The much-loved animated comedy has been briefly reincarnated as an old-fashioned radio play and showrunner David X Cohen talks about what the future of the future might be
Good news, everyone: Futurama just wont stay dead. The beloved, much-canceled sci-fi cartoon created by Simpsons auteur Matt Groening has yet another lease on life, this time in the form of a 42-minute podcast, styled like an old-fashioned radio drama. The vintage format is in keeping with the shows own aesthetic, a harebrained collision of every possible sci-fi trope from Asimov to Zelazny. At its most basic, Futurama is a workplace comedy about a naif from the turn of the century who goes to work for a package delivery service a thousand years in the future; but within that already absurd framework, the show manages to explore every corner of sci-fi lore.
For a defunct TV show it had runs on Fox and Comedy Central before its most recent demise Futuramas following is still very enthusiastic and fans have already embraced its post-television video game incarnations. The new audio episodeacts as this weeks edition of Chris Hardwicks podcast, The Nerdist and the shows developer and showrunner, David X Cohen, found time to speak with the Guardian about overcoming the frustrations of the TV economy, how many chances you have to get a binary joke right, and coming back to the property again.
ST: So this podcast is basically a full reunion, right?
DXC: Well, the game company TinyCo was adamant that they wanted to get the real DNA of Futurama in it, and have a real writers room and have the original cast. They wanted to get the word out to the fans that the original cast and crew was working on this thing, and they said, Well, what is a way to get it out to the fans that youre all working on this thing? and the game company said, Well, is there any way we could make a new episode of the show?
And we said, No. Theres not. It will take a year, first of all, which is out of our timeline, and it will cost a prohibitive amount of money for a promotional thing.
Then someone said, Well, what if we dont animate it? And that suddenly caused me to have a dramatic flashback, because about a year ago Id been talking with Chris Hardwick at some event and hed said, Would you ever consider doing Futurama as a radio show? and I said, Well, sure, but it seems like kind of a difficult thing to pull together. I dont know who would organize it and stuff. And I knew Matt Groening was a big fan of old-time radio shows, as am I.
ST: How do you make a cartoon work without any visuals?
DXC: We have a great voice cast and they do very distinctive voices that I think you can pick out. We had to massage it a little bit, taking a cue from those old-time radio shows. We decided to add a narrator to fill in any gaps that were things you would have seen on the air.
ST: Is this going to be a regular thing? It seems like the reaction has been pretty positive.
DXC: I think the question is what the timing would be if they wanted to do it again maybe when they were going to unleash something new in the game. So were in a wait-and-see period right now. As is very standard for Futurama. We spend most of our time in a wait-and-see hibernation phase.
ST: This is the best cancellation ever.
DXC: I wont even add this to the list of cancellations yet!
ST: There was tremendous hue and cry among fans over Netflix losing the first four seasons a few weeks ago, because I guess they lost some deal with Fox what happened there?
DXC: Yeah, its part of a more general trend, if people have not noticed: Fox is moving all their shows off Netflix and over to Hulu, which by some strange coincidence is partially owned by Fox. Its sort of an industry thing where Netflix has become more of a direct competitor to the broadcasters, whereas they used to view it as our friendly ally who can keep our catalog of shows alive. Now its become a direct competitor and my impression is theyre pretty leery of helping them out in that process.
ST: Whats your nerdiest math joke in the new episode?
DXC: Its not as math-heavy because I will say that most of the math jokes we had in the show before, so as not to derail the story, were done visually in the background. There is one math joke thats very simple and straightforward: theres a planet in this audio episode where the people of the future dispose of digital e-waste and Bender wants to steal something while theyre there from the digital junkyard, and hes trying to figure out what digital file is the most valuable, and the only criterion they can come up with is whichever file has the most ones in it. So thats fairly nerdy.
ST: Thats a good binary joke.
DXC: Theres only two possible punchlines for binary jokes. You either get it 100% right or 100% wrong.
ST: What happened with the giant carrots who ruled the earth, as recalled by an unfrozen guy named Joe in Future Stock?
DXC: Id forgotten about that line. Sounds like the plot of a future audio episode. Ill give you a commission if we use that.
This interview has been edited and condensed from the original transcript