Tuesday, November 18, 2014
The Futurama and Simpsons Crossover: Fox's Final, Belated Backstab?
I know that I'm a bit late to the party on this topic--over a week, in fact--but I thought I would chime in anyway. I stopped watching The Simpsons on a regular basis at around the tenth season 14 years ago (has it really been that long?), and Comedy Central cancelled Futurama last year. Nevertheless, if you have ever been a fan of one or both of these shows, the recent Simpsons episode titled "Simpsorama" which featured characters from Futurama represents a milestone of sorts that should be seen at least once.
The crossover episode, which only ran for a meager 22 minutes, was nothing groundbreaking in terms of plot or character development; instead, it served as more of a statement of how Fox has (mis)treated the animated properties of creator Matt Groening, especially when compared to the hour-long Family Guy episode that involved a crossover with The Simpsons that aired a few weeks earlier.
I don't know how or why both the Family Guy and Futurama crossovers happened within such close proximity to each other, although I suspect that it's part of some kind of bucket list for The Simpsons before it (finally) goes off the air in another year or so. Fox executives were probably demanding the Family Guy crossover to help promote the network's flagging Sunday night "Animation Domination" programming block while the Simpsons production team were demanding a Futurama crossover so that they could work with Groening's other creative property, and the two crossover episodes that finally aired this year were the result of the ensuing compromise. Of course, Futurama got the short end of the stick from Fox ... again. (Remember, Futurama originally aired on Fox until it cancelled the series in 2003.)
For what it's worth, a Futurama/Simpsons crossover already happened over a decade ago--in the comic books. Bongo Comics published a two-part, four-issue crossover miniseries called the Futurama/Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis, and that story made much better usage of the source materials from both series than what finally made it on the air the other week. Unfortunately, both cartoons do their best sight gags through the medium of animation, so the printed page is limited in conveying the full range of Futurama and Simpsons wit. In a just world, the animated crossover would have been an hour long, or maybe as one of the straight-to-DVD Futurama "movies" that were released between 2007 to 2009 before it returned to TV as a weekly series. Instead, what fans got was only what Fox would allow ... again.
I did think that the Futurama/Simpsons episode was funny (the joke about Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics is hysterical), but it still felt disappointing no matter how often it made me laugh. After all, it's hard to be ready for a comedy show when it opens with this depressing, all-too-self-aware tagline:
If The Simpsons and Futurama could be buried in the same grave plot in the cancelled TV show graveyard, "A show out of ideas teams up with a show out of episodes" would be the epitaph on their shared headstone. Groening's contributions to American primetime animated comedy deserve so much better.