futurama is back! grab a can of slurm and settle in November 27, 2007Posted by KG in animation, arts/culture, berkeley, comedy, film, media, tech.
Tags: bender, berkeley, cal, david x. cohen, futurama, matt groening, simpsons
In the early 1980s, while Groening was making a name for himself as a cartoonist chronicling the punk rock and bohemian subcultures of LA, Cohen was making a name for himself on the New Jersey high school math-team circuit. He went on to study physics at Harvard and get a master’s in computer science from UC Berkeley. But he was also the president of The Harvard Lampoon, and he left academia to write comedy.
After he started working on The Simpsons in 1993, he became fascinated by the “freeze framers” — obsessive fans who videotaped episodes so they could pause them and look for gags that lasted only a split second. So he gave them little Easter eggs. In a 1995 episode in which Homer Simpson enters an alternate universe and becomes a 3-D model, Cohen inserted an equation into the background of one scene. It seemed to offer a counterexample to Fermat’s last theorem. Then he lurked on the alt.tv.simpsons newsgroup to gauge the geek response. (Confusion at first, then astonishment when they tested it, then despair when they discovered that it was accurate only to eight decimal places. D’oh!)
After the show (Futurama) got a green light, Cohen assembled the geekiest writing staff television had ever seen: one MA in math, one MA in computer science, one MA in philosophy, one PhD in chemistry, one PhD in applied math, and some normals to balance things out. “I went from Home Improvement, where people earnestly pitched jokes about farting and table saws, to a place where there were discussions about nanophysics and string theory and quantum mechanics,” writer Eric Horsted says. “I could only follow the conversation for a few minutes before my brain would start sweating and I’d have to reach for a copy of People.”