In H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”, we followed a time traveler that went into the future and observed the changing of the Earth and its species and eventually even to what appeared to be the end of the Earth. Well in July of 2010, Futurama released an episode largely inspired by Wells’ famous work. Futurama is a television series created by Matt Groening in 1999. The show takes place in the year 3000 where the main character Phillip J. Fry, usually referred to simply as Fry, has been unfrozen from a cryogenic sleep he entered in 2000. The episode is titled “The Late Phillip J. Fry” and won the 2011 Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
The episode can be considered in three different acts. In the first act Fry, the lazy delivery boy, arrives late to work. His boss, The Professor, heckles him for his chronic lateness, asking why he can’t be on time like the rest of his employees. Fry points out that his girlfriend, Leela, is not at work on time. It turns out that Fry was supposed to be meeting Leela for her birthday lunch and he is now late to that as well. Fry promises to make it up to Leela by taking her out to a fancy restaurant that night. He purchases a record your own birthday card and is headed out the door when The Professor stops him. Fry must help The Professor test his new time machine as punishment for being late. The time machine is built to only travel forward in order to avoid altering history. Fry, his robot roommate Bender, and The Professor enter the time machine which The Professor intends to test by moving forward one minute in time. Of course the episode would hold no comedic merit if that were to happen. The Professor trips and pushes the lever forward sending them hurtling through time. By the time they stop they can stop the machine they find themselves in the year 10,000 AD in the ruins of New York.
Fry begins to fret over missing his date with Leela, but The Professor kindly reminds him that everybody they knew has been dead for years. The trio are unimpressed with this stage of the future and after talking to a group of cavemen they decide to continue forward in time in search of a civilization that has invented a backwards traveling time machine to return home. They scan through a few thousand years of little consequence before the show cuts away. When we rejoin them they are in the year 5 million AD. This is the part of the episode that directly parallels with “The time Machine.” Bender, Fry, and the Professor are greeted by a race of enlightened, purple-skinned humanoids that now inhabit Earth; these are the Eloi. Meanwhile below ground paralleling the Murlocs are the Dumblocks.. They ask the humanoids if they have invented a backwards-traveling time machine. They say no, but if they focus their mental efforts toward the problem, they should be to create one within five yearsThe trio jumps forward five years to find the Dumblocks have risen up and slaughtered the entire surface population. This is Futurama giving us a very plausible glimpse into the Future of the Eloi and Murlocs from “The Time Machine.” For all their smarts the surface dwellers always seemed on the brink of falling to the subterranean people.
The three jump all the way to the year one billion to find the scorched remnants of the Earth. Fry returns to the cave where he was supposed to meet Leela for dinner on her birthday eons ago. Surprisingly he finds a note left for him. Apparently the voice recorded birthday card had fallen out of the time machine and found Leela in the past. Comforted by his note from Leela, Fry returns to The Professor and suggests the kick back and watch the Universe end.
To their amazement they observe the universe end, only to see the big bang occur and universe reform. They conclude that time is cyclical and rejoin their old lives in the present.
This episode can be applied to “The Time Machine” beyond the explicit murloc/dumblock uprising. Much of the imagery that is shown as the trio head to the end of the world is very similar to those described in the book. At the end of “The Time Traveler” the main character is takes a trip forward, but has not yet returned. A multitude of things could have occurred to him. It is possible that his time machine could have its backwards lever broken and he was left with a machine like the Professor’s. In this case perhaps the Time Traveler followed a similar path as Futurama, but his universe had linear time that ended and took him with it.
Overall this is one of the best episodes of Futurama I have seen and I thought it was an interesting watch after reading “The Time Machine.”