I’ve been watching “Futurama” since the last century, when it premiered on Fox in 1999. By the time it came back as four movies and a new series on Comedy Central, I knew all the history. We got to interview producer David X. Cohen about the Volume 7 DVD, which included episodes about time travel election rigging and a virtual reality retirement home. We got to ask Cohen all about this season’s episodes and a bit about what’s coming up in the next new season this summer.
CraveOnline: Getting Fry and Leila together did not hurt the comedy at all, did it?
David X. Cohen: Which episode specifically? Some yes, some no. “Fun on a Bun?”
CraveOnline: That’s interesting. Which episodes did you think it did hurt?
David X. Cohen: None of them hurt but they’re always controversial, let me put it that way, when we snoop online and check fan reactions, it’s kind of split down the middle. Whenever we do a Fry/Leila big romance story, 50% say, “Finally, back to Fry and Leila, the heart of the show” and the other 50% say, “Where’s my sci-fi?” It’s not really on a one episode yes, one episode no basis, but each episode is polarizing.
CraveOnline: I would certainly be disappointed if you went back on it at this point.
David X. Cohen: No, we’re going forward. In fact, I know we’re supposed to be talking about this DVD set but looking ahead to summer 2013, we’ve got a big epic Fry/Leila episode as number 726. It could be the last episode ever, as usual, so we’re going for it.
CraveOnline: Does Katy Sagal’s husband, “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter, ever come into the studio with her?
David X. Cohen: He has not been in as far as I know. I think he’s pretty busy. Katy Sagal is unbelievably busy. We actually have to schedule around her motor cycle gang shoots so we’ve actually been working on a system where she comes in and records her pickups, little lines we’ve changed at the last minute, for two or three episodes at a time because that big production, she’s got to be out on locations and stuff. It’s working out so far. It’s just barely possible to be on that show and an animated show. Luckily we’re not a live-action show competing for her time.
CraveOnline: Were the Mayans wrong about 2012 and it’s really 3012?
David X. Cohen: I think they were wrong about 2012. Actually, you know what I think? They were right but we were wrong in our interpretation of it. I’m feeling as December 31st approaches, I’m getting cocky about our chances of surviving the month. I think they probably didn’t mean any such thing, but of course the Martians were on the nose right, as we know from episode 702.
CraveOnline: Did Obama win this election because of time travel?
David X. Cohen: [Laughs] You’ve got your questions nailed down. Did Obama win because of time travel? Now, I don’t want people to think we’ve drawn a 100% on the nose between our candidate in “Decision 3012” and Obama. By the way, this may be discussed on the commentary of that episode.
CraveOnline: You must have had to do that episode before you even knew Romney was the opposition.
David X. Cohen: Oh, of course we had no idea, but there are certain general types of opposition candidates we were able to safely highlight and feel that some of those types would be in the mix. At the time we wrote it, it was way back, I think before the primaries and everything else.
We were shooting in the dark. Senator Chris [Travers], the point is that his first name is Chris and the reason for that is that we had this twist ending originally, a double twist ending where not only did he go back in time at the end of the episode, but it turned out that he had also been born female and had a gender change operation. The reason he’s actually named Chris is because in the first draft of the script, it had to serve as both genders. Ultimately, we were covering a few too many issues with that in there, so we had to thin it out.
CraveOnline: Is it tough to animate the chicken dance?
David X. Cohen: I’ll tell you what is tough to do with the chicken dance. Now I don’t have to animate it, thank God. Rough Draft did a great job animating it. The tricky part is, we actually had one version of the chicken dance in as the music that they were animating to, and then late in the production, Matt Groening said, “Hey, you know what?” He is personal friends with this polka band called Brave Combo, perhaps the most well-known polka band in the United States, for what that’s worth.
He’s been friends for a long time with them and he said, “Hey, let’s take out this version of the chicken dance music and have them do an original version.” It had been very tightly animated to whatever random version we had previously had in there so Brave Combo had to actually redo a version and make sure it was perfectly timed to Leila. So there’s a little more behind the scenes info for you. This group Brave Combo ultimately did our final chicken dance.
CraveOnline: I was surprised at some of the Matrix jokes in “Near-Death Wish.” Is The Matrix secretly criticized in sci-fi circles?
David X. Cohen: The long run about The Matrix, I’m going to be honest. That’s me getting it straight off my chest. I love the movie The Matrix, Matrix 1 anyway. I’m not going to comment on the later ones, but I love the original Matrix except for the explanation that the people are kept in the matrix to generate energy. I’m a former physics student so that really irritated me because obviously you’d have to feed the people an amount of calories greater than or equal to whatever amount of calories they are generating for you in your giant generator so that has irritated me for 20 years or however long it’s been.
David X. Cohen: So finally I found the forum to get it off my chest. “Futurama” was my therapy for my nerd Matrix complaint.
CraveOnline: My beef with The Matrix is there’s a five minute scene where Joe Pantoliano is talking about how evil he is and no one knew he was evil and no one can stop him, for literally five minutes of running time.
David X. Cohen: That’s sort of the general James Bond formula, the villain gets their five minutes.
CraveOnline: Do the “Futurama” writers have a hard time keeping up with technology?
David X. Cohen: Let me think about that. Overall we’re not technophobic. In terms of making fun of stuff, certainly between when we were first on Fox in 1999 to 2003 and when we came back on Comedy Central in 2010. So between the Fox run and the Comedy Central run there were huge changes obviously with particularly smart phones. It actually generated material for us because we did that whole episode about the eyePhone.
