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Cohen Talks the Return of 'Futurama'

The future has never been brighter for this TV cult favorite.

After seven years, Futurama has a lot of satirical catching up to do. All images © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

Tonight marks the return of Futurama with 26 new episodes on Comedy Central (10:00 /9:00c). Like Family Guy, Matt Groening's follow-up to The Simpsons has been given new life by Comedy Central and Fox TV, thanks to the success of four DVD movies and late night reruns on Adult Swim. In tonight's one-hour premiere, the Professor tries to resuscitate the crew, and Leela and Zapp find themselves stranded on an Eden-like planet. David X. Cohen, the exec producer, tells AWN what's new with Leela, Fry and Bender and the rest of the satirizing sci-fi gang.

Bill Desowitz: How's it going so far?

David X. Cohen: I have to say that it's gone smoother and better than I thought. It's one of those things where you worry at first if you're able to get back into the swing of things after a choppy existence like ours. But it really felt natural, largely because we worked on those DVD movies in the interim. Everything was still relatively fresh in our minds. And the best thing of all, we were able to get back our whole team up and down the line. Some people are a little uncertain about that, but I do want to clarify that we got every cast member back and all of our writers are veterans from as far back as the original Fox run; and our same animation studio, Rough Draft; and our same composer, Chris Tyng; and the same Matt Groening.

At the same time, we have upgraded a few things: it's widescreen and high-def. So Futurama plus.

BD: What have been some of the new challenges?

DXC: It's gotten a little more challenging to come up with the stories and we're putting more work into that because now we've got the honor of having a pretty good body of work. It's getting harder to come up with stories that are entirely new. This was a problem The Simpsons faced about 15 years ago. I think we've done a very good job, actually. But it's required a little more work at that stage. Now on the bright side, current history is giving us plenty to deal with since we were last on the air.

Some examples: one of our early episodes of the new season is about the social networking of the future. That's obviously something we didn't have to deal with in 2000. So we have the 31st century versions of those things. And we have another episode that is about a ballot proposition called Proposition Infinity to legalize robosexual marriage, which is the marriage between a human and a robot.

Leela and Zapp first have to finish their fling.

BD: So how does social networking evolve in the 31st century?

DXC: The situation we present is based on the eyePhone of the future, which is actually a device that is implanted in your eye and makes everything you see readily postable on the internet. So if you witness something embarrassing about Leela, for example, to pull one out of thin air, you can immediately post it and cause trouble between friends.

BD: So where does the series pick up?

DXC: I want to reassure any hardcore Futurama fan that we are going to deal in some way where we left off in the last Futurama DVD movie [Into the Wild Green Yonder], which was kind of a cliffhanger where our crew was riding off into a worm hole to reappear in some unknown part of space that could be far away, and they were fugitives being pursued by Zapp Brannigan. We left them in a fairly dire predicament at the end of that movie, so the first episode will pick up from there and, relatively, get us back to earth, though in a disastrous way, which leaves everybody very close to death. So, therefore, it's titled "Rebirth," and involves a surprisingly literal use of the Professor's birth machine to attempt to bring our characters back. And, in a related subject, we also have Fry and Leela's relationship heating up a little bit at the end of those movies, so we also pick up with that, although with serious sci-fi consequences.

BD: Do you have fun with more recent sci-fi?

DXC: Yes, we have a brief tribute -- or perhaps the opposite of that -- to Avatar in one of our episodes, with our little attempt to do with red and blue glasses, although just for brief jokes: I don't want to raise anyone's hopes for an entire 3-D episode.

Rough Draft has more 3-D refinements to show off.

BD: You don't want to give everyone a big headache?

 DXC: Well, that is basically the big joke: the intent to give everyone a headache as quickly as possible. Let's see, what other sci-fi. Oh, a big one: we have a guest star Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica. She's going to be in our special Comic-Con episode, which will be on toward the end of summer, when we actually see Comic-Con of the year 3010, and she plays a Comic-Con attendee, who has a strange and unusual fetish.

BD: Is there more fun with Star Trek?

DXC: George Takei will be making his third Futurama appearance this season, so he is taking the lead of the Star Trek originals. But Takei is outdone by Al Gore, who will be back this year for his fourth Futurama appearance.

BD: What's going on with the characters?

DXC: As far as the long-term arcs, we are not going to forget those: Again, we have Fry and Leela picking up where they left off, locked in a steamy kiss as they disappeared on the run to parts unknown, so we're going to see where that goes. And we another ongoing relationship in the show between Amy and Kif Kroker and that is going to face a serious challenge this year as Amy becomes involved with one of our other crew members, messing up her relationship with Kif, briefly, this year. And then Zapp Brannigan's never ending quest for Leela will pick up in with them being stranded on a Garden of Eden-like planet together, with very skin-heavy consequences.

Keeping the writing fresh is the biggest challenge.

BD: How are things going with Rough Draft, as thetechnology keeps improving?

DXC: We just saw our fourth episode, which had a planet that is covered with tornados on it, which is one of those things write in the script and say we dare you to do this. But they have all these particle systems and all the options in 3D where they do these tornados and work on the texture and just create some level of realism that is impressive and at the same time also blended in with the 2D animation of the show, so they blew us away. Even as a former computer scientist, I have no idea what they did. But a lot of the most impressive shots on Futurama are where they integrate 2D and 3D in one shot.

Another thing that's improved is the 3D depiction of humans since we were last on the air, which we never did when we were first at Fox. And there was one computer-generated crowd shot, which they did for one of the movies. And in the EyePhone episode, they have an amazing crowd scene where these armies of zombies are marching through the streets of new, New York City, and it's a sweeping 3D shot, which is something we never could've done when we were first on the air.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.