Billy West (Duck Dodgers)
Katey Segal (8 Simple Rules)
John DiMaggio (TMNT)
Maurice LaMarche (Freakazoid)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)
Recurring / Notable Guest Cast
Frank Welker (Transformers)
David Herman (Angel)
Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons)
Claudia Schiffer (Love Actually)
Conan O’Brien (The Lego Batman Movie)
John Goodman (Red State)
Tom Kenny (Spongebob)
Nora Dunn (Southland Tales)
Dawnn Lewis (Izombie)
Kath Soucie (Rugrats)
Al Gore (30 Rock)
Stephen Hawking (The Big Bang Theory)
Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek)
Pauly Shore (Bio-Dome)
Sarah Silverman (School of Rock)
After a somewhat rocky, but still successful launch in Spring 1999, Matt Groening’s and David X. Cohen’s Futurama was able to go into the second season in Autumn of that year. Of the thirteen episodes produced in the beginning, the first nine had been broadcast as a test balloon from March until May, so the second series was able to start in September with the four leftover episodes. This time, the producers were able to convince Fox to put Futurama back into its original timeslot on Sunday evening, airing right after The Simpsons and before The X-Files – to the great relief of Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, who still had to fight a constant battle with Fox over their series.With the start of the second production season, the authors, whose small team had been supplemented with only a handful of new people, began to get even more creative and experimental than before. While the first season was mainly used to establish the basics, the adventures of the interplanetary delivery boy Fry and his co-workers from Planet Express were now literally taking off properly. The focus was not on the typical delivery/monster-of-the-week scheme, but on character and scenery development, encompassing everything from everyday life in the future, fully earthbound adventure and fantastic trips to alien planets.
The second series was still pretty busy to establish and expand new background scenarios. The first episode, I Second that Emotion, already digs down into the previously only seldom-seen underworld of New New York, whose inhabitants appear for the first time: the mutants, who do not match the typical horror clichés at all. They were not meant as a quick throwaway gag, but became a permanent part of the Futurama universe and part of the overall mythology of the series. Science-fiction wise, there was also a lot of new development. The space organisation DOOP – short for Democratic Order Of Planets – was introduced in Brannigan, Begin Again and Zapp Brannigan himself has several appearances, always with his long-suffering assistant Kif Kroker at his side, who had not yet begun his romance with Amy Wong yet. The series also visits a completely alien planet for the first time by going to Dr. Zoidberg’s birthplace in Why Must I Be A Crustacean In Love and there is also a story about a full-blown interplanetary war with many references to MASH, Starship Troopers and even Dr Strangelove in the episode War is the H Word.Although the episodes were produced several months in advance of their broadcast, the Futurama producers were able to time the airdates extraordinarily well to refer to current events. The last episode shown in 1999 was Xmas Story, having fun with the holiday customs of the 30. century, while the series also took advantage of the American presidential elections of 2000, parodying not only the campaign and the voting behaviour, but also the whole US electoral system. In an uncannily eerie way, Matt Groening and David X. Cohen had foreshadowed the troubled election of George W. Bush, even though the episode A Head in the Polls was created months in advantage and reportedly no last-minute changes were made for the broadcast. It was actually aired on December 12th, the very day of the supreme court decision that stopped the vote recounts and made Bush president, even though Al Gore had won the popular vote. In Futurama though, it was none other than Richard Nixon as a head-in-a-jar who won the election only by one vote, making him an ideal platform for political humour for basically the rest of the series.
Almost all of the main characters had a story for themselves in the second series and much emphasis was put on the evolution of their personalities. Fry, Leela and Bender were still the main protagonists, but Professor Farnsworth, Amy Wong, Hermes Conrad and Dr. Zoidberg were not neglected and with Cubert, the young clone of the Professor, a new regular character, was introduced for the first time. Season two also featured the first appearance of the Robot Mafia in Bender gets Made, whose three members Donbot, Joey and Clamps became a mainstay often involved in Bender’s stories. The alcohol-fueled robot of the Planet Express Crew receives an emotion chip in I Second that Emotion, tried to be a robot wrestler in Raging Bender, has an encounter with his almost-twin Flexo in Lesser of two Evils and is haunted by a were-car when he accepts his uncle Vladimir’s inheritance in The Honking – he seems to be one of the most favourite characters of the authors in this season.The former and future delivery boy Fry was, of course, present in almost every episode and as a man of the past almost has something to do in the background. He also got two of his own stories for himself, getting into trouble with a valentine’s affair with Amy Wong in Put Your Head On My Shoulder and his former 20th century girlfriend Michelle unexpectedly arrived in the future in the same way he did himself in The Cyronic Woman. Leela also has some relationship trouble until she meets another one-eyed man, who sadly does not turn out to be what he claims to be in the brilliand Married… with Children parody of A Bicyclops Built For Two. The special relationship between Leela and Fry had only been hinted at yet, but it is clear that they both seem to be infatuated with each other. Professor Farnsworth gleefully maintains his reputation as a slightly mad scientist and continues to be an essential part of almost all stories, although only one revolves solely around him when he ruminates about his own mortailty and, to the disappointment of Fry, creates a clone of himself in A Clone of my Own.
