Its past is a prelude to a funny future.

NEW YORK – A prediction: Viewers eons from now will give “Futurama” the credit it deserves today.

Oh, it may not make them laugh. But when the show’s time finally comes, this shrewd cartoon series could well be endorsed as an accurate picture of life, circa A.D. 3000.

For now, however, we ancients of the 21st century who love it will continue to celebrate “Futurama” as unbeatable satire – even as its prime-time cycle nears an end.

Fortunately, “Futurama” reruns air on Cartoon Network at 11 p.m. EDT Sundays through Thursdays as part of that network’s “Adult Swim” program block. Next month, the second “Futurama” season will be released on DVD by Fox Home Entertainment.

And on the Fox network, the final three new “Futurama” episodes can be seen Sundays at 7 p.m. through Aug. 10.

Granted, four seasons in prime time is nothing to sneeze at – unless compared to “The Simpsons,” still going gangbusters on Fox after 14 years.

Matt Groening’s big “Simpsons” follow-up, “Futurama” has always been overshadowed by his brilliant first-born.

Who knows why? The verbal humor, sight gags, wicked cultural jabs and general irreverence that make “The Simpsons” great are found full-strength on “Futurama,” as is spectacular voice talent (including Billy West, John DiMaggio and Katey Sagal).

What’s more, “Futurama” took a bold step beyond “The Simpsons” (based as it is in Homer Simpson’s hometown of Springfield) to take on the entire universe from a vantage point a thousand years away.

Its odd little band includes Fry, a twentysomething slacker who, on the first episode, inadvertently time-traveled from 1999 to 2999. There, in the city rechristened New New York, he fell in with Bender, a sarcastic robot-reprobate and Leela, a sexy, kick-boxing alien with a single large eyeball.

They work as the delivery crew for Professor Farnsworth, who at 160 years old is both a genius and senile, and happens to be Fry’s great-(times 30)-nephew. One other notable is Dr. Zoidberg, a lobsterlike alien who serves as staff physician for Farnsworth’s intergalactic FedEx.

Just these details should make it clear: “Futurama” goes anywhere, anytime, with every manner of creature and cargo, to deliver the laughs. And to drive home the show’s bleakly funny lesson: Life as we know it (whatever the millennium or galaxy) is an exercise in lowered expectations.

Item: In mid-flight, Fry spots a planet and, hungry, wonders if it might have a restaurant.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” says Bender. “We’re a billion miles from nowhere.”

“Yeah,” agrees Leela, eyeing the planet. “It’s probably only got a Howard Johnson’s.”

In the future, clone candidates square off in meaningless elections. Santa Claus is a huge, evil robot who bellows threats like “Your mistletoe is no match for my TOW missile!” And nature is out of control (although, happily, nuclear winter has canceled out global warming).

Even death is a muddled institution. The heads of famous people from the past spend eternity alive, displayed in jars in a Head Museum where Richard Nixon (“I am not a crook’s head!”) can consort with George Washington, TV pitchman Ron Popeil or even Matt Groening.

“Futurama” informs us that, a thousand years from now, advertisements will be beamed into a sleeping person’s dreams.

“That’s awful!” says Fry. “It’s like brainwashing.”

“Didn’t you have ads in the 20th century?” asks Leela.

“Not in our dreams!” replies Fry. “Only on TV and radio. And in magazines. And movies. And at ballgames. And on buses. And milk cartons. And t-shirts. And bananas. And written on the sky. But not in dreams! No sirree!”

Even when the “present day” of 3000 appears enlightened, any such sign of progress serves to underscore the follies of the “past.”

For instance: Remember garbage, that signature of the 21st century? They don’t in the future. No one knows what garbage is.

“We recycle EVERYTHING,” Leela boasts to Fry. “Robots are made from old beer cans.”

“Yeah,” adds Bender, hoisting a brew, “and this beer can is made out of old robots!”

It falls to Fry to share long-lost techniques for littering. Just as, on another episode, he draws on 20th century logic to argue that TV should avoid all cleverness, since “clever things make people feel stupid, and unexpected things make them feel scared.”

As viewers eons from now may discover, “Futurama” never bothered to take its own advice.

On the Net:

www.fox.com

Cartoon Network: www.adultswim.com

Fan Site: www.gotfuturama.com/

Fox Home Entertainment: www.foxhome.com

EDITOR’S NOTE – Frazier Moore can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org

AP-ES-07-24-03 1338EDT



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.