Aug 6, 2010

Futurama: Best Characters

Futurama is back, and the new half-hour episodes are a definite improvement on last year's telemovies. I'm not sure yet that the heights of the original four series have been hit, but after a shaky start, I feel like they keep improving every week.

Futurama is quite possibly my favourite-ever fictional TV show. I have lots of favourites, to be sure, but in terms of rewatch value, Futurama is on as high a rotation as Simon Schama's A History of Britain or David Starkey's Monarchy. Its sharp writing doesn't talk down either on a scientific or a comedic basis to viewers, and its setting post the year 3000 allows it to flesh out the most wondrous cast of characters.

Like its "parent" show The Simpsons, Futurama has a key central cast - the crew of the Planet Express delivery service. Dr Zoidberg and Leela are my favourites there, but it's only a nano-jump to Farnsworth, Bender, Hermes, Amy and of course, Fry.

But I tell you who I CAN list - the best of the rest. You could argue some of these characters are "semi-regular" and others are "one-offs" or "infrequent", but damnit they've all made a big impact. Here is my list of the Best Futurama Characters (Who Aren't the Main Seven).

#8 Hedonism Bot

What is the point of Hedonism Bot? Robots were developed to be service/assistance devices - and yet Hedonism Bot is a Roman emperor reborn. Whether it's being fed grapes, fanned by semi-naked and oiled men, or covered in chocolate, Hedonism Bot serves no purpose except to be fabulous and decadent. But hell, the world needs people/robots who can appreciate the finer things in life.

#7 The Hyperchicken

A twisted tribute to Gregory Peck's portrayal of southern lawyer Atticus Finch, the Hyperchicken is perhaps the most sublime pun in the show (Peck? Finch? Chicken? Geddit?). He pops up whenever there's a courtroom scene, which in Futurama is more often than you might think. Utterly incompetent, yet completely charming, he drawls his way through the adversarial justice system, only breaking to peck at the floor or let out a terrifying squawk. No objections to this character here, Your Honour.

#6 Morbo

TV anchor and poorly-disguised scout for a massive invading alien army, Morbo is a well-dressed giant-headed green space lizard prone to outbursts of anger and newsreading. Regularly seen with bubbly blonde co-host Linda, Morbo regular mocks the ways of the puny humans and issues warnings about their impending doom. Not even his wife escapes his fiery indignance. Actor Maurice LaMarche himself jokes about how his vocal characterisation for Morbo is somewhat close to another of his characters, Lhurr (from the planet Omicron Perseis 8), and the characters are admittedly so alike that they're rarely if ever seen in the same episode. But Morbo has the edge in one-liners. Take his response to his "old friend" Richard Nixon: "How're the kids?" "Belligerent and numerous."

#5 Earth President Nixon

Originally stored as a head in a jar along with the rest of America's Presidents (and some notable runners-up), Richard Nixon broke free, bought Bender's body and decided to run for the Earth Presidency. Since then, he turns up every now and then whenever something official needs doing, or when a war needs starting/finishing. Voice actor Billy West based his impression not on Nixon himself, but on Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of him in Oliver Stone's Nixon - throwing in a few extra jowl-rumbling "awwoooooo"s for good measure. Earth President Nixon is most fun when throwing out nostalgic references to his heady political career of the 60s and 70s - particularly when he's accompanied by the enraged body of Spiro Agnew.

#4 Scruffy

Ah, Scruffy Scruffington, janitor, owner of one of them fancy $300 haircuts and reader of futuristic porno mags like Zero G Juggs. You could say that Scruffy shouldn't be in the list as he's technically a member of the Planet Express crew, but he's seen so rarely, and is always so brilliant whenever he appears, that he's inclusion-worthy. His rough voice (David Herman), sparse dialogue and unflappable manner are a delightful contrast to the rest of the high-energy cast: he's the Marlboro Man to Fry's Mickey Mouse. Favourite line, in 300 Big Ones, where he talks about prison not being as bad as you might think. "You can make sangria in the toilet. 'Course it's shank or be shanked."

