Well, it looks like Futurama is being brought back… again… again… again.
It took me a while to get into Futurama. I always saw it as a far less funny, sci-fi version of The Simpsons. For years I simply dismissed the show. In fact, it took me ten years to actually sit down and watch Futurama properly and when I did, loved it. Since then, I’ve watched had re-watched the episodes so many times (I have even just finished a binge-watch of the whole thing… again). So much, to the point where I began to notice quite a few times that Futurama has seemingly ‘borrowed’ from another brilliant sci-fi comedy show, Red Dwarf. Funnily enough, this was another show I also didn’t like at first, also a show that I really got into later and a show I ended up falling in love with.
When watching episodes of Red Dwarf after watching Futurama (or visa-versa), I began to notice quite a lot of similarities. Character traits motivations, and relationships. Even plots and story elements, which I felt that Futurama must’ve ‘borrowed’ from Red Dwarf. So I think I should get all of this down in writing and document the many, many times I believe that Futurama ‘borrowed’ from Red Dwarf.
First up, just a few general and very broad similarities to point out…
Of course, both shows are sci-fi comedies. That alone is not exactly unique but there are several things worth looking at. Lister is frozen in Red Dwarf and woken up many years later. Fry in Futurama, same thing Slightly different amount of years, I admit. But still, the basic premise is the same for both shows. There there are the names of Dave Lister and Philip Fry, both characters are known mainly by their last names over their first names. This extends to (Arnold) Rimmer and (Turanga) Leela too.
Both Lister and Fry are pretty slobby and oafish, both held dead-end jobs in their pre-frozen lives. Cat and Zoidberg are both animal characters who have evolved over the years… both really like fish too. This one is rather tenuous I admit but Starbug is green, so is the Planet Express ship. When not being used, Starbug rests in Red Dwarf, which is red. While the Planet Express ship rests in the Planet Express HQ… which is red. Lister is an orphan and often wonders about who his parents were, same for Leela. In both cases, we later learn about their parents too.
Those are just some basic similarities but now onto more episode-specific ones…
It is revealed in the first episode of Red Dwarf that Lister broke relegations by smuggling his cat, Frankenstein, onboard the ship. Leela is also found guilty of animal smuggling when she rescued Nibbler with the Planet Express ship. The Red Dwarf episode Future Echoes has the crew experience time-skips. This also happens in Futurama with the Time Keeps On Slipping episode. Also, Future Echoes features a toaster with a personality who bugs the crew. There is a talking toaster (that annoys Bender) in the Raging Bender episode of Futurama.
Lister learns that he is a god to the cat-race and that disagreements led to a Holy war. Bender is seen as a god in the Godfellas episode of Futurama and a Holy war breaks out between his followers. In both cases, Lister and Bender question the need for religion. In the Me² episode of Red Dwarf, Lister is told that the £17.50 he left in his bank account before he was frozen makes him incredibly rich on Earth due to compound interest. Unfortunately, he is lost in space so all his wealth is meaningless to him. In Futurama, Fry becomes rich after leaving a small amount in his bank and due to compound interest, in the A Fishful of Dollars episode.
In Red Dwarf, Kryten the robot is a big fan of the in-universe soap opera, Androids. Bender the robot is also a big fan of the in-universe soap opera, All My Circuits in Futurama. That’s not all. In Androids, the credits show that it had an all robot crew. The All My Circuits: The Movie shown in the Raging Bender episode shows all of its crew were robots. Cat talks about mermaids in Red Dwarf and claims that the fishtail on a woman’s body is the stupid way around as it makes sex rather difficult. Fry falls for a mermaid in the Deep South episode of Futurama. But when they go to bed together, Fry laments that she is not the ‘other kind’ of mermaid with the fish part on top and the woman on the bottom.
