There are certain conceptions of
the future which I think are more interesting than others,'' says
Matt Groening, the man most responsible for consigning modern fathers
to a present and future as pathetic, live-action imitations of a
cartoon numskull. To his credit, Groening recently had the decency
to issue a blanket apology to all parents for exactly that offense.
With his own children reaching the age of gross impertinence --
that would be about 9 -- he finally understands what he unleashed
in Bart Simpson.
If the rest of us weren't laughing
so hard, we'd be a lot angrier.
Because a cardinal tenet of life
in Hollywood is ``One billion-dollar hit show is never enough (even
one with unlimited merchandising appeal),'' Groening is preparing
to unleash another attack on ``American values.'' This distant son-of-``The
Simpsons'' will be known as ``Futurama.''
Set amid the next outbreak of millennial
hysteria, in the year 3000, ``Futurama'' may have a Y3K frenzy.
It definitely will include the National Rifle Association campaigning
for the right to bear death rays, a planet-size ball of Earth's
ejected garbage circling back around to squash us, and such fearsome
sights as the heads of famous Year 2000 celebrities preserved in
glass jars of a kind of Oil of Olay goop.
Real era-defining folks are held
in high regard. People like Dick Clark, Leonard Nimoy, Pamela Anderson,
Ron Popeil and (we're hoping) whoever came up with the idea of 48-ounce
soft drinks, warehouse supermarkets for dog food and 6,000-pound
sport utility vehicles.
At the moment, Groening is still
working on such details for ``Futurama'' as . . . the pictures.
But he brought a half-finished clip of animation to show TV critics
last week and promised he'd be ready for prime time by some time
(Because he's Matt Groening, he
was unconditionally forgiven for showing up with something so half-baked.
What am I saying? Even if Groening didn't have half an idea, if
he were completely drunk, slouched against a bar babbling about
locust swarms on the horizon, he'd be forgiven -- and cheered --
because ``The Simpsons'' is so utterly vital to the nation's sanity.)
He says he had to think long and
hard on what his idea of the year 3000 is going to look like.
``I love the look of the 1940s and
'50s and early '60s,'' he said. (This corresponds to the thinking
of most of his baby-boom contemporaries. But then, as we all know,
things went South in a bad way . . .)
``In the 1970s, things got kind
of grim, and in the 1980s, it was, like, dark and drippy. You know,
pipes were always dripping in `Blade Runner' and everything. So
we decided what we wanted to do was a kind of `Jetsons' universe
. . . with dripping pipes.''
Playing against the dripping pipes
are Leela, ``a tough, one-eyed chick'' voiced by Katey Sagal, formerly
of ``Married . . . With Children''; a self-important Capt. Kirk-type
character named Zapp Brannigan; and an incorrigible, slacker robot
named Bender, who drinks and smokes way too much and shoplifts his
way across New New York, ``Futurama's'' hometown.
Says Groening, ``But parents can't
accuse me of providing a bad role model with Bender. I mean, he's
So why exactly did Groening apologize?
``When I came up with `The Simpsons,'
I identified with Bart, and I felt like a kid myself. And as I grow
older, sadly, I identify more with Homer.''
No bleep, Sherlock!
But is that the same as saying Bart
is going to change, giving Y2K parents half a chance at credibility?
``Oh, yeah,'' Groening says sarcastically,
``I think that's a really good idea. I think the Bart Simpson `I'm
a Little Angel' T-shirts are going to sell like hot cakes.''