Pros: extremely funny, well written, some great characters, nothing else like it
Cons: it was canceled before its time
Futurama is a FOX Cartoon that first aired back in 1999. It was intended to accentuate that cartoon block that 20th Century Fox had going with The Simpsons and King of The Hill, and came out right alongside The Family Guy. Unlike the Simpsons though, Futurama ended up being canceled after just 5 seasons on the air, and though it had a large following, it just wasn't getting the ratings that Fox wanted in order to keep it around. An interesting little fact, is that the same people who created The Simpsons were actually behind the creation of this show as well. Matt Groening is the specific creator credited with coming up with the idea of Futurama though. It has picked up a lot of fans since it was canceled though, in part due to DVD Sales, and in large thanks to it airing on Cartoon Network as a regularly syndicated show. It is interesting that this was what got The Family Guy back on the air after it was canceled, and could prove to be the magic that Futurama needs to get back on Fox as well.
As I said, the show debuted back in 1999, and focused on a character named Philip J. Fry. Fry (as he went) was a pizza delivery boy in 1999, and found himself on a fool's errand delivering a Pizza to I.C. Weener. The delivery site was a scientific laboratory that specialized in cryogenically freezing people to prolong their lives. Sitting down to enjoy a slice of the pizza, he falls back into the "freezer", and is frozen in time until the year 2999 when it pops open to release him. In the thousand years that have passed, the Earth has gone through many changes, and he finds himself alone in a new world. Robots are part of everyday society, and he quickly befriends one by the name of Bender. Bender is by far the funniest character in the show, and from the start you get to see it.
In the future everyone has a required job that they are given from birth, and they have a chip installed in them that tells what job they will do. Of course the device doesn't look very friendly and Fry tries to make a break for it. The person sent in pursuit of him is Turanga Leela, a cyclops that doesn't know anything about her part or her family. In Fry she is able to realize just how absurd it is to assign someone a job at birth, and decides to team up with the unlikely pair to run from getting "chipped." All 3 eventually take up work for Fry's nephew at a shipping company, and the show continues for the next 4 seasons as all of them work Planet Express Delivery Service. Many other characters come along as the seasons progress, but the show focuses on mainly these 3 as the most important characters of Futurama.
The main draw to a cartoon like Futurama, is that they can get away with many things that would not be in a normal show. You can bend reality, have the characters go through things that would normally kill a regular human being, and you can play with the comedy of each character having a different and unique background. The future is a far different place than the late 1990's and much of the humor revolves around the changes that the world has gone through. Some of them have been good ones (like there being no more garbage), while others haven't been quite as good (Nixon gets re-elected). With every episode you could expect a new and zanny twist to the story as the characters deliver goods to new and exciting planets. There are inter-planetary wars, an episode about the extinction of robots, and even a few episodes that take the crew back in time. Each one becomes more interesting than the last, and you find yourself drawn into the show for each half our that it is on.
Billy West is the voice of Fry and a number of the other characters as well. He has a long list of voice credits that include Looney Tunes, The Proud Family, and Shark Tale just to name a few. I think this one is his best though, as he plays the lazy Fry, who just wants to get by with the least amount of effort possible. Another voice that you will recognize is that of Katey Sagal as the voice of Leyla. She was Peggie Bundy back on the show Married With Children in the 1990's. She is quite funny in this part, and brings a strong and emotional voice to the part. There have been many guest voices on episodes that included Pamela Anderson, Dick Clark, Leonard Nimoy, and even Lucy Liu playing herself on the show. Each episode had new minor characters, and it was a treat to try and figure out if one of them was a recognizable celebrity.
After debuting in the Spring of 1999, Futurama lasted all the way to August of 2003 before being canceled by Fox. It was a sad day too, because it left a gap that I don't really think Fox has been able to fill since then. Last year it became a big hit on The Cartoon Network with episodes showing twice every evening on week days. This is where the fan base really started to take off, because more and more people were able to see what the show was all about. While it was on the air, Futurama was nominated for 7 Emmy Awards, and ended up taking home three of them. In 2002 it won the Emmy for "Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)". So, it did have its fans in high places so to speak, but it just couldn't hold on to complete the story lines that had become so funny to watch.
Futurama is a show that really captivated an audience, and when you became a fan of the show, your admiration for the characters only grew as the years went by. It is the type of cartoon that doesn't build on a prior episodes events, but usually starts with a clean slate each week. You could compare it to Seinfeld in that regards. I had touched upon this being a show that appeals to all ages, but I should warn that there are a couple of times when words are used that might not be appropriate for kids younger than their teens. An example of that would be "Bite my shiny metal ____". That was a trademark line of one of the characters and was intended to get a laugh each time it was uttered, but may not be appropriate for everyone to repeat. Other than that though, this really was a great cartoon that was a lot of fun to watch. If you haven't seen it yet, I would suggest tuning in to Comedy Central one of these nights (11pm and 2am in the Pacific and Eastern time zones) and checking it out. If you find it interesting, you can go out and pick up the seasons on DVD just about anywhere television shows are sold.