Earlier this week, it was announced that Futurama would be returning (again), this time in the form of a twenty-episode season on Hulu. However, while most of the cast has been booked to return, one actor remains unsigned: John DiMaggio, who voices the shiny metal face of the franchise, Bender Bending Rodriguez. But as the shiny metal ass of the franchise, everyone should be asking, “Where’s Bender? And will the show even work without him?”
In an article posted to Entertainment Weekly on Thursday, February 10, 2022, the outlet stated that DiMaggio’s representatives received the same offer for compensation package at the same time that Billy West’s and Katey Sagal’s representatives did, but the offer was accepted by the actors who played Philip J. Fry (and others) and Turanga Leela. Contractual realities and studio politics have complicated negotiations at Hulu, which is reportedly reluctant to pay one of the three leads more than the other two. Thus, DiMaggio’s negotiations have hit a standstill.
The studio has not considered one possible solution: pay all three leads more! With the first table read for the most recent revival of the animated science fiction comedy scheduled to take place on Valentine’s Day, what happens if DiMaggio does not agree to return, and how likely would Futurama’s many outspoken fans be to accept the change (if another voice actor would even take the role at this point)?
That depends on which route Hulu’s Futurama takes in the wake of DiMaggio.
Is a Recast Possible?
This is the route The Simpsons has taken with several characters for the past several seasons. However, the motivation has not been because an actor is unavailable but rather because of racial sensitivity. In 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu wrote and starred in The Problem with Apu, a documentary criticizing the racial stereotyping inherent in many of the show’s characterizations. At first, The Simpsons did not respond to the criticism well. After the season twenty-nine episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” which aired in 2018, Lisa Simpson, the moral center of Springfield (she can wield Mjolnir after all, not Flanders), was used as a mouthpiece to state that the issue would be considered “later, if at all.”
However, it was considered, and several characters were recast. For example, instead of Harry Shearer, who originated the character, Kevin Michael Richardson has been playing Dr. Julius Hibbert since 2021. Bender could be recast for a similar reason, but “not wanting to be racist” makes the process of recasting a beloved character much more palatable than “we figured we could lowball Bender.” Nobody lowballs Bender! While Apu himself has not been recast, the character has only appeared in the background. This also seems like a solution that would not work for Bender, considering Bender is NOT a background character. Next!
Furthermore, it seems unlikely that any actor would take on the role at this point. Tara Strong’s sentiments are being echoed across the web.
Could Friender Replace Bender?
In the twentieth episode of season three, “Godfellas,” Bender is launched out of the Planet Express Ship’s torpedo tube while the spacecraft is moving at top speed. As a result, Fry and Leela can never catch up with Bender, no matter how hard they try (even if they rub the engine with cheetah blood). The duo abandons hope, and the rest of the Planet Express crew tries to cheer Fry up with a new robot companion: Friender! But Friender is somehow an even bigger jerk than Bender. There’s a reason this guy only appeared in one scene and was not brought back for the second or third Futurama revivals. He should be forgotten for the fourth Futurama revival, too! Double hair flip, next!
What About the Next Generation?
In the first episode of Futurama season seven, “The Bots and the Bees,” Bender impregnates a soda machine named Bev. Soon, the pair has a child, Ben Rodriguez. While you might expect that Ben would be a huge burden, even Leela must admit that Bender is a pretty good father! Things get more complicated when they realize that Ben lacks sufficient processing power to retain memories of his father and enroll in Bending State University. Bender decides to allow his son to forget him to achieve for the child to achieve his dream.
But if Bender is out of the picture, and Ben has graduated from BSU, perhaps he could join the Planet Express crew. Everybody loves having a kid around, right? He would probably get along “great” with Cubert Farnsworth and Dwight Conrad. And because Ben was voiced by Phil LaMarr, who is already confirmed to return as Hermes, no recasting of Bender would be involved. This solution ensures that DiMaggio’s performance as Bender is honored by not recasting. But it would be a lot easier to stomach if DiMaggio was unavailable for a reason other than “just money.”
The Solution: Pay Flexo
The answer has been in front of our faces all along: Flexo! This character looks just like Bender, although he sports a stylish goatee, which will make today’s modern audience stop and say, “Hey, look at the goatee.” Better yet, we already know that he’s not above a bit of scab labor, thanks to the events of Futurama Season 3, Episode 6, “Bendless Love.”
So who voices Flexo? Hulu, just call him up and hire him! Problem solved. See you in the world of tomorrow, everyone!
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