#3 Mom

A ruthless megolamaniac, Mom yearns to dominate both the global robot production market, and eventually, the globe. As the public face of MomCorp, she comes across as a sweet, rotund, grandmotherly type. But once her fat suits whirs and spins and disappears into her skintight blue bodysuit (one of the best visual gags in the series), the facade falls to reveal Mom's tyrannical true persona. Mercilessly browbeaten, her three sons try to keep her on a moral course, but Mom's bitterness, ambition and five-star level of creative swearing ("Jam a bastard in it, you crap!) ensures her place as the Grand Villain of the series. I simply adore her.

#2 The Hypnotoad

All Glory to the Hypnotoad... This is one of those characters that you know somebody made up as a throwaway gag, but it will be remembered for longer and more fondly than anything else they will create, ever. The Hypnotoad is a gigantic toad that barely moves - save for its huge, beguiling eyes - and is accompanied by a menacing, mechanical noise whenever he appears. A reference to Hypnotoad getting his own sitcom led to producers actually making a full episode of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad as a DVD feature on one of the telemovies. It is, predictably, 25 minutes of Hypnotoad staring at you, interspersed with musical stings and links. The recent new episodes have also tantalisingly hinted at something called Hypnotoad on Ice. The fact that you can insert "Hypnotoad" into virtually any existing TV show title and get a good giggle, shows the staying power of that particularly, no doubt originally throwaway gag.

#1 Zapp Brannigan

The one, the only. It's just too easy to say Zapp Brannigan is a pastiche of both William Shatner and Captain Kirk. He's so much more. Forget the Old Spice Guy, Zapp's the man I wish I was. And I'm a girl. Go figure.

25-star General of the Democratic Order of Planets, there is nothing Zapp can't do. Well, more to the point, there is nothing Zapp CAN do, but if he has his nervous, amphibious deputy Kif Kroker (who puts the "long-suffering" into "long-suffering assistant"), he generally gets away with his incredibly buffoonish and arse-headed behaviour. Despite having all the attributes that I generally find repellent in most human beings, I can't help but love Zapp Brannigan with my woman's heart - and parts beyond. And that's even before the karaoke.

Perfectly captured by Billy West (inspired by his friend Phil Hartman and the big voices of radio disc jockets they both loved), Zapp Brannigan presents the viewer with so many delights. His manly physique. His very sexy learning disability. His decorated military record. The fact that above all, Zapp Brannigan knows how to please a lady. If you're not a convert, then I implore you - let Zapp woo you over. Let him serve you some "gwacka-mole or "sham-paggen". Let him rock your world. Nobody does it better. Get your craving. Get back to the Zapper. BAM.


  1. I hate the Hyper-chicken. I always find myself frustrated by any scene that he appears in.

    Personally, I'm a big fan of the Brain Slugs and Malfunctioning Eddie.

  2. I like Zapp Brannigan only because he is such a despicable character and he wears a nice short uniform.

    But my all time favourite is Bender. If I was a Robot I'd be Bender. Sure he is a Thieving, Oilaholic scoundrel but his CPU is in the right place.

  3. Nat I think you've nailed it. Sounds like you'd like Tripping The Rift.

  4. I love the stabby robot. And Flexo. And Robot Santa

  5. Phil Hartman. Shame he was lost to us.

  6. Old Spice guy all the way. "You're on a boat, with the man your man could smell like"

  7. Of the cast of semi-regular characters, My favorites are Hypnotoad, Robot Santa and Robot Devil.

  8. Fry cracked corn, and I don't care.
    Leela cracked corn, I still don't care.
    Bender cracked corn, and I am great!
    Take that, you stupid corn.

    I'm better than any Hypnotoad. He can kiss my shiny metal a... ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD.