The sixth season of "Futurama" premiered last night, and there was much rejoicing. The Planet Express crew is back and it's like they never left. There are 26 new episodes in all, and Comedy Central plans to roll out 13 this year and 13 in 2011. I'm not sure if it's going to be referred to as two seasons or two halves of the same season, but it doesn't matter. 26 episodes. 12 air this summer. One more airs in December, a special holiday episode. And then 13 more next year.
Rabid fans are of course dying to know what's coming. And I'm pleased to report that I've got some answers. Series creator David X. Cohen, Fry (among others) voice actor Billy West and Kif Kroker (among others) voice actor Maurice LaMarche all took some time out of their busy schedules to chat with MTV recently. They wouldn't give up all of the goods, but I managed to glean a pretty good idea of what we can expect from this just-premiered season.
One of my top questions for Cohen was how much of this new season qualifies as "new." "Futurama" was canceled in 2003, but Cohen and co-creator Matt Groening were ready for more. So there must have been some old ideas kicking around when the gang got back together to write these new episodes, right?
"There are several ideas that we did get to do this year, I don't remember when exactly they went up on the bulletin board, but at some point were written down on an index card and then we never got to do them before we were canceled," Cohen said. "I'd say there's about three probably."
One of those ideas, which Groening gave birth to, sounds fantastic. "The professor invents a time machine that only goes forward. And once our characters get going on that, they find that they're in a lot of trouble and they cannot get back," Cohen explained. "Their only hope is to keep going forward and forward and forward in the hope that they'll find somebody who has invented the backwards time machine. That's a real epic sci-fi episode where you're going to see many, many stage of the future of mankind. That's one that's been on the bulletin board for several years."
LaMarche, in a separate interview, actually named this particular episode as one of his favorites in the new season. "The Professor invents a time machine that can only go forwards in time," he said. "And Fry, being perpetually late for everything, wants for once to be on time for a date with Leela. So he asks the Professor to jump him 10 minutes into the future so that he can actually get there on time. And, of course, disaster ensues. It's a very, very touching episode and that's all I'll say about it. But it's my personal favorite."
For West, he's looking forward to one of his Fry-centric episodes in particular. "There's one, 'The Duh-Vinci Code,' I've got a lot of antics in it. I don't know how dialogue-heavy it is, but a lot of antics," he said. The story follows the Planet Express crew as they head to Rome to unearth the truth behind Leonardo da Vinci's birth. "It's really fast-paced. I haven't seen a show that's real fast-paced like that throughout the episode."
LaMarche is also excited about a few of his own episodes as well. "Kif will be along... about halfway through the first season," he said, referring to the meek, green alien who somehow manages to miraculously help Zap Branigan hang on to his good reputation. "He's got a couple of stories. There's actually an episode where his and Amy's relationship is in danger."
One of the coolest, however, involves another of LaMarche's characters: the alien conquerer Lrrr. "Lrrr's got a great story [coming up]," he said. "Lrrr goes to Comic Con and absolutely no one reacts. They just think it's a great costume. He comes to Earth to prove to them that he is still a conquerer, but he doesn't really want to conquer. He's going through the old mid-life crisis thing-- he's down on testosterone, ambition's kind of gone. But, you know, he's got to show his wife he's still the man she married. Some very cool stuff happens there."
It was Cohen who provided the most abundant treasure trove of hints for the coming season. "We just finished our fourth episode," he said, noting that it's one of his favorites. "It's an episode where Bender campaigns to legalize robo-sexual marriage, which is the taboo marriage between a robot and a human in the future. So he starts to campaign for a ballot proposition called Proposition Infinity and tries to legalize robo-sexual marriage. So you'll also see a scandalous relationship between Bender and one of our female characters."
"The one right before that," -- episode three, airing next Thursday, for those not keeping track at home -- "also is inspired by some real-life things that amazingly were not around just 10 years ago [such as] iPhones and Twitter and YouTube," he said. "So we're going to see the futuristic incarnation of social media and iPhones in our third episode, and a future Craig Ferguson."
The obvious follow-up question is: how do you account for "Futurama" of 2003, when iPhones and Twitters and YouTubes didn't exist? It's simple, really. "We're just going to pretend we had it right all along," Cohen replied, chuckling. "I'm going to just claim we wrote this episode seven years ago and that real life was just based on us."
Then there's the mysterious holiday episode, which is breaking away from the summer 12 for a December airing. Cohen promises one of the series' much-loved three-parters, which is to say three short stories in a single half hour. "Anthology of Interest" perhaps? He didn't say.
"We're going to see more about the future versions of Xmas, as Christmas has been known, and Kwanzaa and Robonukah, which is the holiday that Bender makes up every year to get out of work. And guest starring for his record-breaking fourth time in that one is Al Gore, so he'll be in there, as well as Coolio, making his third appearance on 'Futurama.' So a classic pairing of Al Gore and Coolio. It has not just a holiday message, but an environmental holiday message."
Of course, "Futurama" is about more than just self-contained half-hour chunks of television. The show excels at mixing in long-term character arcs. There's real development over the course of the original four seasons, plus the fifth "season" of DTV releases. And Cohen promises that that sort of fan service will continue.
"We want to reward [fans] for knowing every episode," Cohen explained. "So we're going to see of course a little more about Fry and Leela's relationship for those people, and also Amy and Kif's relationship. But beyond that we're going to do a few flashback episodes where we really get to learn more about the backgrounds of some of these characters."
"So finally we're going to see... how the Professor first met Dr. Zoidberg, why he has bothered to keep Dr. Zoidberg around despite his incompetence for all these years. And we're going to get a little more backstory on Hermes and also Fry and his life in our time before he was frozen. So we're going to try to fill in some of the gaps for our longtime viewers."