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'Futurama' ends: The Matt Groening interview, Part 2

July 24, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

MG: With "The Simpsons" they used to worry about money -- the characters were scrimping to get by, and Homer actually had to get up in the morning and go to work. And now he's wherever we want him to be for whatever reason at any time. Occasionally we make a joke that he's missing work, but often he's wandering around like Ozzie. And I think that that was one of the reasons for the success of the show, because it was such a traditional sitcom template of the family, so you know where the kids are supposed to be in the morning -- eating breakfast, catching the school bus, going to school -- and where Homer was, at work, and Marge raising Maggie at home. That gave the show a foundation. And after years went by and we're trying to surprise ourselves and the audience, the show got wilder and wilder; I don't think it would have worked if we had just stayed the way it was at the beginning. People loved those original shows, but I don't know if they would have loved it for 25 years.

Because at some point you would have had to account for the fact that 25 years have gone by.

MG: Well, "Futurama" started with Fry getting frozen on New Year's Eve 1999 and waking up 1,000 years later, and then as it's gone forward in time, we're in 3013 now. And on the other hand, the characters haven’t aged!

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Did you draw the original character models?

MG: David and I talked about all the characters and worked together. My drawing style is actually pretty simple and crude -- I can't draw beautiful women, not even beautiful cyclops women -- so I turned my drawings over to real artists and let them make them better, and then I took those drawings and messed with them. There's nobody who's really sexy on "The Simpsons," but I learned that the animators could draw women in the "Simpsons" style who looked beautiful -- which was a great surprise to me! So I wanted to see if I could create a science fiction heroine -- except I wanted to mess with the fanboys, so I gave her one eye. The original Leela was far more conventionally sexy, in cartoon form. There's something about cartoonists and animators when it comes to drawing beautiful women they give them noses that are microscopic, and I gave her a nose more like Olive Oyl's, more in that direction. The animators were aghast at this revolting horror character -- you don't even notice it now. You probably can't even picture it, it's just a nose. And then she was dressed like Ripley from the first "Alien" movie.

With "Futurama," I wanted to do unrequited love, and David Cohen agreed, and although our original plan was never to have Fry and Leela get together, we finally just said, "You can only string the fans along so far."

It's a great collection of characters.

MG: And a great bunch of actors. That's one of the reasons why, if the show does go away, I'm going to miss it so much, because everybody on it has a really great time; There's a camaraderie that is unlike anything else I've ever experienced. The animators are in love with the show, the actors are in love with the show, and always show up for Comic-Con -- and you can see how much fun people are having, especially John DiMaggio who plays Bender, and Billy West, who plays a million characters.

I'm very proud of Bender, because you believe he's real -- I don't know why a robot would behave that way or why they would allow it -- but he's definitely autonomous, or almost autonomous. One of the things that makes me laugh the most is that Bender cannot be accused of being a bad role model, because he's a robot -- he gets to smoke cigars and say outrageous things.

David thought it would be funny to have a robot that could only stay sober by drinking -- if he doesn't drink he exhibits the symptoms of drunkenness, including a rusty beard overgrowth. Also magnets make him turn into a folksinger. There was a whole thing at the beginning that he was a cook with no sense of taste, but that got old very quickly. I think he's our Homer character -- Fry's a little too wimpy.

What did John DiMaggio bring to him?

MG: Well, first of all , it's really hard to cast a robot voice; everybody came in and talked robotically or did an imitation of C-3P0, or they did Hal. David Cohen tried out for the part, because some people think his voice sounds somewhat robotic, and he was too good. So. we couldn't use him. And John came in and did it as a kind of aggressive barfly -- and that's it. That really dictated where we were with the character.

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