Futurama, Brain Slugs, and Los Angeles

David X Cohen, Futurama's co-creator

David X Cohen, Futurama's co-creator

One of my favorite television shows is Futurama, an animated sci-fi farce full of subtle and gross (really gross) references to the entire history of the short-story, novel, comic-book, animated, and film genre.

In a neat coincidence, the show was co-created and is co-produced by David X Cohen, the brother of my dear friend Sarah. The show has gone through ups and downs, having seen four seasons on Fox TV, where the network jerked around the schedule so much that even fans had trouble finding it. Re-runs found their way to cable (Adult Swim on Cartoon Network), where they were incredibly popular, and DVDs sold quite well, from what I've read. A smarter sister of Fox's broadcast network (20th Century Fox Television) commissioned four Futurama movies, which were then aired on Comedy Central (which secured the rights) as four 4-parters.

This, then, helped lead to a new order of shows: 26! Which started airing on Comedy Central as of a few weeks ago. I'd wanted to visit Sarah, who lives in Los Angeles, for quite a while, and she held out the lure of Futurama table readings. A table reading is where the actors on a show or film read the script. I planned to go down last November, but caught a mild case of pneumonia--so mild, that it took me a while to figure it out. I had to postpone.

Sarah told me a few weeks ago that the last three scheduled reading dates had been set for the final scripts in the current order. (I am privy to no exceptional knowledge: Comedy Central committed to 26 episodes for this "season," which will air over a couple of years, but the show hasn't been "canceled" again, nor are new episodes on order yet.)

Even better (for my purposes), the last of three table readings was almost guaranteed to happen, because it would be a special event for the cast, crew, and their families and friends. I said, "sold!", checked with Lynn, booked tickets and a hotel near Sarah, and held my breath.

The first two of the three readings were, in fact, canceled, but the final one happened on July 15 in Century City on the Fox lot. There was a big crowd in a moderate sized conference rooms. The actors were all at one end of the table and writers and other staff mostly at the other end. David's wife and a friend of hers were also attending, and they, Sarah, and I got prime seats behind the actors. (I have a full set of photos on Flickr you can view.)

Now, for the folks in the room, this was part of their work day, even though it was an important milestone. The show I heard read won't be ready to air for as long as two years from now, and they'll be working quite hard through April 2011 with what's on their plates. The actors will come back to record and re-record, and so the final script is nothing like the end of their working relationship.

Brain slug cupcakes

Brain slug cupcakes

Phil Lamarr and I.

Phil Lamarr and I.

Still, it was a special day, and everyone was in fine spirits. On entering Building 1, we were greeted by brain slug cupcakes. The reading lasted under an hour, and people lingered to talk and take pictures. I knew one of the actors: Phil LaMarr, who Sarah and I had gone to college with (he was a couple of years ahead).

Phil has done quite well: he did a stint in the Groundlings, a legendary L.A. comedy troupe (akin to Second City in Chicago), and was a founding actor on Mad TV, appearing there for several years. He's done a vast amount of voice acting, including Samurai Jack in the eponymous series, and Green Lantern on the various Justice League shows. Phil's also the guy in Pulp Fiction who gets shot by accident in the backseat. He plays Hermes Conrad on Futurama. We caught up a bit.

I can't disclose details of the script (they're juicy!), but it contained elements in different styles, giving the actors a workout. The bonhomie in the room was at a high level: everyone laughed long and hard, John Dimaggio hardest of all--and that man can laugh. Yes, he laughs like Bender. (An LA friend of my wife's suggested I could tell the agents in the room by who laughed the hardest, but everyone had tears in their eyes from guffawing.)

David took Sarah and I around to meet all the actors, and I was able to snag a photo with Tress Macneille, voice of most of the female characters on the show except for Amy (Lauren Tom) and Leela (sitcom veteran Katy Sagal). I also met Life in Hell/Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who developed Futurama with David (who was a scriptwriter and showrunner on The Simpsons), and is the co-executive producer. We chatted a bit about Powell's Books of all things.

David, me, Sarah, and Matt Groening

David, me, Sarah, and Matt Groening

I curse the fact that although Sarah and I hung out and talked with Phil and Billy West for some time afterwards, I didn't think to get a picture with Billy, who is one of the most versatile voice actors in the business, as well as being a serious musician. It would have been worth the trip to see my dear friend, but the reading was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me, and what a hoot.

Afterwards, Sarah and I went to the Huntington Botanical Gardens, where it the stated temperature in Pasadena was 95°, but it was likely well over 100° there. Well worth it--among the best botanical gardens I've ever visited, with a staggeringly good desert garden.