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Futurama - Interview with David X. Cohen

Good news, everybody! Not only does Futurama return for an all new batch of episodes on Comedy Central starting tonight with "Neutopia" and "Benderama," but here's an interview with co-creator and executive producer David X. Cohen about what to expect from the coming season and Futurama's presence at San Diego Comic-Con 2011:

The first time you were on Comedy Central, it was a new network, little experimental, you had different boundaries you could push, different standards. With that in mind, is the vibe any different, or more confident this time?
David X. Cohen: Well the thing I think is different is last season we were coming back knowing we had been off for a long time, and also having the complication that we had done these four DVD movies in the intervening period which carried the overall story of the Futurama universe forward a little bit. We felt like we had to slightly reintroduce the show, at least with the first episode back last year, and also kind of wrap up the loose ends of the crew flying off into a black hole at the end of the last DVD movie.
So we felt like we had to sort of, to accomplish those two things on the return last year, now I would say it's more like we're just a show that is in regular production and we can just come in with some episodes we like that don't have any additional burdens on them, so I would say yeah it's a little more natural coming back this year with no knots to untie, fewer "last episodes ever" of the past.

So now to clarify: this is the back stretch of season 6. This is season 6.5.
David X. Cohen: Yes, some say 6.5, some say 6B. Either way it sounds stupid but that's what it is.

But you were renewed for an additional 26 episodes, am I right?
David X. Cohen: That's right, that's right. So we got really a strong show of support from Comedy Central in addition to the 13 for this summer, which are now we just completed, we're already at work on 26 more for the following two seasons. So basically, counting this summer, we've got three more seasons of stuff, three more half-seasons coming, so people can rest easy for a little while. By Futurama standards a long while, I would say.

It's difficult to keep track of that in my head, the 26 episodes and how they're going to be broken up into seasons.
David X. Cohen: Yeah it is like 13/13. So we'll have next year 7A then 7B or if you prefer, 7.0, 7.5.

So the 26 episodes, that's 7A and 7B.
David X. Cohen: I believe so, yes. It could get more complicated than this if you feel like making a giant spreadsheet, because the DVD volume numbers are also derailing, so it's like volume five, but what is that? It's season six, you know what I mean? You actually need some kind of a chart with a graph with lines connecting what season corresponds to what volume and the episodes are like different numbers. I myself am losing track. But there are new episodes that's important, new episodes for the next three summers.

I'm just going to wait until 2025 when it's all over and I can buy the super Blu-ray set, all in one collection. So, you have more freedom, it's less of a burden to tie up certain things. Are we going to see more stand-alone episodes with this coming season, or are there certain aspects of the mythology that you want to dive back into?
David X. Cohen: It's a mish-mash. As usual, the bulk of the episodes I would say are their own things, but what we have a couple of coming up are these more flashback-y types of episodes, which I like very much but are pretty difficult to write. So we have I think two coming up this summer for the longtime fans to fill in some backstory on our characters. One of them is called "The Tip of the Zoidberg," and that one was to answer a question which I and many of the writers have had for a long time which is "why do they keep Dr. Zoidberg around when he's such a terrible doctor?" Even since the beginning of the show, we did not have an answer planned for that question, but we said "well maybe he must have some dirt on the professor or something."
So in that episode we're going to have flashbacks to this long ago first meeting of the professor and Dr. Zoidberg. We're going to see the secret pact between the two of them, which has led to Dr. Zoidberg staying there to this day. That's one of them. And then we have another one toward the end of the season called "Cold Warriors," guest starring Buzz Aldrin. We're going to do some more flashbacks to Fry's childhood and I think a crazy story about Fry importing the common cold back to the future, where the common cold has been eradicated and people have lost all resistance. But it turns out it hibernated in Fry when he was frozen. So we have a couple of those flashback-style episodes coming up.

Do you ever find yourself getting caught up in continuity? I remember reactions to "Lethal Inspection," where Hermes and Bender's history was revealed, and people were saying that complicated what we've seen of Bender's origin.
David X. Cohen: (laughs) This is the worst fear of the Futurama writer: being hit with the continuity question. Well I usually just say, you know, in that case we can just say of course Hermes wants to keep this whole thing secret, so he never said anything when he first saw Bender back in episode 102, and Bender, well he knew he was born in Mexico and we saw that once before, so that's alright.
As far as the year it all happened, maybe we won't discuss that right now. (laughs) I guess what happens is we think of the idea for the story, we then monkey around a little bit looking at our previous episodes that we're going to contradict, and we try where we can to tie up the loose ends. But if we think the story is good, we go with it basically. Because we already have a non-comprehensible timeline. The ultimate defense, of course, is that with all the times they've gone backwards in time, who really knows what universe we were in the last time you saw Bender's birth or whatever.
So that's always a good excuse. Remember last season they also, Fry, the professor, and Bender all rode in a time machine through the end of the universe, and now we're two universes later from those old episodes. Even discounting the backwards time travel.

Buzz Aldrin, Patton Oswalt, Dan Castellaneta reprising the Robot Devil, and Stephen Hawking will appear as guest stars this season. Are there any that we haven't heard about yet for the coming episodes?
David X. Cohen: Tom Kenny, if you're a Spongebob fan. Tom Kenny will be back as Abner Doubledeal, the fast talking chairman of the Ultimate Robot Fighting league, and later the owner of the New New York Mets. He'll be back as that character.

