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1,000 Years AB (After Bart)

Television Review

Matt Groening's newest lacks bite of 'The Simpsons' but shows promise.

March 27, 1999|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

We're not in Springfield anymore. Or even in the present.

After more than nine highly rewarding years of "The Simpsons," now comes "Futurama," Matt Groening's new animated Fox series that zooms ahead to the year 3000.

It's here, in this futuristic New York, where someone from our time, a 25-year-old pizza delivery boy named Fry (Billy West), winds up after getting trapped inside a time travel machine. And where he hangs out with a robot named Bender (John DiMaggio), who fears being labeled a robosexual; a purple-haired Cyclopsian female named Leela (Katey Sagal); and his only living relative, an antique professor (also West) who has built a spaceship on which they will travel to a different planet each week.

The premiere has the wonderfully distinctive geekiness but not the toothy bite of "The Simpsons," which was something spectacular to behold from the moment Homer uttered his first "Dohhhhhh!" There are some nice bits of amusement here, however, and surely the potential for growth as Groening's space travelers expand their universe of experiences and Bender reveals more about his penchant for robot porn.

"Futurama" will air at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays but opens Sunday, with "The Simpsons" as its lead-in.

In the premiere, we're introduced to a museum preserving VIP heads in individual tanks, including those of Leonard Nimoy and Dick Clark (their own voices) and Richard Nixon. There's also a JFK Jr. Airport and, on the dark side, suicide booths where for just 25 cents someone can have his life ended in a way that's "quick and painless" or "slow and horrible."

Although there are no crossovers with "The Simpsons," Fry occasionally thuds like Homer, and the professor looks more than a little like Grampa Simpson. Showing up, too, is an accountant named Hermes who looks and sounds like that mini-mart mogul for all seasons, the glorious Apu. "Life is good," Hermes (Phil Lamarr) says, propping his feet on his executive desk. Just how good for "Futurama" remains to be seen.

* "Futurama" premieres Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on Fox. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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