Despite some trouble between them, the trio of Fry, Leela and Bender was still one of the favourite combinations for the authors. The concept of the “delivery of the week” was fortunately less and less used and similarly to The Simpsons, where Homer only rarely seems to go to work anymore, Planet Express itself was pushed more into the background. Nevertheless the interplanetary delivery crew was able to have some adventures and by accident cause a fast food revolution and an interplanetary war with some old acquaintances in The Problem with Popplers, has a fantastic underwater adventure on a company fishing trip in The Deep South and were even being (temporarily) fired at the end of the series in The Cyronic Woman, turning them into jobseekers once again.
Hermes Conrad continued to be the omnipresent organizer behind the scenes of Planet Express, but for the first time he was given a full episode about himself and the everyday bureaucracy madness of the future with How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back. Amy Wong, the Professor’s clumsy assistant-intern, did not get a complete episode for herself that time and had to share Put Your Head On My Shoulder, an unusual valentine’s day love story, with Fry – in return, she is present in a lot of other stories as a secondary character. Notably absent are her parents Leo and Inez, who only appear again in the next season. Mom, head of the robot empire business, had a great comeback in a story telling about her joint past with Professor Farnsworth in Mother’s Day, which showed the full scope of her powers for the first time.
Another old tradition was revived – The Simpsons have the Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials, Futurama was given the Anthology of Interest: a collection of three short stories outside of the usual universe, framed by a special story involving a new invention of Professor Farnsworth called the What-If-Machine. This simple plot device allowed the authors to let their imagination roam even more freely than usual and create ideas which would not have worked even in the already somewhat crazy Futurama universe. The What-If-Machine allowed for some amazing hypothetical scenarios in this series, thinking about what would happen if Bender was a giant, Leela was more impulsive and if Fry had never arrived in the future.Overall, the authors covered a broad spectrum of themes in the second season and really went where no other animated series had gone before. Conventional television series concepts were turned upside down, but in principle Futurama was still just a sitcom happening in an unusual environment. The science-fiction aspects were turned down a little bit in the second season after complaints from Fox that the series was supposedly too geeky, but that actually never seemed to stop the authors to be as subversive and nerdy as possible. The art of telling a complete story in only twenty minutes had been even further refined after more than a decade experience with The Simpsons and the narrative only stumbles a little bit on a few occasions.
Of course, Futurama does not only come to live with the help of crazy stories and elaborate animation, but also with the voices of the characters, for which Matt Groening and David X. Cohen had already assembled a unique cast of remarkable voice acrobats in the first season. After trying out several approaches in the earlier episodes, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, Tress MacNeille, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom, Maurice LaMarche and David Hermann had now found exactly the right voices for their numerous characters and the actors not only proved to be wonderful comedians, but also brought a lot of depth to their roles, making them all the more human (and alien, in some cases).Guest stars were still comparatively rare in the second season of Futurama, but the producers were still able to find some more actors to join the regular cast, who mostly played characters and not themselves. John Goodman had his first and only appearance as Robot Santa in Xmas Story, a role which was later taken over by John DiMaggio, Saturday Night Live comedian Nora Dunn played a serious bureaucrat in How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back and actress Parker Posey took the part of a mermaid in The Deep South. Radio comedian Phil Hendrie appeared for the first time as a member of the mysterious Waterfall family in The Problem with Popplers and standup-comic Sarah Silverman gives Fry’s now-and-then girlfriend Michelle a new voice in her extended role in The Cyronic Woman.There were, however, still a number of guest stars in the original sense, playing themselves: Ex-supemodel Claudia Schiffer has a short cameo in A Head in the Polls, former Simpsons author and later talkmaster Conan O’Brien makes a short appearance in Xmas Story and gameshow host Bob Barker pops up briefly in The Lesser of Two Evils. Rich Little, himself an accomplished voice actor, also appears briefly in Raging Bender and Pauly Shore has a little bit part in The Cyronic Woman. All those cameos have one thing in common: they are very self-ironic and the actors do not take themselves very seriously at all. Folk musician Donovan, however, even took the time to record a new introduction to his old classic Atlantis for The Deep South and for the third part of the Anthology of Interest, the Futurama producers were able to get their dream cast together, if only for a mini-episode: Al Gore (who must still have been vice-president when he recorded his part), Dungeons & Dragons inventor Gary Gygax, Physicist Stephen Hawking and Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols all recorded parts for the short story.
Fox Television were maybe the only ones that Matt Groening and David X. Cohen never managed to fully satisfy and convince. At least Fox had given Futurama a big chance with the second season, which was successfully used to bring the series out of the shadow of its sister program The Simpsons. Season two was when Futurama hit its stride, but the best was yet to come.