Futurama’s 10 Best Background Characters

Futurama is all about its characters, right? The whole 1,000-years-in-the-future thing is just a backdrop for playing character archetypes and dialogue off one another. It allows the writers to tackle social issues or poke fun at trends that are relevant to us now, but with the lens of futuristic absurdism. Characters then, how they carry themselves, what they say, and who (or what) they’re loosely intended to represent mean everything.

With that in mind, we wanted to list off some of our favorites. Now, everyone knows Fry, Leela, and the rest of the core cast, so we’re looking at minor characters or one-offs only.

Mom

mom

Mom is a stand-in for all the seedy megacorporation CEOs. She’s an aggressive business tactician and frequently butts heads with the Planet Express crew. She’s not too interesting on her own, but she’s the focal point for some of the series’ best episodes. In “A Fishful of Dollars”, Fry learns that his once-meagre bank account has accrued enough interest to make him a multi-billionaire, he becomes consumed with trying to relive his past in the 20th century while Mom tries to rob him of his newfound fortune.

It’s one of the more poignant episodes from the series as Fry struggles to let go of his lost past. Mom is the perfect foil for the plucky crew specifically because her goals are singular — make money. And the rest of the crew are, for the most part, concerned about one another.

Calculon

calculon

Calculon is a note-for-note send-up of melodramatic soap opera stars. But as the series progresses, he grows and has some pretty stellar episodes. In “The Honking,” Calculon was used as part of an experiment to take pieces of the world’s most evil cars like the steering will from Adolf Hitler’s car and the windshield wipers from KITT in Knight Rider. While Calculon comes off as a schlocky actor, he’s actually quite talented (at least within the context of the show), and he was so committed to his role that he dies while reenacting Romeo and Juliet during the world acting championships.

Nixon

nixon

Nixon’s legacy as an American president is weirdly mixed. He presided over every moon landing and opened up relations with China, but then again he did have a scandal so seedy that its name is still the default portmanteau for every major scandal since. And that reputation follows Nixon into the show.

In Futurama’s world, presidents and other important historical figures have their heads placed in jars after death so we can continue to seek their advice and wisdom long into the future. Nixon takes advantage of this and runs for president of Earth and reigning from 3000 to well past 3012. Any time the Planet Express crew faces an apocalyptic scenario, they need a comically large check. Like

Robot Devil

robotdevil

The Robot Devil never takes himself too seriously. He’s as goofy and clever as he is evil, but he never goes too far. He’s presented as one of the wittiest, well-read and talented characters in the show. If he wanted, he could probably take over the whole planet and doom everyone to a lifetime of pain and torture. But that’s not really his style.

He’s far more concerned with serving poetic justice or competing with others on their terms and trying to come out ahead — crushing their hopes in the process. Given how competent Fry tends to be, it’s a wonder they survive any of their encounters with this conniving fiend. As anyone who’s seen “The Devils Hands Are Idle Playthings” will tell you, just because you live through an encounter with the Robot Devil, doesn’t mean that you’ve won the day.

Al Gore

algore

Al Gore’s another Futurama character based on a real-world politician, but unlike Nixon, Gore is actually voice by Al Gore. His daughter, Kristin Gore was a writer on the show, and she convinced her father to show up from time to time. Even better? Every time he does, Gore parodies his own real-world political positions. He’ll talk about saving the Earth from global warming by grabbing giant ice cubes from Pluto and dropping them into the ocean (which would cause even more world-ending floods than we currently face) or he’ll get a chance to protect the planet by using his little head-jar as the lynchpin of a key space battle.

He has enough self-awareness that Gore’s appearance never feels political — it’s just a stellar running gag that, miraculously, got the cooperation of one of the US most powerful politicians.

Hattie Mcdougal

hattie

Hattie Mcdougal isn’t just a crazy cat lady. She’s *the* crazy cat lady. In every episode she appears, she’s a little off. Usually cross-eyed and lacking the context for the situation, she wanders in as a side character and sticks around because of some perceived slight against one of her many, many cats. It’s a bit of a tired trope, but she’s entertaining enough that it holds up.

Gunter

gunter

Gunter might be the most tortured character in the show. He’s a laboratory chimp and the test subject for one of the professor’s more interesting experiments — a hat that grants its wearer profound intelligence. With the hate, Gunter capably keeps pace at Mars University, one of the shows’ most prestigious, and runs cerebral circles everyone else around him.

The catch, of course, is that Gunter knows that his intelligence only comes from the hat. When he sees his non-enhanced parents for the first time, he’s ashamed to know just how dumb they are. Gunter suffers because he knows he is a fraud, he knows that none of his talent or intellect is real — he’s the breathing manifestation of the impostor syndrome. And it dovetails well with the series as a whole — a show that bounces back and forth between comedy and tragedy uses one of its most tragic characters as a delivery mechanism for both great jokes and pointed observations on life.

Hedonism Bot

hedonismbot

Hedonism Bot is exactly what you’d expect. He’s an overly indulgent robot that apologizes. His body is that of a rotund man permanently reclining on a divan. He wears olive branch wreaths and constantly eats whole bunches of grapes — a clear nod to the excesses of the Roman and Greeks of old.

Throughout the series, Hedonism Bot only ever has one goal — to enjoy life. And to that end, he hosts the wildest parties, attends countless orgies (obviously off-screen), and even funds Fry’s opera in “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Play Things.” In every episode, H-bot is a plot mover, but what makes him memorable is his perfectly times one-liners. After a fire erupts at one of his parties, killing or injuring most of the attendees, he sobs, saying “Everywhere I looked there were piles of bodies… and then the explosion struck.” It’s a little base, but it’s one of the dozens of great lines from the king of needless excess.

The Globetrotters

globetrotters

The Harlem Globetrotters are renowned the world over for their exhibition basketball games. They blend comedy and athleticism, pulling trick shots and fancy ball tricks for laughs… or at least they do in the real world. In Futurama, however, the Globetrotters are the universe’s greatest basketball team, and they threaten to crush any who laugh at their antics.

Hailing from the Globetrotter home world, the team challenges Earth to a basketball game in the episode “Time Keeps on Slippin’.” The challenge has “no reason, ” and there were no stakes for the game, “beyond the shame of defeat.” Even so, the professor whips up some genetically super-charged mutants to defend Earth’s honor. But, Farnsworth used too many chronitons (a fictional particle of time), and in so doing created a “chronological wang-dang doodle” that threatened to rip reality apart. At this point, the Globetrotters reveal that they aren’t just the greatest b-ball team ever, but also some of the most talented scientists and mathematicians around.

Together, with Farnsworth and literally all of Earth’s money, they fix the tear in reality and save humanity. After, the Globetrotters join on as semi-regular characters, playing interference for the Professor when he gets in over his head.

Robot Santa

robotsanta

Futurama has loads and loads of great robot characters, and Santa is one of the best. He only shows up in a few holiday episodes, but he’s a wonderful twist on the classic idea of St. Nick. Unlike his terrestrial counterparts, Robot Santa sits on Pluto and, every X-Mas he flies to Earth and goes on a massive killing spree.

The story behind this is that at some point between 2000 and 3000 scientists created Robot Santa to make Santa’s job easier. But he judged everyone to be too naughty and, instead of giving a lump of coal… he’d shoot you in the face with a rocket launcher.

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