This week, Matt Groening’s Futurama comes to a probable end after being rescued from the dead once before from Comedy Central. The series, about a pizza delivery boy on the eve of the millennium who gets transported forward in time 1,000 years, is generally recognized as brilliant and while 140 episodes isn’t a bad run, it’s worth noting that Matt Groening’s sister creation, The Simpsons, has happily sailed along since 1989 without even a hint of the threat of cancellation.
Whether Futurama is as deserving of a run as long as its sister program The Simpsons or whether it’s in the same ballpark quality-wise is hard for me to answer because The Simpsons has such a lofty reputation. The show has regularly placed at or near the top of “Greatest TV Shows of All Time” lists written by people who have actual people retweeting their opinions (I only get the attention of spambots, horse_ebooks loves me) and have the kinds of fancy press badges at events that get them backstage whereas I usually just get $2 off my ticket.
So I can tell you that Futurama IS a better show than the Simpsons that deserves to stay on the air, but since my opinion doesn’t count as much, I’ll have to prove it “USING SCIENCE” (imagine Farnsworth’s voice there).
So let the scientific analysis begin:
1. Protagonist (worth 2 points)
Fry is an eternally optimistic character whose lot in life marginally improves from being a delivery boy to being a futuristic delivery man. At first glance, he’s kind of dumb, but we later learn that because he did “the nasty in the pasty” (a phrase that won the “Man Cave Daily” euphemism of the year award) with his grandmother in a time travel episode, that he’s actually incredibly stupid and lacks the brain wave power to be seduced by the giant brains allowing him to save the Earth on a couple occasions.
Bart Simpson has several catch phrases, knows his way around a skateboard and regularly outsmarts the adults at Springfield Elementary School.
Verdict: While Fry has saved the Earth more than once, it’s a strong probability that he would quickly be taken down in a battle of wits with Bart despite a twenty-year age difference.
Score: 2-0 Simpsons
2. Mixing up the opening theme
The Simpsons is famous for having the characters do something different in every episode when they all get on a couch. But wait a minute! According to wikipedia, many of the couch gags are recycled within each season. Futurama, on the other hand has a new caption in every episode including such funny bits as “Painstakingly Drawn in Front of a Live Studio Audience” or “As Foretold by Nostradamus.”
Verdict: The couch gags definitely require more animation work, but the recycling of those couch gags is a big betrayal of trust. Futuramawins this one but we’ll give “Simpsons” a half-point.
Score: 2.5-1 Simpsons
3. In-Universe Entertainment
In the 31st Century, All My Circuits is a soap opera featuring robots including the famed actor Calculon who has lost the Oscar for Best Actor 7 times but appeared to be bridging the gap with his acting rival Langdon Cobb although he had to kill himself to get that extra edge.
The other big form of entertainment is Everybody Loves Hypnotoad, which is much like the popular early 21st century show Everybody Loves Raymond except the parts of Peter Boyle, Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett, Ray Romano and Doris Roberts are all replaced by the hypnotoad.
On The Simpsons, Krusty the Klown is a Borscht Belt entertainer with a serious case of depression and Itchy & Scratchy are a hyper-violent version of Tom & Jerry.
Verdict: Krusty and The Itchy & Scratchy Show are mainly entertainment programs aimed at children whereas Everybody Loves Hypnotoad is must-see entertainment to any sentient being with brainwaves. Futurama wins but because I have a soft spot for hyperviolent mice, I’ll give a quarter point to The Simpsons.
Score: 2.75-2 The Simpsons
4. News Anchors
In the year 3000, the big personality is Morbo, co-anchor of the news and host of Who’s Dying to be a Gazillionaire? Considering Regis’s head seems to exist in that period, he must have had some competition for the job. On the one hand, Morbo seems to want to destroy Earth but, on the other hand, his co-anchor Linda has some good rapport with him.
The Simpsons has the “Eye on Springfield” segment with anchor Kent Brockman. Brockman doesn’t have any urges to destroy any planets but according to the Simpsons wikia, “Eye on Springfield” has had dead Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz and some rapping rabbis as guests.
Score: 3.75-3 Simpsons
Earth is run by the disembodied head of Richard Nixon with the disembodied body of Spiro Agnew. Springfield’s Mayor Quimby is modeled after Kennedy, who beat Nixon in the 1960 election.
