Welcome to the world of tomorrow!
When Philip J. Fry falls into a cryogenic freezer on the cusp of the new millennium, he is frozen for 1000 years, waking up at the turn of the new millennium – in the year 3000. Realising he has left everything behind, he immerses himself in his newfound futuristic environment, securing a delivery job and meeting his weird work colleagues, including Leela – a one-eyed mutant, Bender – an alcoholic robot, Zoidberg – an alien lobster, and a whole host of other characters.
Set in New New York 1000 years in the future, Futurama is obviously well-equipped to explore science-fiction themes and does so in really funny ways. It often parodies popular science-fiction stories, such as the Star Trek themed episode Where No Fan Has Ever Gone Before, or Love and Rocket, which takes much of its plot elements from 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is all great – Futurama‘s audience generally knows and loves these stories, and parodies (when done right) are great homages to them. It’s a new way to appreciate something, a way to laugh at the ridiculousness of it while still loving it.
While Futurama excels in its humour, it’s also a show that regularly and brutally tugs on our heartstrings, tearing them out where it can. The most infamous episode for this is Jurassic Bark, in which Fry tries to clone his old dog from a fossil. He decides not to, reasoning that Seymour had a rich, full life after Fry was frozen. The episode ends with a flashback of Seymour’s life, in which he waits for Fry outside the pizzeria until he dies. It’s enough to bring a tear to anyone’s eyes. The music for these scenes is always picked perfectly too.
Similar moments occur in other episodes. In Luck of the Fryish, Fry spends the episode hating his brother for stealing his four-leaf clover and his name, along with achieving all of Fry’s dreams. The episode ends with Fry realising that this was actually his nephew, and was named in memory of Fry himself.
In Lethal Inspection, Bender finds out he has a defective backup unit and as a result, isn’t immortal as he always thought he was. He takes a trip to the factory with Hermes where he was approved to give the inspector a piece of his mind – we learn that Hermes stopped him from being decommissioned.
For a show that sells itself as a comedy, Futurama has many touching moments. This should hardly be surprising – most comedies that have had a lasting legacy use this strategy to their advantage, Friends and Scrubs being among them. It’s thought by some that we respond better to extreme emotional stimuli. Things that make us feel more than one extreme are likely to be remembered better. So when we spend an episode laughing at hilarious gags, and then get blindsided by a sad or sentimental ending, we feel like we’ve experienced a satisfying level of emotional catharsis.
That’s often why those episodes of Futurama that can be devastating to watch are often some of our favourites.
Bender: Let’s face it, comedy’s a dead art form. Now tragedy, ha ha ha… that’s funny!
– Futurama, S02E08 – Xmas Story