Who have been some of your favorite voice actors to work with in the past?
David X. Cohen: Bea Arthur. I would point out as one where originally before she came in I thought "well it's kind of a weird choice, and we'll score points for unexpected casting." She played the fem-bot who was controlling the fem-puter Amazon home world, but she was so funny and gave it such a serious, straight reading to this jibberish about "have you any idea what it's like to be a fem-bot on a man-bot man-puter's world?" She gave this little speech which was nothing but jibberish in the most heartfelt reading. I thought she gave one of the great Futurama guest performances.
But Al Gore, of course, is always really exciting. He's been in four times I think now. The first time we recorded him we actually recorded him at the official vice-presidential residence in Washington, D.C., so that had to be one of the highlights of Futurama guest recordings. Who else? Stephen Hawking. I actually got to talk to Stephen Hawking; I had a brief chat with him about superstition and unlucky numbers. He made a comment that often Physics departments are on the 13th floor of whatever building they're in because physicists never care about that kind of thing.
So, just people you would never expected to find yourself in conversation with, such as Stephen Hawking or Al Gore or Bea Arthur. It's a frequent occurrence, actually you know. Almost anyone we get is very surreal. Those stand out.

Of the upcoming episodes, which one would you say that you're proudest of, or maybe that you've had the most involvement in?
David X. Cohen: I think one which I have to point out just for the sheer magnitude of the undertaking is the one which I believe will be the finale of the season. It's called "Reincarnation,"and the idea is we wanted to do something impressive to "end" the show with. So what we decided this time around for our "last episode ever" was to do two last episodes ever. So the second to last one is called "Over Clockwise," and that's a big science fiction story about Bender getting over clocked and running at super high speed and becoming this god-like being who can sort of almost see into the future-along with a romantic Fry/Leela story, a touching story.
So that's sort of our usual type of "last episode ever." But that's only going to be the second-to-last one this year, and we thought "ah, then we'll do this bonus extra episode called "Reincarnation." And the idea of that one which would then come after that is it's Futurama reincarnated in three different animation styles, so that was a huge undertaking of each one of those three-parters with three mini stories. The first one is Futurama as an old black and white cartoon, the second one is Futurama animated in a 1980's video game style, a very highly pixelated style, and then the third one is Futurama as Japanese anime. We pretty much just jabbed a knife in our animators' backs by asking them to do that.

Last year you were already talking about "Benderama," and doing Futurama in an anime style, so you knew all these things a full year ago. Are you that far along into the seventh season? What can you tell us?
David X. Cohen: The episode we just recorded, which I believe but can't guarantee will be the season premiere in 2012, Planet Express gets a new soda machine, so that's breaking news, and Bender impregnates it. So I think that will be the premiere for 2012. And actually I think we're going to try to be a little bit topical, which we rarely do, but 2012 is kind of a big year because it will be the presidential election, and also because the end of the world has been predicted.
So we're also planning a 3012 presidential election with a candidate who challenges Nixon, except that people begin to suspect that the candidate was actually not born on earth, and they demand to see his earth certificate. That's one that we're working on. And based on the 2012 prediction, we're going to do a 3012 doomsday prediction episode.

What can you tell us about what we might see at Comic-Con from Futurama this year?
David X. Cohen: That will be a treat. I think this will probably be our best sneak preview ever at Comic-Con, because we're going to show the entire anime segment of that "Reincarnation" episode during our panel, and that will be before it aired by a month or more. People will get to see a full third of our finale at our panel. I think we'll also have miscellaneous clips of the episodes that haven't aired yet at that time, but that will be the feature attraction. As far as for the cast members, I should add, the current plan is that Katey Sagal, Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Maurice LaMarche will all be there.

Let me ask you a Futurama universe question that's bugged me in the past. How do you see Futurama's timeline working? I know cartoons, especially the Simpsons, they always have the floating timeline to keep the characters younger. Futurama does something unique. They sort of address it, they keep it grounded that started in the year 3000, and it's now 3011. So is Fry technically 36 but just looks 25?
David X. Cohen: This is a question which we do debate here periodically, and the practical solution is we now attempt to never refer to how old the characters are, and just act like they're the same age they've always been. So the approach we take is the year is changing, so we always keep it exactly 1,000 years ahead, so each episode we write the plan is happening 1,000 years from now. So we're now writing the year 3012 for next summer's episodes.
So that's clearly set in there; we're even going to say the 3012 presidential election as a perfect example of that. But at the same time we will not refer to Fry's age increasing. We're in some kind of a surrealism of the show that they're apparently not getting older but the year is advancing, and if you ask me to explain it more than that, my tongue will literally turn into a square knot, so I will leave it at that.

I've always figured, you know, the professor lives to be 170 or so, so people just live longer. 36 is the new 26, so it's not really a problem.
David X. Cohen: Right, well Slurm has certain preservatives in it that give your skin a youthful, plastic-y glow.

What are some of your favorite Futurama quotes that get kicked around the writer's room, or impressions you like to do?
David X. Cohen: Have you heard that I auditioned for Bender in the early days of the show? At the very dawn of the show, we were trying to figure out what Bender would sound like, and it seems obvious in retrospect that he sounds like this loudmouth drunk, but at the time, even though that was his personality, we were conditioned by the history of science fiction that you know, he should sound like a robot, probably. At first we thought he's going to talk in a monotone way, and then we said it's not working, so we got all these guys with super deep voices, and we were just going on and on auditioning dozens of people for the role; nothing was working. So at some point someone at the office said "Hey Dave, you sound like a robot, why don't you audition for the role?" I've never been entirely sure how to take that, but I've decided to take it as a compliment.
I auditioned, and I often point to that as the moment I gained great respect for actors, because the goal was to sit down and deliver the lines in the voice of David Cohen, and the second I started reading it I became unable to do that. All I could think of was how did the last person do it who was auditioning? I was utterly incompetent at it. Luckily, John DiMaggio came in and did his drunken Bender voice as the audition for the professor, and someone suggested he try it again as Bender, and it instantly seemed to work, so a miracle happened. So I'm the would-be Bender, but other than that, no I don't think I'm a good match for any of them.

Source: UGO

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