Verdict: Quimby would have the Head of Nixon and the headless body of Spiro Agnew beat except for the fact that in Futurama‘s “All the President’s Men” episode, nearly every president from 1789 to 3000 makes an appearance including a hemp-smoking Thomas Jefferson and a James Madison who fetishizes elbows. I still give it to Simpsons but Futurama gets a half point.
Score: 4.75-3.5 Simpsons
6. Senior citizens
Hubert Farnsworth is a mad scientist who has built, along with his own custom-made nemesis, several doomsday devices, his own catchphrase (see below), and has made love to the most powerful woman on Earth. On top of that, he has an array of inventions including the the cool-o-meter and the smell-o-scope (which measures the smelliness of astronomical objects), the maternifuge (making the Jerry Springers and Montel Williamses of the year 3000 obsolete).
Abraham Simpson is a curmudgeon living in Springfield's retirement home spending his time ruing the day when the metric system took over America and watching Matlock.
Abe had an eventful life highlighted by participation in the 1936 Olympics, an Army mission in World War II where he nearly assassinated Hitler (something Hubert succeeded at doing at the expense of accidentally murdering Eleanor Roosevelt as well), stealing priceless art from the Nazis, and riding on the back of a shark. However, the only source for Abraham’s biography is Abraham himself and he’s clearly a senile old man. Upon close examination, most of his stories don’t even make sense.
Verdict: It’s hard to deny the validity of Farnsworth’s awesome achievements because we see his inventions and heroics with our own eyes. Plus Farnsworth is at least 50 years older.
Score: 4.75-4.5 Simpsons
7. Corporate Villains
Mr. Burns is a greedy corporate overlord who is mostly evil but has lapses of kindness and a clear need for friends. Mom owns a monopoly on the world’s robot working force and has programmed them all to be obedient to her. At times, she has tried to take over the world but seems willing to compromise her plans for a roll in the hay with Farnsworth (which is admittedly pretty gross).
Verdict: Burns wins here because he really is a complex character. You can build episodes around him, whereas there hasn’t been a thorough Mom episode to date. Plus, Burns also seems cooler to hang out with as his hobbies include playing chess with real-life pieces and money fights with Smithers.
Score: 5.75-4.5 Simpsons
In the year 3000, the biggest threats are Roberto but he perished last season, leaving us The Robot Mafia, who seem somewhat threatening but are consistently off their game when it comes to stopping Bender’s antics or even singling out Bender as a repeat offender.
Sideshow Bob is played by the sophisticated villain Kelsey Grammer who’s eluded the authorities and Bart several times over. Plus, he doubles as a children’s entertainer!
Verdict: Sideshow Bob by a mile
Score: 6.75-4.5 Simpsons
Zoidberg is a poor doctor (doctorate in art history) who is highly unpopular among the staff and desperately is in need of friends. It’s revealed in Mobius Dick that Zoidberg was briefly cool at one point but the Farnsworth’s patented Cool-o-Meter gagues him at zero fonzies in the present day.
Zoidberg’s highly incompetent but at least he’s made it out of school with a degree while Ralph is unlikely to graduate any kind of school at all. In fact, it’s taken him 20 years to get past the third grade (we will admit, however, that Lisa Simpson, has that same problem).
Score: 6.75-5.5 Simpsons
Springfield is set in suburbia. Futurama is set in outer space in the future with space aliens, mutants, a titanic that runs on land, space tubes that transport people, suicide booths, and fast food restaurants made of edible space babies.
Verdict: Futurama, Is it really a contest?
Score: 6.75-6.5 Simpsons
But wait! The Simpsons has 727 episodes while Futuramahas 140 which means the latter has run for 19.25% as long as The Simpsons. Futuramais 96.3% as good as The Simpsons (6.5/6.75) which means that Futuramashould ideally run for 700.1 episodes. So get back to the writer’s room, guys! We deserve 560 more episodes.
Orrin Konheim is a freelance writer who’s sailed to all the farthest reaches of the internet and published in many of those remote corners. His blog is at sophomorecritic.blogspot.com. Thanks for reading.
Get more Futurama in our interview with Composer Christopher Tyng on His 31st Century Beat.