Brainiac On Banjo: The Rasputin of TV Animation!

“Now it’s been ten thousand years. Man has cried a billion tears for what he never knew. Now man’s reign is through, but through the eternal night the twinkling of starlight so very far away, maybe it’s only yesterday.” In The Year 2525, written by Rick Evans.

For a brief few years, Rasputin was a very powerful man in pre-Soviet Russia. He pretty much ran the joint during World War I and was perceived generally as a mystic and a healer; in fact, very little is known about his life. However, we do know a lot about his deaths. He made it through a near-fatal hemorrhage in his thigh and groin in 1912. Two years later, he survived being stabbed in the stomach.

In December of 1916, members of the Tsar’s inner circle decided he he had undue influence over the Tsar and was a good part of the reason the nation suffered from threats of revolution Thus, they decided to kill him. He was poisoned. Twice. That trick didn’t work either time. Then he was shot three times – once in the forehead, which has got to hurt — but he recovered from all that as well. Shot a fourth time, the conspirators dropped him off of the Petrovsky Bridge into the Malaya Nevka River. It took authorities two weeks to find his body, which had been trapped underneath the thick river ice. His boss abdicated less than three months later.

Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, Rasputin’s “daughter Matryona emigrated to France after the October Revolution and then to the United States. There, she worked as a dancer and then a lion tamer in a circus.” She died in a Los Angeles suburb in 1977.

Clearly Rasputin was a hard man to do away with and, remarkably, so is the animated television series Futurama. Happily, fate smiled on the better of the two.

If there’s an award for aggressive conflation, I hereby bestow said award upon myself.

Futurama, created and developed by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, ran on the Fox network from 1999 to 2003. It returned as a series of four home video-first “movies” in 2007, was revived at Comedy Central between 2010 and 2013, and in July Hulu will begin airing 20 new episodes over two “seasons,” which, these days, could mean anything. Of course, everything — including the movies, each of which have been chopped up into four-parters — is in syndication and has and might still appear on more cable networks than Dick Cavett.

Futurama has benefited from some swell merchandising, some nifty video games voiced by the teevee crew, and a wonderful comic book series overseen by the gifted Bill Morrison, who also was the television show’s original art director and co-designer.

In case you are new to the entire concept of television, Futurama is about Philip J. Fry, a young adult pizza delivery person (pre-Uber) who, due to his own stupidity and an abundance of enthusiasm, gets cryogenically frozen in 1999 only to be defrosted in the year 3000 by a brilliant yet slightly demented scientist, Prof. Hubert J. Farnsworth, who: is both Fry’s remarkably distant relative, and is named after Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of the all-electronic television. Yes, I know it’s difficult to name somebody after somebody by copying their last name, but in animation you can do anything.

The Professor runs an inter-planetary delivery service, which means Fry is pretty much doing the same job he had 1000 years previously. Sadly, it also means that the whole transporter / quantum mechanics thing never worked out. They get around by a rocket ship captained by an attractive one-eyed purple-haired captain named Turanga Leela, who easily is the smartest, most functional member of the crew. The Ilya Kuriakin/Mister Spock position is held down by Bender, a smart-ass cigar smoking metal robot who likes to steal whatever isn’t nailed down. He earned his name because, in a previous job, he bended things.

The new series will be produced by Groening and Cohen and star the same voice actors who always have been with the show, along with many of the crew involved with the show over the years. Given the needs of animation, these shows were written well before the current Writer’s Guild strike.

Futurama features the work of a squadron of the best voice talents since Mel Blanc died. Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, and David Herman were, and remain, the stars of the show from Day One. In cartoon space, no one can hear you age. You can fill Yankee Stadium with their remarkable list of celebrity guest voices. It is distributed by 20th Television Animation, which these days is a back-door to the House of Mouse.

This revival does allow me hope for the one crossover for which I have offered my unrequited love. I desperately want to see Turanga Leela meet Gemma Teller Morrow.

Perhaps they could team up to kill Rasputin.


One thought on “Brainiac On Banjo: The Rasputin of TV Animation!

  1. Great one! And I thought for sure you’d talk about how Katey Segal sings that Son of Preacher Man version of the classic…which you turned us all onto years ago.