Name your favorite Simpsons episode, and there’s a good chance Rich Moore directed it. "Cape Feare", "A Streetcar Called Marge", "Flaming Moe’s", "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie", Marge vs. the Monorail"… all of these were overseen by Moore. After several seasons with The Simpsons and a stint on The Critic, Moore became the supervising director on Futurama, where he remained until the show was tragically cancelled in 2003.
For most shows, that’s the end of the story, but thanks in large part to heavy rotation as part of Cartoon Network’s "Adult Swim" lineup, Futurama is making a comeback with four direct-to-DVD features – the first of which, Bender’s Big Score, is scheduled to debut this November. It’s not quite a Family Guy revival, but it’s close. And who’s to say the show won’t eventually find its way back to prime time?
Though the two-time Emmy Award-winning Moore was certainly enthusiastic at the notion of Futurama returning to Fox’s regular lineup, he seemed most interested in the potential for a big screen adventure for Fry, Bender, Leela and the rest of the gang. And why not? After all, our interview – comfortably conducted inside a vintage muscle car parked on the outskirts of Fox’s booth at Comic Con – took place the Saturday of The Simpsons Movie‘s opening weekend. It was a good day to be associated with Matt Groening.
Q: I feel like I should be congratulating everyone connected to The Simpsons today. $28 million on Friday?
Rich Moore: Oh, my god. It’s unbelievable. Who would’ve thought? But, then again, who thought people would watch an animated series in prime time? It’s the natural evolution of The Simpsons, from the TV to the big screen. It’s amazing.
Q: Now that The Simpsons have been re-validated, and Futurama has been revived due to… I guess, aggressive interest from a select audience–
Moore: The fans on the internet are really the ones who got the show back. There are so many fan sites. They’re great. The fans are great. I know there were letter writing campaigns, email campaigns, sending anchovies to Fox… and I really think it made Fox take another look at a property that died before its time.
Q: Do you think there’s a point coming where Fox will say, "Um, we fucked up; you’re back on the air."?
Moore: The people [at Fox] responsible for it being gone, they’re gone now. The new regime might say, "Hey, this is a great show. I don’t know why we ever let it go. Let’s give it another shot!" They did it with Family Guy. I guess it just depends on how well the DVDs do. Fox is always looking for something. All of the networks are. And if it means bringing back one of their old shows, so be it. I would love to work on it again. I love comedy and science fiction, and putting those two together… when Matt told me he had this idea for a show, I was like, "I’ve got to work on this, Matt." When it was cancelled, it was heartbreaking. We were at that point where it was like, "We know exactly how to do this. It’s running like a well-oiled machine." And then to find out you’re done, it’s like, "What!?!? No!!! I love these characters!!!"
Q: Even with The Simpsons, it took until the fourth season for it to start cooking. That’s when they moved beyond Bart’s antics and really developed the universe. And Futurama was right there.
Moore: "It was at that point. Having been a director on The Simpsons in those early years, I could feel that. It felt like the third or fourth season, where it was starting to come together, we knew the characters well, everyone had a handle on it. That first year on The Simpsons, there were maybe six people who really understood what the scripts were all about, and what the comedy of the show was all about. We’d constantly have to explain to people, "No, we don’t do big, goofy takes. This is a little more restrained." The theory was that you had these goofy looking cartoon characters, but they react like human beings rather than Bugs Bunny. We were never trying to draw attention to the animation; we never wanted people to be like, "Hey, I’m watching a cartoon." We wanted them to say, "Hey, I’m watching a very funny sitcom and it just happens to be animated."
That was the same thing with Futurama. And especially with it being a science-fiction show, I knew from the beginning that, visually, it needed something more. Movies are so advanced now that we couldn’t just get away with some cheesy, hand-drawn spaceships, so that’s why I really pushed for a CG look that matched the Matt style, where the acting in 3-D was similar to the acting in 2-D. Before that, there were so many 2-D shows and movies where the regular cell animation… you’d put it up against this highly-rendered CG spaceship, and it just looked like two different worlds. We really wanted to create something where it looked like it was all of one universe.
Q: The great thing about Futurama, though, is that you unabashedly appeal to the nerds. I’m consistently amazed by the obscure science geek references you guys squeeze in.
Moore: Oh, yeah. I’m one of them. The show goes all through the science-fiction genre. The authors, the movies, the TV shows, D&D… everything is up for grabs. For me, it’s a dream project because I love all of those different things. And the fact that it’s a comedy… I could work on this show for the rest of my life.
Q: At least you’ve got the new movies.
Moore: There’s four of them. The first one is coming out in November: Bender’s Big Score. It’s really funny and a great science fiction story. It’s got everything in it. Ken Keeler wrote it, and they really fashioned it to appeal to the fans and to people who’ve never seen Futurama before. It’s a very enticing story; it really pulls you in. But everything you love about the characters is back, and all the secondary characters have a little appearance or moment. The relationship stuff between the shippers is there, but then it’s got a great action sequence in the third act, a big space battle. And lots of nudity. (Laughs) And lots of math jokes. It’s all there. It’s very intelligent.
Q: You’ve got Al Gore’s disembodied head again?
Moore: Al Gore is back. And the whole cast is back. We’re just finishing the animation.
Q: I was talking with friends earlier about how I’d love to see Futurama go really nerdy with its guest voices. For instance, whereas The Simpsons gets all the famous folk, you guys could get someone like Raymond Kurzweil.
Moore: David loves to get people like that. And if it becomes a series again, that would be great.
Q: But you haven’t heard anything from David in terms of conversations with the network?
Moore: They haven’t said anything yet. Matt hasn’t said anything. I think they’re really looking at The Simpsons movie right now and how well it performs. Who knows? It may make over $100 million this weekend, which might lead them to look at Futurama and say, "Hey, let’s try this on the big screen." And I think that would be great.
Q: Well, do you think Bender’s Big Score could play on the big screen?
Moore: I think it could, but I think it would be better if David and Matt came up with a story intended for the big screen. This is a great story, but I think they could come up with something even grander. I just think that, with the genre, Futurama is more a appropriate show to put on the big screen than The Simpsons, even though they did add an epic feel to it.
Q: I have to ask: do you have any favorite episodes?
Moore: I really like the one that Peter Avanzino directed, "Parasites Lost", where they go into Fry’s body. I love that episode. I could watch that over and over. And I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I really love the script to "Roswell That Ends Well". When I got that, I said, "Oh, this is going to be fun". I really enjoyed directing that one. And "Godfellas" was a good one, too.
This interview is far too brief, but my schedule on Saturday was packed; I was already running late for an interview with the King of Kong boys. Hopefully, there’ll be an opportunity to get more out of… Moore in the coming months.
Until then, remember this: Bender’s Big Score is set to street this November. Let’s make sure we buy the shit out of this thing.