DM: How far is 31st century science? Is there anything in Futurama that the characters can’t do?
DXC: I’ll give you an example. We try, when possible, to stick with the laws of physics, while still allowing ourselves great leeway to do whatever we want. So we’ve claimed that you still cannot go faster than the speed of light in the future. However, at the same time, we managed to have our cake by claiming that they have sped up the speed of light. The speed of light has been tremendously increased, so you can then zoom around at less than the speed of light and still get wherever you need to go in a few minutes.
The list of things you can’t do gradually fades the more episodes we do, by the way. Initially, we said, “Well, you can’t time travel. That’s gonna be a hard and fast rule of Futurama.” But about 40 episodes in we said, “Well, maybe it’s time for some time travel.” When you start to look for the big ideas in science fiction, you start to say, “Maybe we should have fewer hard and fast rules and more focus on the fun stories and ideas that are interesting to our fans.” So, we’ve definitely loosened up on the rules over the years.
What we realized is that we have more latitude than we originally thought in showing any kind of crazy technology, including time travel or shrinking people to microscopic size, that we may have initially shied away from. We have more leeway than we thought in the fans going along for the ride on those things, as long as we are also telling a story about the characters that people are genuinely invested in. I think if people are really sympathizing with what the characters are doing in the story, they’re willing to accept any crazy technology we throw in as the setting for that story.
DM: Are people more willing to accept stretches of the laws of physics because it’s animated?
DXC: I think so. The laws of cartoon physics have always been pretty dubious. People go off a cliff and gravity sets in about 11 seconds later, so…
We don’t usually do those kinds of cartoon jokes. We actually shy away, because we don’t want people to think of it as a cartoon. First and foremost, we want people to think of our characters as real people, even if they’re not technically people. Those cartoon conventions would distract the viewer from thinking about these people as real people. So, strangely enough, cartoon jokes are one of the few things we try not to do in our cartoon.
DM: Is there ever any justification offered for the fact that people from the past live on as heads in jars?
DXC: There’s very little justification for that in the show. There’s plenty of justification for it in real life: It’s useful for us to put in current-day guest stars into the show.
What is the mechanism by which they will appear in the show? That’s another issue we had to address early on. We ultimately settled on the head in the jar, as opposed to, for example, the robot reincarnation or the holographic computer program. The head in the jar just seemed like it’d be more fun to look at.
Within the show, the way I like to think of it is that there’s a fluid in the jar that preserves people’s heads in the state in which they are most remembered by people. That’s how we settle on what age to make the person in their jar. If you force me at knife-point to admit it, there’s even more illogic to it because a lot of our heads in jars are people who died long before this head-in-jar technology would’ve even been invented.
We’ll have George Washington’s head in the jar sometimes, so they apparently were able to reconstitute their heads centuries after the fact. Yeah, the head in the jar, it’s good for comedy purposes.
DM: How hard is it to come back to writing a series that you haven’t written in so long?
DXC: It’s funny. You know, there has been this long delay since we were on Fox, but honestly, I do not feel the delay at all. A large portion of the reason is because we did those four DVD movies in the meantime. And even between the show being aired and the DVDs, there was still a fair amount of work that I had to do finishing up the post-production and the sound on the first set of episodes before we were canceled that time, and then the same on the movies.
So the gaps for me between each disappearance and reappearance have been relatively short. And I’d say for the other writers pretty much the same. We watch a few episodes and be, like, “Oh, yeah. That sounds familiar.” (Laughs) Honestly, also, there was a learning curve at the beginning when you didn’t know exactly what the characters sound like and what each character is, what jokes are gonna work best for each character. And it gets a little easier to write as you go along. So, I actually think we got better at it over the years.
We were probably best at it in the years when we weren’t even on the air. (Laughs) And, by the way, the new episodes: At least all of us who are completely unbiased here in the office are very enthusiastic about them and think they’re as good as anything we’ve done in the past. I believe our fans will not be disappointed.
Next: New episode storylines!