It took all of a few seconds for Saturday’s “Futurama Live” show at SF Sketchfest to acquire that distinct Futurama feel. A gravelly, monotone voice came over the speaker system to shout, “Ladies and gentlemen, shut your facial orifices,” and away we were. Minutes later, the 2013 season of Futurama kicked off as those in attendance at Cobb’s Comedy Club were treated to the world premiere of “Murder on the Planet Express,” an episode that will air this summer on Comedy Central. Without ruining the entire delicately woven story line of suspicious paranoia consuming the Planet Express team, I’ll instead just assure Futurama fans that the show hasn’t lost any edge — the opening act of this episode crescendoed by not only having Bender steal Fry’s kidney, but having Leela mistakenly eat it as well.
All in all, “Futurama Live” offered an array of sneak peeks into the upcoming season. From what I was able to glean from a three-minute highlight reel, fans can expect to see a G.I. Joe–style battle, a Scooby-Doo homage, and a Planet of the Apes–style, well, planet of apes. But easily the biggest reveal of the afternoon came in the form of — brace yourselves, Futurama fanatics — Fry’s dog. Obviously we didn’t have the full context, but the lovable pup responsible for perhaps the series’ most memorable episode ever was unmistakably present in the teaser.
All of that may have excited Futurama fans Saturday, but what made them lose their minds was access to the show’s incredible voice talent. Producer Lee Supercinski moderated a panel featuring Billy West (Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Zoidberg), John DiMaggio (Bender), Maurice LaMarche (Kif, Morbo, Lrr), Phil LaMarr (Hermes), and Lauren Tom (Amy). While the formal agenda was a reading of the 2010 episode “Proposition Infinity” and a Q&A with the audience, the informal agenda, according to DiMaggio, was hearing beloved cartoon characters swear — something he delivered immediately, saying “Shit fuck fuckity shit” as Bender.
The reading displayed the incredible talents of the panel, each of them able to slip effortlessly between multiple characters during the reading of the episode, which focused on the abomination of robosexuality. West, the voice behind Ren & Stimpy, Doug, and Space Jam’s Bugs Bunny, was particularly impressive when he exchanged dialogue with himself as Fry, Zoidberg, and the professor.
Discussing their favorite episodes in the Q&A afterward, each actor showed unfiltered affection for the show. They gushed about “Jurassic Bark,” the episode about Fry’s dog (“When does a cartoon ever evoke that much emotion?” asked West), while LaMarche mentioned an episode where Fry becomes his own grandfather, and LaMarr expressed his love for the “overtly political,” yet still hysterical “Proposition Infinity.” Supercinski also noted that “The Late Philip J. Fry,” an Emmy-winning episode that jumps forward in time, is an example of an episode that felt special all the way through the process.
That process, the panel also emphasized, is likely as much to thank for the success of the show as anything. Every actor heaped praise on the writing staff, a group DiMaggio described as the greatest number of physics PhDs ever assembled to write fart jokes, and particularly lauded show creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen. When asked about Futurama table reads, LaMarr underscored that they are considered more important than actual recording sessions at the show, as that’s where Cohen and Groening aggressively take notes before disappearing for three weeks and returning with something sparkling.
Don’t let this suggest that Saturday’s show stayed precisely on track the entire time. There were requests to do impressions: DiMaggio channeled Tracy Morgan, LaMarche did Jon Lovitz, and West lamented as Doug Funnie that “now Patti won’t do me anymore.” DiMaggio also plugged a documentary on voice acting he’s premiering this year called I Know That Voice.
Before the day was through, in a moment that perhaps perfectly entwined the spirit of Futurama with the spontaneity of the event, an audience member asked DiMaggio if he could have Bender say something about the 49ers, who will play in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Without pause, DiMaggio said that, sure, he, a Jets fan, would be happy to oblige. At which point, he slipped into Bender’s voice and said, “Blow it out your ass, 49ers! Go Ravens!”