Have you recently found yourselves revisiting old episodes of Futurama in preparation for season 8? Highly likely, and if you have then you’re probably being reminded of so many hilarious gags and quirky details that have slipped your mind over the years.
Created by Matt Groening, setting an animated sitcom in the far-far future was a stroke of genius. Any idea you have can become a reality thanks to excellent writers and animators. Needless to say, Futurama has offered audiences a wide range of insights into what may be waiting for future generations.
One detail of the future that recurs throughout all seasons of the show—sure to return when season 8 does on Hulu and Disney+ too—is celebrities and important figures of the past being kept alive with their heads in jars.
This gag created the potential to bring in a bunch of exciting guest stars from the beginning because the very first episode Space Pilot 3000, which premiered in March 1999, introduced the joke.
Fry and Bender take refuge in the Head Museum and are greeted by none other than Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame. There are lots of other heads too, including Matt Groening’s next to Barbra Streisand’s.
Speaking of Matt Groening, despite him being the creator of both Futurama and The Simpsons, it still has to be said that there was no bigger rival for Futurama’s success than the Springfield-set comedy that established Matt as a titan of the industry.
Interestingly, the ‘head in a jar’ joke featured in The Simpsons first, season 5 episode 12—Bart Gets Famous. The episode finds Bart becoming a celebrity after coining the catchphrase “I didn’t do it.”
One night, Bart’s lying on the bed and he asks himself “What’s gonna happen to me?” We’re then presented with a vision of him on Match Game 2034 with Billy Crystal, and a number of celebrity guests are announced. Among them, “the always lovely and vivacious head of Kitty Carlisle.”
Although the design is slightly off from what Futurama fans are familiar with, the prototype that would become a recurring gag in Futurama is clearly there: Kitty Carlisle’s head alive and well in a jar.
The episode aired on February 3rd 1994, meaning it had a headstart on Futurama by half a decade.
In the same season and premiering a year earlier, you may also remember that the ‘head in a jar’ concept was played with at the very end of the Rosebud episode. A vision of the future finds Mr. Burns alive with his head in a jar, however, he has a robotic body; similar to Richard Nixon in the Futurama episode A Head In The Polls, which makes this concept its central plot point.
The Simpsons may have got there first, but Futurama sure ran with it.