The people who occupy the strange world of Matt Groening’s Futurama seem like something that could only be created by a twisted merge between the worlds of “Metropolis,” “Eraserhead” and the upper west side of Manhattan. And despite their two-dimensional existence, they actually have very deep personalities, histories and roots that can rival other sitcom characters who are actually full flesh and blood. Just imagine being able to peel them away and uncover their deepest and most awe-inspiring secrets — especially Leela. Dear, sweet, beautiful, shapely, lonely Leela.
Phillip J. Fry
The delivery boy serves as the show’s 20th-century hero to the 30th-century’s cultural complications and technological imperfection. He also serves a personal tribute to some of the actors and creators involved with the show.
For instance, Matt Groening bestowed his main character with the name Phillip in honor of the late Phil Hartman, who had a long history with The Simpsons as Troy McClure and other characters. He was going to join up with Groening again for Futurama, but Hartman was killed by his wife before the show started.
The middle initial “J” stands as Groening’s personal tribute to animator and Rocky and Bullwinkle creator Jay Ward and Bullwinkle, who also shares the same middle initial. Fry isn’t the first of Groening’s characters whose middle name got an injection of vitamin “J.” Other characters include Abraham J. Simpson, Hubert J. Farnsworth, Bartholomew J. Simpson and (of course) Homer J. Simpson.
There has actually been a friendly debate brewing over the origins of this plucky, one-eyed alien babe’s name. Pop culture and most Wiki-related sites suggest that Groening and his Futurama cronies got the name from the British series Doctor Who, in which the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, is accompanied by a plucky brunette babe named Leela.
Her name actually comes from the most famous symphony by French composer Olivier Messiaen called “Turangalila,” according to an LA Weekly profile on Groening from 1999. The title is derived from two Sanskrit words: “turanga,” meaning “time,” and “lila,” meaning “play.” The artist described his piece as an expression of joy that is “superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned.” Throw in “busty” and “one-eyed” and you’ve got my favorite purple haired cyclops.
Bender Bending Rodriguez
TV’s greatest foul mouthed, chain-smoking, beer-swilling robot since Rosie from The Jetsons gets his first name from John Bender, the hard-edged, angry teen played by Judd Nelson in John Hughes’ classic coming of age film The Breakfast Club.
John DiMaggio, the long-time voice of the iconic robot character, describes the character’s voice as an audible mesh between Slim Pickens, “every drunk at the end of the bar in the Northeast” and a voice that a college buddy would do called “Charlie the sausage lover.” DiMaggio originally auditioned for the role of Professor Farnsworth using what we now know as Bender’s voice. Someone on the show suggested he audition for Bender in his professor voice and he scored the role, according to a DVD commentary from the first season. And speaking of the good doctor…
|The Voices of Futurama – John DiMaggio on Bender|
Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth
The scientist, inventor and distant nephew of the elder Fry (Wikipedia claims he is Fry’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great nephew) gets his name from real life inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, the man responsible for bringing the world the great invention of the first all-electric television and, by default, Futurama.
The role went to famed voice actor Billy West, who also voices Fry, Dr. Zoidberg and Earth President Richard M. Nixon. West and DiMaggio would often kill time between recording takes by playing a round of “Dueling Farnsworths,” according to the show’s DVD commentary.
Dr. John A. Zoidberg
Producer and co-creator David X. Cohen came up with the name for the perpetually poor crustacean physician from his childhood. Like most children of the 80s, Cohen spent his days dumping quarters into arcade game cabinets. He was inspired to create his own game on an Apple II computer called Zoid, a game he submitted to the Broderbund software company that created the popular line of Carmen Sandiego history and geography games. The company not only rejected the program, but they also misspelled Cohen’s name in the rejection letter.
Zoidberg’s voice, provided by West, is actually a combination of two impressions from West’s impressive voice arsenal: the reticent tone of character actor Lou Jacobi and the “marble mouth” of actor, singer and “Toastmaster General” George Jessel.
|The Voices of Futurama – Billy West on Dr. Zoidberg|
The bumbling and booming spaceship captain and military leader was supposed to be voiced by the late Phil Hartman. The character was created for him and modeled after his unmistakable, striking voice, but after Hartman was murdered, the role was given to West.
West based the voiced on the booming sounds of old-time radio DJs from his days in the AM and FM recording booths, a topic that West said he and Hartman often discussed before his untimely passing. The show’s creators and writers cleverly describe Brannigan’s personality as “if William Shatner ran the Enterprise, not James T. Kirk.”