Futurama returns tonight for an amazing seventh season. But what if you've never watched the show, or just lost track of all the changes the lovable gang of misfits has been through over the years? We've got you covered.
Here's our crash course in Futurama-ology, including love, heroism, having sex with one's own grandmother, and why pretty much everyone who started out on the show is dead.
One of the fun things about science fiction comedy, is anything can happen. The fact that it's science fiction allows travel in time, travel in space, near-magic powers, any imaginable technology, parallel universes, and whole fictional universes (a la Holodeck) within the fictional universes. Ironically, though, it's the comedy that provides more freedom than anything else. As Mel Brooks said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."
Futurama might have the tools do anything because of its science-fictional premise, but it actually does do everything because it doesn't take anything seriously — including the lives of its characters.
So here's everything you need to know to be up to speed before tonight's season premiere. With no spoilers, besides stuff that's already aired. (Oh, and check out a live-action recreation of the show's opening sequence, created by hand, at left!)
Philip J Fry
Fry was a miserable slacker, with a girlfriend who cheated on him, a dead-end job, a boss who hated him, and no skills or interests. During a prank delivery to a cryogenics facility on New Year's Eve in the year 2000, he got tipped into one of the chambers and came out a thousand years later. During the millennium that he slept, the world seems to have become the perfect place for an interestless, skilless, and brainless slacker. He gets a job at his great-etcetera-grandnephew's interstellar delivery service, befriends an robot, lusts after a hot one-eyed chick, and remains rock stupid.
And when I say rock stupid, I mean that isn't just a character trait, it's a plot point. His nemeses, in the series, are giant space brains who want to learn things. His brain, alone among all living creatures everywhere, does not give off a certain brain wave, making it impossible for the brains to control, or even notice him. Why? Because, in an episode that you'd never see on any drama series, Fry went back into the past and had sex with his own grandmother. The whole gang was flung back in time to the Roswell army base. Fry spent the first part of the episode attempting to protect his grandfather — to make sure he'd be born in the future. When his grandfather died and Fry was still alive, he figured his disturbingly hot grandmother Mildred was not related to him, and went ahead and slept with her. Read that and try to sleep tonight.
Fry's other main relationship is with Turanga Leela (see below), whom he pursued with various levels of patheticness throughout the first series. When that series was cancelled and a number of straight-to-DVD movies came out, the show's creators decided to actually hook the two up, not expecting the show to be revived in episodic format. Now that the show's back, the couple is mostly in dating limbo. Either the relationship is not addressed, or they go through some minor crisis and advance the relationship slowly but disgustingly. (One memorable time was when the entire gang was body swapped, and the two slept together for the first time, while in the bodies of a hundred and sixty year old man and an alien crab monster.)
One-eyed, purple-haired, and obnoxiously uptight, Turanga Leela (known as Leela) thought she was an alien who was dropped off at a "maximum security" orphanarium. For the first few seasons, she looked for her world and her parents — nearly marrying a shape-shifting con man in the process — before finding out that her parents were actually sewer mutants, who'd passed her off as an alien so she could live life on the surface. Since then, she and her parents have developed a good relationship. They're the kind of stereotypically traditional parents who (despite their tentacles) would have fit right in an early Simpsons episode. In the last season, the sewer mutants rebelled and were finally granted the right to live on the surface — so we'll see how this new proximity works out in the next season.
Leela's aggressively competent, uptight, and protective of her privacy. So naturally, her nemesis is a louche, Shatneresque spaceship captain called Zapp Brannigan. Brannigan works for The Democratic Order Of Planets, or DOOP, clearly modeled on The Federation from Star Trek. After one ill-considered liaison towards the start of the series, Brannigan has pursued Leela over several seasons. She's insulted him, attacked him, and slept with him one more time. To be fair, the second tryst was to save the world from a messianic battle satellite.
Leela's relationship with Fry has had its ups and downs, mostly due to the necessities of an ongoing TV show. Each season has showed her inching closer to him, in case that was the last crack the writers got at showing their relationship was headed somewhere. But the two remained, for the most part, in a relationship stall. During a series of movies, one of which included time travel, Leela fell in love with, and nearly married, someone who turned out to be a version of Fry who'd gone back in time, grew, matured, and realized he could become the man Leela wanted. He died, of course, leaving the empty-headed Fry for her to grow to either love or tolerate, depending on the episode, over the next couple of seasons.
