Image Credit: FoxTo anyone who thought that Futurama had bitten the shiny metal @$$ of cancellation…surprise! The next-millenium-set animated comedy is returning to the air after being dropped by Fox in 2003. (Twenty six new episodes of the show will be unveiled on Comedy Central; the first half of season 6 kicks off June 24.) EW.com checked in with executive producer David X. Cohen to find out what he and series creator, Matt Groening, have in store for us.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One cancellation and four direct-to-DVD movies later, you’re on the air again. That was some journey. How surprised are you to be back?
DAVID X. COHEN: I would say it’s just sinking in now. This journey started seven years ago with a call from Fox that we were off the air — which wasn’t a big difference from being on the air, actually, the way we were being shown sporadically at that time. So we packed our bags and went our separate ways and had no expectation of coming back in any form at that time. And it really took the high ratings [of reruns] on Adult Swim to plant any kind of a seed that there might be more life in this thing. And, gradually, the idea of the DVD movies filtered through to 20th Century Fox Television [which produces the show], and they called us up a few years after that idea was sent to them and we started our return to life that way. We did four DVD movies and our hopes started to rise because of what Family Guy had done. They had gone a similar route and come back to TV, so we kept our fingers crossed and waited for the results from those DVDs and evidently they did okay.… We’re grateful to be here and we were definitely saved by our fans’ enthusiasm.
Now that Futurama is on cable, will the tone of the show be any different?
We’re definitely not going way outside of the lines of what we’ve done before. My main priority is to make it feel like this is the same Futurama, and if you’re a Futurama fan you’re going to like these episodes. That said, I think there are a couple of episodes where we do push that edge a little bit, thanks to our being on Comedy Central — nothing that couldn’t have run the first time, but perhaps the quantity of borderline material is a little higher. For example, we have an episode that was Matt Groening’s brainchild, with Zapp Brannigan and Leela getting stranded on a Garden of Eden planet. Matt wanted to do a story based on this science-fiction trope where man and woman land on a planet and at the end of the episode you realize that they’re Adam and Eve and they’re going to recreate society. But he wanted to do that at the starting point of the episode, so we have Zapp and Leela stranded on this beautiful Garden of Eden planet and they’re naked and wearing fig leaves immediately. It’s a little more cartoon flesh than we would have shown in the old days.
During a contract negotiation impasse last year, there was a possibility that the voice actors were going to be recast. How close did that come to actually happening?
Matt Groening and I tried to stay clear of that as much as possible, since we have to try to make both sides happy in that equation. We have a contract with [the studio] on one hand to make these episodes, and on the other hand, I think our cast is the best voice cast you’re going to find, and I would have been very upset if we had to do the show without them. We just said to everybody involved, “Please, you guys make a deal.” It went right up to the edge as The Simpsons has done a couple of times with Fox beginning the process of recasting the show, but nobody else was actually hired. I think it was ultimately just business — both sides are trying to make the best deal and that causes it to come to a climax. Just to reassure everybody, every single cast member is back. We did not lose a single voice.
What can we expect from this season? Last time we saw the gang in Into the Wild Green Yonder, Fry and Leela were engaged in a kiss as the ship headed into a wormhole….
Matt and I decided to make sure people knew right away that this was Futurama in its classic half-hour form. We wanted to quickly establish in the first episode that the characters are back from their DVD adventures. Fry and Leela return relatively quickly. Very quickly we get back to the Planet Express headquarters in New New York City — and the only slight hitch is that everybody is dead.
That’s quite a little hitch.
One of the few images that we’ve released so far is all of their skeletons hanging over the stem cell vat. [Laughs] In Futurama, that’s a minor stumbling block…. That episode is entitled “Rebirth.” We’ll get to see the Professor’s birthing machine and all the glory of artificial rebirth. It’s both a literal and figurative rebirth of the series. Fry and Leela’s relationship has a very bizarre science-fiction twist to it.
Are they going to pursue a relationship?
We don’t want to get into a rut where they’re having a baby and moving away to the suburbs. That would mess up the show to some degree. Without giving too much away, to have their relationship be on-again, off-again is a little more exciting for the ongoing drama of the series.
Can you tease some other story lines?
One thing that was beneficial to being off the air for a while was that society generated a few story lines for us. We’re going to see our versions of Twitter and iPhones in the future, as Fry posts embarrassing videos of Leela online. The difference is, in our version of the iPhone, the iPhone is implanted in your eye. It’s a tiny hovering screen in front of you and it’s even more annoying than the real iPhone. One of my favorite episodes of the year is one where Bender tries to pass a ballot initiative called Proposition Infinity to legalize robosexual marriage, which is the marriage between a robot and a human. It’s taboo and illegal in the future, and there’s going to be a very shocking romance between Bender and one of our female characters. [In another episode], the Professor invents a time machine that only goes forward in time. Once they start going, there is no hope of return. And the initial goal is to just go a minute forward into the future and test it out, but the Professor trips and they’re immediately 1,000 years in the future with nowhere to go but forward. So they spend the episode going further and further through all future history trying to find the technology for a backward time machine.
Katee Sackhoff is playing a visitor to Comic-Con who has a fetish for aliens. She threw herself into the role in an impressive fashion. In our 100th episode special, Mark Mothersbaugh and Devo campaign for mutant rights — Leela’s parents are second-class, mutant citizens who live underground in the sewers. The members of Devo have mutated over the years, and Mark Mothersbaugh helps out in their campaign for equality. Craig Ferguson has the most remarkable guest role of the year: He is playing a talking part of Leela’s body. We discover that Leela has a little more to her being a mutant than we knew about. Chris Elliott is playing a very persnickety space probe that goes around censoring things that it thinks are indecent, and he finds nudity both interesting and offensive. George Takei will be back. I’m proud to announce that Al Gore will be rejoining us in our environmental-themed holiday episode [airing next season]. He will help explain the future versions of Christmas, Robanukah, and Kwanza, along with Coolio, a natural pairing. Patton Oswalt will appear in next season, playing a character called Unattractive Giant Monster. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the first appearance by David X. Cohen, in the Comic-Con episode. The heads of Matt Groening and David X. Cohen will appear on a panel of writers for the new show that Matt Groening has created in the Year 3010.
Speaking of heads in jars, will Nixon be back?
Nixon will be back. We have a whole head-related episode. It’s discovered that you get a “head trip” if you lick one of the heads in the jars. So Fry licks George Washington’s head and it sends them off on a Revolutionary War adventure. That’s a plot line you wouldn’t see on most sitcoms.
Is that the most bizarre moment of this season?
Actually, I can think of at least one even more bizarre moment. It’s a love scene between Dr. Zoidberg and Professor Farnsworth…. Of course, it is quite touching in context. And arousing.