The advancement of technology, if anything, has given us some new material to work with when we might have run dry otherwise. There’s stuff even when I look at the old episodes, there’s stuff I see and I can’t remember if we’re making fun of this outdated technology or not. For example, if they put a tape in a VCR, which they do in some of the old episodes, I go, “Wait, is that because that’s what we were doing or is that because we were making fun of it for being already outdated?” I can’t remember anymore so that is a clear sign that technology is overtaking us I guess, that I can’t remember what was outdated when we wrote it.
CraveOnline: But where is my fing-longer?
David X. Cohen: The fing-longer is coming back. You will be ecstatic to hear, again summer 2013, we have an episode called “The Inhuman Torch” where Bender becomes a heroic fire fighter. The professor will be using his fing-longer, which originally if you remember, it was just a crazy dream the professor had that someday he would create this invention, the fing-longer. But it exists now and it will be back next summer in real life. By real life I mean in the cartoon “Futurama.”
CraveOnline: What else can we expect in summer 2013?
David X. Cohen: Next year is a strong crop of episodes. Speaking of technology I should say, we have an episode written by one of our science background writers, Ken Keeler, that is inspired by 3D printing technology. We had a 3D printer around the office for this whole year and we were printing little plastic gizmos. It was running basically all the time producing this crowd of toxic plastic smoke so if anyone asks where we get our ideas now I say from the toxic plastic fog.
It actually was consuming so much of our time that Ken Keeler went and wrote an episode about it so there is another new technology inspiring an episode. We’ve got a big, epic, huge Fry and Leila episode that I mentioned that spans many years and much romance and a lot of crazy sci-fi stuff too that’s number 26. Actually one of my favorite episodes I think will be a crowd pleaser is our three-parter. You know we’ve been doing a three part each season for this entire Comedy Central one.
Next summer’s one is called “Saturday Morning Fun Pit” and you will see the “Futurama” gang reborn and re-envisioned in three morning cartoons of the 1970s and 1980s era. I don’t want to give anything away but one might involve a group of mystery solving young people in a van and a couple of other ones. That is perhaps the staff favorite.
CraveOnline: The other two would be from the same era?
David X. Cohen: I’ll keep giving you hints. That’s the first one. They’re in chronological order. It’s sort of a blend. The second one is sort of a younger kid’s show that involves characters who are all of a certain color. Not blue, but purple in our case.
The third one is a military themed show. I’m just going to tell you the names of the three things. That will probably give it to you right there. The first one’s called “Bendy-Boo and the Mystery Crew.” The second one is called “Purpleberry Pond” and the third one is called “G.I. Zap.” So there you go. That title is worth 1000 words.
CraveOnline: Can Zap be any dumber as a G.I. Joe?
David X. Cohen: We found a way.
CraveOnline: Did you have to shorten the opening titles for Comedy Central and take out the black and white animation clip?
David X. Cohen: We didn’t have to. This is a conscious decision. That’s another thing that I’ve heard fans go both ways on. The thinking behind that is that our actual timeslot is shorter on Comedy Central. They show more ads per half hour than Fox network did when we were on Fox network. So we can make the opening credits as long as we want, but it comes out of the time for the show.
So in order to try to tell stories as complicated and interesting as what we’ve established, we’re trying to reclaim a little bit of territory for the show. It was a difficult choice because I know people do like the cartoons, so what we’ve tried to do is just once in a while, if I see an episode that seems like it can survive without the extra 10 seconds, we do run the cartoon. There’s been a couple you may have noticed. There’ve been a couple with the cartoon still on Comedy Central but not a huge amount.
CraveOnline: Is there any current science fiction that’s exciting you, like Looper?
David X. Cohen: You know, I haven’t seen that believe it or not. I’m way behind in my movie watching. My main way of consuming science fiction now is books on tape. As a Los Angeles commuter, my “reading” is done largely in my car, but I do listen to a lot of sci-fi.
I’ve listened to a lot of this author recently, Peter Hamilton, who’s a current writer, writes this real long, epic stuff I certainly recommend. Orson Scott Card I’ve been listening to, the Pathfinder trilogy. Werner Vinge, for any sci-fi fans, I love Werner Vinge. I actually read those for real, they were so good, with my eyes. A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. You hit upon a subject I could go on a little too long for.
CraveOnline: With Orson Scott Card, I assume you’re well versed in the 8 Ender’s series books.
David X. Cohen: Yeah, I read about four of them. I lost track at some point, but the first one, one of the all time greats.
CraveOnline: Well, thanks for chatting about “Futurama” with us and good luck for summer 2013.
David X. Cohen: Sure, any time and I do have to do my job, mention our DVD.
CraveOnline: Yes, all my questions about the individual episodes were for that purpose.
David X. Cohen: And let me mention one thing about the DVD which people may not know. We’re doing something we’ve never done before as a bonus feature. We have an episode, “Zap Dingbat,” which is the fifth episode on the DVD set.
We had written a big musical finale for that episode, which we actually animated and recorded, and at the last minute we decided, actually Matt Groening largely decided he thought it was too abstract taking people out of the story and we ended up removing it, sticking with a dramatic conclusion to the episode.
However, we already had this big musical ending, so we are offering you the choice of watching this episode with or without the original ending. That is a “Futurama” first in a TV season set, just click on the button and watch it either way.
CraveOnline: I wish I’d thought of a funny question about that too.
David X. Cohen: And Futurama Karaoke. All right, I’ve done my duty.