Professor Hubert Farnsworth
The Professor is Fry's great-etcetera-grandnephew, who owns the delivery company and delights in sending the crew on ridiculously dangerous errands. He's a compulsive inventor, whose major inventions include the Smell-o-Scope, a telescope that allows people to smell across the vacuum of space. It has been repeatedly pointed out, in the series, that this is impossible.
The Professor's nemesis is Mom, and evil corporate overlord who poses as a sweet grandmotherly type. Mom's Friendly Robots has alternately brainwashed people to get eyePhones, engineered an energy crisis by limiting access to dark matter, which is used as space ship fuel, and enslaved an entire alien race in order to get that dark matter. Like Zap and Leela, Mom and the Professor occasionally fall into bed together. (Fortunately, the same thing doesn't happen between Fry and the Space Brains.)
The professor has made himself a clone, Cubert Farnsworth, whom he raises as a son.
Nibbler was introduced in the first season as a cute little alien who would eat everything in sight and crap out dark matter — which was still a fuel source at the time. He was taken aboard the Planet Express starship as Leela's pet.
Since then it has been revealed that he's a highly intelligent member of a species called Nibblonians, a relentlessly cute alien species that was sent to battle the Space Brains. Knowing they could only confront the brains in the future, they made the prank call the pizza place back in the year 2000, they tipped Fry into the cryogenic chamber, and Nibbler was actually a covert agent, sent to watch Fry.
Although their dark matter poop was used as fuel at one point, it has since been rendered inert. While it was fuel, though, Mom rounded up a huge number of them and put them on caged "crap farms," so it's difficult to say who their nemesis is.
Bender is a robot and Fry's roommate. He's also far and away the most quoted and most popular character of the series. The only reason I can't say much about him is his story doesn't really progress. He's always a drinking, smoking, thieving, lying, robo-womanizing insensitive jerk. His nemesis is, I suppose, the robot devil, but really, you have to have a moral stance before you can have someone taking the opposite stance and becoming a nemesis.
Amy Wong is a Martian poor-little-rich-girl who recently got her doctorate in . . . something. A perpetual pink wearer, she's semi-married to an alien named Kif Kroker, who serves as Zapp Brannigan's first officer. No nemesis for her, unless overbearing grandchild-hungry parents count.
Hermes Conrad is a Rastafarian accountant with a son named Dwight and constantly cheating wife named LaBarbara. Her cheating gives him a nemesis; Barbados Slim. Slim is tall, hot, and constantly bests Hermes at his chosen Olympic sport, the hundred meter limbo. (If this actually gets to be an Olympic sport, I'll finally watch the Olympics.)
Doctor John Zoidberg is the aforementioned alien crab monster. He's a doctor. He's broke. He wants to be an entertainer. He's the perpetual sad sack of the group.
The One Thing I Want to See This Year
Technically, pretty much every character on the show is dead. The Fry that went back in time and became a good person died, leaving a worthless counterpart who traveled to the future again. Last season, Bender, Fry, and the Professor got in a time machine that only went forward. They intended to go forward in time one minute. They went forward a thousand years. Then they kept going forward until the universe ended, and was reborn. Then they messed up their landing and did it all over again. In the meantime, the others in the group died of old age, most of them never knowing what happened to the three who disappeared. When the three circled round the universe a third time, they came out just six feet above themselves in the new universe. They crashed to the ground, crushing their other selves, and taking their places. When Leela from the third universe exclaims that the Fry from the first universe is on time for their date he says, "The old Fry won't trouble you anymore. He's dead now."
Ouch. This means that, technically, all the show's characters have died. It also means that, since they do the experiment in every universe, there should be yet another version of the three out there — the versions from the second universe. Everyone who watches knows that Futurama is a continuity nerd's paradise. They've actually built up an entire alien graffiti language that they keep through the series. But will this particular piece of continuity pop up this season? I can't wait to find out!