Futurama Has Ended Four Times, And Each Ending Is About The Same Thing

"Futurama" is returning to the air once more, but will it follow the road paved by its many finales?

It is often said that we're in the age of post-cancellation TV. There are now so many more viewing platforms than ever before, and even the most niche or esoteric piece of entertainment has a solid chance of surviving to live another season when canceled by its original network. "Futurama" might be the most notable example of this, which has been canceled and revived more often than Hayao Miyazaki has retired and unretired. Matt Groening's long-anticipated follow-up to "The Simpsons" started life on Fox before being canceled after four seasons. It then received four feature-length episodes on DVD, followed by a pick-up on Comedy Central that lasted another three seasons. Now, it's returning to the air thanks to Hulu, with another premiere scheduled for July 24, 2023. It's rare for any series to have so many revivals, and as such, so many endings. "Futurama" has continued to survive the odds, but every time it's ended, it's focused on the same story.

How Futurama started

It's easy to forget how hotly hyped "Futurama" was before its premiere in 1999 on Fox. Matt Groening had created one of the greatest television series of all-time with "The Simpsons", and at the time, it was still on a hot streak of creative and comedic excellence. That show, which is still on the air, reinvented the classic American family sitcom and forever shifted the genre for generations to follow. To follow that up was no mean feat, and to do so with a science-fiction comedy seemed especially unusual. "Futurama" focuses on the underachieving 20-something schlub Fry (voiced by Billy West), a delivery boy who falls into a cryogenic chamber on the eve of the new millennium and wakes up a thousand years later as New New York is about to celebrate the arrival of the year 3000. He soon falls into a reasonably normal life working for his distant relation's delivery company, Planet Express, and goes on a series of adventures with the hard-drinking kleptomaniac robot Bender (John DiMaggio) and badass cyclops Leela (Katey Sagal.)

Where "The Simpsons" played around with family dynamics, "Futurama" felt more like a Gen X friends sitcom, albeit with way more jokes about alien invasions and interstellar travel. It could be raunchier than its yellow counterpart too, and more emotionally challenging, as anyone who's cried through the "Jurassic Bark" episode can attest. As the show evolved, it became evident that the heart of the narrative was the will-they-won't-they romance between Fry and Leela. While she always seemed extremely out of his league, Fry's genuine adoration and respect for Leela was highly endearing and easy to root for. Like many sitcoms with a friends-to-lovers arc, "Futurama" often didn't seem to know what to do with the pair. Would it let them be together and potentially throw off the dynamic of the series, or keep playing the guessing game and risk tiring out audiences? By the time they were able to decide, the show was about to be canned by Fox.

How Futurama first ended

The first true finale of "Futurama" came with "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings." The episode saw Fry desperate to prove his love to Leela, unable to fully express his emotions beyond his dopey inarticulateness. Eager to become a musical genius to find the ideal vessel for his feelings, he makes a deal with the robot devil (voiced by Homer Simpson himself, Dan Castellaneta) to swap hands. Now a legendary player of the holophoner, Fry writes an opera to truly declare his adoration for Leela to her and the world. As all who make demonic pacts can attest, it doesn't go well. The robot devil wants his hands back and he'll trap Leela into marriage to make it happen. Through an operatic battle (which provides "Futurama" with one of its greatest musical moments), Fry sacrifices his metal hands to save Leela, but loses his holophoner skills in the process. His adoring audience leaves him behind Leela asks him to play the ending of his story. The final shot of the episode sees Fry animate a crudely drawn picture of himself and Leela walking away while holding hands, hinting at their future romance.

"The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings" isn't just a great finale. It's one of the best episodes of "Futurama": Funny, twisty, full of toe-tapping numbers, and ending with a moment of melancholy hopefulness. It left the doors open for more, but gave audiences something heartfelt in case this truly was the end. They had no real belief anyone else would pick the series up post-Fox. This was meant to be the one and only finale, and fans seemed happy with it. And then we got more episodes.

