There is a hypothesis—out of favor now, but it had its heyday—that the universe was cyclical. Big Bang, expansion, slowing, stopping, shrinking, Big Crunch … and then kaboom, another Big Bang, and here we go again.
Art imitates life. The TV show Futurama exploded in to the geek community, rose in popularity, then was canceled. Then it was reborn, only to be canceled again. And then for a second time it was reborn from its ashes.
But this cycle may be the last. Perhaps it’s entropy. Perhaps it’s a network executive who thinks Scruffy hits too close to home. Whatever the underlying mechanism, Futurama has seen its last cosmic expansion. It’s been canceled again. Again. And probably for no raisin.
To say I love Futurama is like saying Nibbler loves to eat, and that Popplers are tasty. How often do you get a geeky, hugely scientifically based cartoon that is also incredibly funny? And it wasn’t just funny, it was smart. But that’s no surprise, given that executive producer David X. Cohen has degrees in both physics and computational science. Many of the writers had degrees in science and math, and that was reflected in the show.
Not that is was all science all the time. When was the last time an animated show made you cry? If you answer “never,” then you have either never seen “Jurassic Bark,” or you have had your soul surgically removed. Chunks of granite weep openly at the end of that episode.
Over its long run, Futurama has had way too many incredible scientific joke and plot points to point out individually. It is one of the few TV shows to actually respect the edicts of time travel. (Heck, it set up a massive later time travel plot line in the opening scene of the pilot.) It featured black holes, exploding stars, galactic governments, and more.
But if I had to pick one that idea laser-focused itself directly into my brain, it would be from “The Late Philip J. Fry”. The basic plot line is that mad scientist Professor Farnsworth invents a time machine but it has no reverse: It can only travel into the future. Fry, Farnsworth, and the robot Bender wind up going ever farther into the distant future. And when they do, what they find is surprisingly scientifically accurate.
They travel to the year one billion, where the Earth is a scorched desert. This is predicted by stellar astrophysics: The sun is slowly getting hotter. You wouldn’t notice day by day, or even century by century, but over tens of millions of years it makes a difference. In about a billion years, the sun will be about 10 percent brighter, enough to raise the Earth’s temperature 10 degrees F. The Earth will cook.
They jump forward again, this time to the year 1 x 1035. Professor Farnsworth notes this is the time when all matter will cease to exist, and again, that’s about right: A current idea is that protons themselves, a constituent of essentially all normal matter, can spontaneously decay. The process is agonizingly slow and may very well take as long as Farnsworth noted. Give or take a factor of 10 or 100 in the age of the universe, but after that point in time, all matter will have disintegrated into a thin, ethereal soup.
Finally, though, as they watch from inside the time machine, a second Big Bang occurs, forming a universe identical to this one. They keep moving forward in time and wind up stopping at precisely the moment they left (more or less, but … spoilers).
I practically vibrated out of my chair watching this episode. I wrote a book, “Death from the Skies!”, which describes all this in detail. I never was able to find out, but I have to wonder if any of the writes of Futurama read it …
Oh, that show. And sure, I felt a personal connection with it, but still, it was brilliant. It spawned an actual mathematical theorem, has a character named after an obscure piece of orchestral music, did the funniest Star Trek parody ever created, invented its own alien language cypher, and was, quite simply, one of the best science fictions programs ever aired. I will miss it profoundly.
Oh well. We’ll always have Zoidberg.
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