In the Stasis Leak episode of Red Dwarf, Lister discovers he is married to the love of his life, Kochanski thanks to time travel. Yet, he does not know how it happened and tries to work out how they ended up together. Fry has the same thing happen when he finds out he and Leela are married thanks to the time-skips from the Time Keeps On Slipping episode of Futurama. With Fry trying to learn how it happened too.
We learn that there is a parallel universe in Red Dwarf with the aptly titled Parallel Universe episode. In the other universe, the same characters exist, only the men are women and visa-versa. In Futurama, there is also a parallel universe (several of them) where the main thing that is different is that coin flips have the opposite effect when making decisions. The thing is that both shows have the parallel universe accessible via a basic box. With Red Dwarf, Holly creates the Holly-Hop Drive which is operated via a simple stop and start button. With Futurama, it’s just a literal box with a universe inside it.
Camille is an alien creature in Red Dwarf that disguises itself as a perfect match for whoever it meets. Basically, it becomes a female version of Lister, Rimmer, etc. Except for Cat where it becomes Cat. In the Futurama episode, A Bicyclops Built For Two, Leela meets Alkazar, a perfect male match for her. Of course, it turns out that Alkazar is just an alien that disguises itself as a perfect match for whoever it meets. Though to be fair, Alkazar has a much more ulterior motive for his actions than Camille did. Kryten actually becomes human in one episode of Red Dwarf, where he struggles to grasp the basic nature of being a human. Bander also became human in Futurama. It was in the Anthology of Interest I episode and yes, Bender does struggle with the concept of being human too.
Lister uses his pool skills to knock a planet into a white hole, using various planets as the ‘balls’. An idea the rest of the crew feels that Lister is not up to. Fry has a similar idea in the A Big Piece of Garbage episode where uses one big ball of garbage to hit another ball of garbage off course, via the gravity of several other planets. An idea that people don’t think Fry is up to doing. The Quarantine episode of Red Dwarf explores the idea of a positive virus that gives the infected special skills, like amazing luck. Fry has a similar experience when he eats a sandwich from a truck stop that gives him positive parasites and vastly improves his skills.
The crew of Red Dwarf experience a hallucination that was brought about by something called a despair squid. The episode (Back To Reality) ends where it began with the crew investigating the planet the despair squid was found. Bender also experienced a hallucination in the episode Obsoletely Fabulous. This one was brought on by an upgrade chip though, yet the episode ends where it began. Kryten has his guilt-chip removed in an episode of Red Dwarf. This allows the robot to function without inhibitions. Bender has his inhibition unit tampered with in Futurama and we get to see how he acts without it.
Lister finally learns the truth about his father when he goes back in time and actually becomes his own father. Fry also went back in time and accidentally killed his own grandfather. As Fry still existed, he believed his grandfather wasn’t his real grandfather… so he had sex with his own grandmother (when she was young), therefore Fry became his own grandfather. Both main characters of both shows are of their own parentage.
Kryten says that he has a degree (in sanitation) that he earned at university. Kochanski says that he never went to university and that the degree is just a program installed into him. Bender also says he learned bending at bending school. However, a flashback shows that it was just a program installed into him. After which, he is handed a degree.
Well, those are just some of the remarkably similar elements that Futurama seemed to have ‘borrowed’ from Red Dwarf. There are actually quite a few more I have spotted, I just don’t want this to go on too long.
There is another coincidence worth looking at, one that can’t really be blamed on ‘borrowing’. The last series of Red Dwarf was in 1999, the year that Futurama first aired. There was talk of doing another series of Red Dwarf and even the possibility of a movie. However, the BBC officially cancelled and cut all ties with the show back in 2007. It was revived in 2009 with a ‘film’ called Red Dwarf: Back to Earth on a different TV channel. I say it was a ‘film’ because that was how it was conceived and shot, but it was really three special episodes that could be viewed as a film, or just three connecting episodes. That ‘film’ led to the series eventually being revived, Anyway, Futurama was also cancelled in 2003. It too was brought back via films that could be split into episodes and it too was revived for more seasons (and the Yanks call them) by a different TV station.