Futurama had even more endings

Comedy Central acquired the syndication rights to Futurama in 2005, and afterward, they announced plans to produce four direct-to-video films that would follow on from the fourth season: "Bender's Big Score", "The Beast with a Billion Backs", "Bender's Game", and "Into the Wild Green Yonder." The movies received mostly positive reviews, although it felt obvious to fans that they were throwaway adventures. Fry and Leela's romance appeared sporadically throughout, with "Bender's Big Score" involving Leela dating another man who happened to be another version of Fry, and "The Beast with a Billion Backs" having Fry become the lead boyfriend of a tentacled monster voiced by David Cross who started dating every single person in the universe (it's "Futurama," just go with it.) It wasn't until the final film that their romance was given real credence.

"Into the Wild Green Yonder" ended with the entire Planet Express crew being chased into a black hole, the chances of escape next to nil and their futures uncertain (subtle.) Fry and Leela finally got their big kiss and mutual declaration of love. It was the next step up from "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings," a confirmation that, yes, they would get their happy ending, so to speak. It was satisfying, the big bow atop the love story that had been a crucial part of the show for so long. If this was how it was to end, then this second finale would be one to feel good about. And then there were two more!

Every Futurama ending is about the same thing

With its next three seasons, all airing on Comedy Central, "Futurama" would receive two new endings, one official and one contingency finale, just in case (we could also argue for the inclusion of the crossover episode with "The Simpsons," but that episode isn't very good and not focused on either show in any tangible way.) "Overclockwise" is the penultimate episode of season 7, offering a succinct, if rushed, conclusion for Fry and Leela (the actual finale, "Reincarnation," is an anthology episode with various animation styles and no connection to the wider series.) The episode was originally written to be an open-ended series finale, in case they weren't renewed and they needed to find a new home after Comedy Central. This makes the episode all the more intriguing because, otherwise, it's just a solid episode of "Futurama" with a conclusion that feels somewhat tacked on. Fry and Leela's relationship is barely touched on, with Leela hastily deciding to get a new job and explore her options outside of her current predicament. Most of "Overclockwise" is dedicated to Bender, who is overclocked to gain more computer ability and eventually becomes an all-powerful creation of total omniscience. When he returns to normal, he presents Fry and Leela (who returns with no drama) with details of what their future will look like. We don't see this but it's assured that their ending will be happy. Again, the show makes sure to focus on their relationship above all else, even when they have to rush out a (by now third) ending.

The most recent finale is "Meanwhile," the closure to the 7th season. It might be the most emotional and thorough of all the "Futurama" endings. After letting Fry and Leela be a real couple throughout the series (rather than breaking them up over and over again for no damn reason), Fry decides it's time to propose. A time-jumping device helps things go very wrong, and soon, both he and Leela find themselves as the only living things in a universe forever frozen. With the world theirs, they live it together as husband and wife, well into old age. Fortunately, Professor Farnsworth finds a way to fix everything, but it will mean restarting life from the moment it was frozen and erasing Fry and Leela's memories of their time together in this still universe. They agree to live their lives once more, by one another's side, then the series ends. The closing moments of "Meanwhile" feel like another step up from the continuing pattern of "Futurama" finales: the potential of love for Fry and Leela, the declaration of it, then a lifetime together in bliss. In a series that has its share of tearjerking moments, "Meanwhile" is one of its best.

Why Fry and Leela's romance matters

A great comedy can only live on jokes alone for a short amount of time. Eventually, you have to give viewers a reason to care about these characters. "Futurama" opened with a surprisingly melancholic concept: what if everyone you loved and cared for was dead? Fry's plight saw him connect to Leela, who, at the time, believed herself to be the only cyclops on Earth. It may not have set up a romance from the first episode, but "Futurama" always had its foundations in the relationship between Fry and Leela, two people whose loneliness could be eased through one another. And through the rest of the series and its many revivals, it was these two characters who had the most emotionally resonant arcs: Fry's dog; the discovery of Leela's parents; Fry discovering his nephew's legacy.

It's one of the reasons their relationship always made a lot of sense, even though Fry's a total numpty and Leela was always, if we're being honest, out of his league. You never doubted the earnestness of his feelings, even when he constantly screwed up trying to prove them to her. Without Fry and Leela, "Futurama" lacks the heart that let it endure for so long, that encouraged several networks to pick it up and let it live another day. The trailer for the Hulu revival shows the pair living happily as a couple, and it will be interesting to see the series explore the relationship for both comedy and pathos. They definitely deserve it. And when the show ends once more, let's hope the "Futurama" finale tradition continues and their happy-ever-after is assured.