “Jurassic Bark,” in which series protagonist Philip J. Fry (Billy West) tries to resurrect his beloved dog from fossilization. It’s just one example of a “Futurama” episode that tugs at the heartstrings as much as it makes the viewer laugh. Fry’s whole predicament from episode 1 has been that of a pizza delivery guy who awakens in the year 2999 after accidentally landing himself in a cryogenic freezing tube in 1999. Everyone he ever knew or cared about is long gone, which leaves him and newfound friends like Bender primed for some pathos with their animated comedy.

Speaking to the What’s In My Head Podcast, Kaplan revealed that “committing to the tone was the hardest part” of writing “Futurama.” “I think in many ways, like, there’s structure and then there’s tone,” he said. “And structure is a very analytical thing, and it’s pretty easy to discuss. And tone is equally important, maybe more important, because very often what we come away with from a piece of art, like from a dream, is a feeling of emotion, the vibe of it.”

‘I Wasn’t 100% Sure It Was Gonna Work’

Within the colorful world of “Futurama,” it’s easy to forget that what viewers see onscreen originated around a real-world table, possibly in a drab room with no purple-haired, cyclopean women like Leela (Katey Sagal) or alien lobster doctors like Zoidberg (Billy West). The show’s writers might get to hear actors do a table read with their scripts, but the animation and music and all that comes in later. Owing to this, perhaps, Kaplan said that when he and the writing team were putting together the first season of “Futurama,” he wasn’t even convinced they’d be able to pull off the tonal juggling act, at first:

“The music did a lot. And I wasn’t 100% sure it was gonna work until I saw the animatic with the music, and then the music is sort of like, oh, so there’s some jokes and stuff, but the music lets you know that it’s okay to feel. And that was very unexpected for me, it was strange, there was an element of kind of grace to it that just sort of – like, wait a second now, there’s actually some emotion coming through here, and it’s a sad emotion. And then it was even like, is that okay? Are we allowed to put out a half-hour space cartoon on Fox that makes the viewer feel sad? And I was like, well, I guess, I mean, no one’s stopping us, so I guess we’re allowed to!”

Though “Futurama” has been canceled and revived more than once, moving from Fox to Comedy Central, and next, Hulu, it’s somewhat fitting given how much of an emotional roller coaster the show can be. The latest streaming iteration of “Futurama” will reawaken from cryo sleep in 2023.

Read this next: Every Time Futurama Predicted The Future

The post Futurama’s Bittersweet Tone Made It A Tough Series To Write appeared first on /Film.

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