Futuristic delivery guy Philip J. Fry (voice of Billy West) finally gets his happy ending with the lovely Leela (voice of Katey Sagal), albeit with dire consequences for the rest of the universe, as “Futurama” ends its long run Wednesday on Comedy Central.
“We wanted to push the Fry and Leela relationship to its conclusion,” explains executive producer David Cohen, who co-created “Futurama” with Matt Groening of “The Simpsons.” “If this really is our last episode, we wanted to have a payoff for this story that has been bubbling on and off for the last 13 years. We decided to give fans Fry and Leela’s wedding, although, of course, in a twisted sci-fi way.”
If Cohen sounds a little uncertain whether his show is really ending, you have to cut the guy some slack. He’s been here before, but this animated series — which premiered on Fox back in 1999, then found new life via direct-to-DVD movies before eventually landing at its most recent home on Comedy Central in 2009 — has come back from the brink before.
“It’s never that good a sign if you’ve gotten really good at writing series finales,” Cohen says, laughing. “That means something has gone wrong, and this is literally the fourth episode that we have written with the expectation that it was going to be our series finale. We probably have the most experience at writing series finales as any show.”
This time feels different, though, he says, and series star West — who voices several other characters in addition to leading man Fry — says it hit him that the end was in sight during the cast’s recent appearance at Comic-Con in San Diego.
“It hit me on that Saturday that this was it,” recalls West, a veteran voice actor who calls “Futurama” his favorite gig in his long career. “I was very emotional. ... The thing is, I was never emotional about the seeming end of ‘Futurama’ those times before, and this time I was, and that must mean that I’m prepared. If that’s it, that’s it, and it was the greatest run.”
It helps, of course, that a long-rumored crossover episode between “Futurama” and “The Simpsons” finally is going to happen during the coming season of the latter show, penned by former “Futurama” writer-producer J. Stewart Burns.
“Al Jean, who is the show runner (on ‘The Simpsons’), approached Matt and me and asked our opinion,” Cohen explains. “Matt was all for it, because the animation styles are basically the same, and it also would be a nice tribute to ‘Futurama’ after all the work that had gone into it. I agreed, so it’s really happening.”
“Isn’t that a hoot?” West says. “I don’t know if we’ll even be in the same room as those guys, because we may just record out parts separately, but it would be nice if we could at least have a table read together. It was bound to happen, although the fan fiction people probably have already written crossover episodes.”
“Futurama” has won several Emmys and other awards during its run, but Cohen says he is especially proud of the way he and his creative team managed to figure out the rules about how to make a show like this work in the first place, starting with his and Groening’s decision to set the series in a future that was neither explicitly utopian (“The Jetsons”) or dystopian (“Blade Runner”).
“That has allowed us to comment a little more on what is happening today,” Cohen says. “We had a presidential election of 3012 episode, which focused on one of the candidates’ ‘Earth certificate,’ where there was discussion that one of them had not actually been born on Earth and thus could not be president of Earth.”
Cohen points to a Season 3 episode called “The Luck of the Fryrish,” a fan favorite, as an example of how the team stretched the rules for the comedy/sci-fi genre.
“It was an episode where Fry learns more about his brother, whom he had left behind in the year 2000,” Cohen says. “It was a very complicated episode with what we hoped would be a very touching ending, which was something we had not tried up to that point. The episode had a very high order of difficulty, with a lot of flashbacks, and I think it ended up coming out great. Many viewers said we gave them a tear in the eye, which is very difficult to achieve with a crazy cartoon with monsters and robots in it. I felt really proud that we had gotten people invested enough in the show that they could be moved.”
They’ll likely be moved as well by the quiet ending to Wednesday’s finale. Still, who doesn’t remember those cheesy old sci-fi movies of the 1950s that often ended with the phrase “The End ... or is it?”
“I feel like it is genuinely the end this time,” Cohen says. “The caveat is I also said that on each of the last three times I thought we were done. The more I think it’s done, the more it taps me on the shoulder a year later when I least expect it. People have started to just not believe me when I say it’s over.
“Everything is possible in the future. There’s futuristic technology today that wasn’t around the last time we were canceled. But at this moment, it’s done.”