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Futurama is essentially a workplace sitcom, the plot of which revolves around the Planet Express interplanetary delivery company and its employees, a small group that largely fails to conform to future society. Episodes usually feature the central trio of Fry, Leela, and Bender, though occasional storylines centered on the other main characters.
Futurama is set in New New York at the turn of the 31st century, in a time filled with technological wonders. The city of New New York has been built over the ruins of present-day New York City, referred to as "Old New York." Various devices and architecture are similar to the Populuxe style. Global warming, inflexible bureaucracy, and substance abuse are a few of the subjects given a 31st-century exaggeration in a world where the problems have become both more extreme and more common. Just as New York has become a more extreme version of itself in the future, other Earth locations are given the same treatment; Los Angeles, for example, is depicted as a smog-filled apocalyptic wasteland.
Numerous technological advances have been made between the present day and the 31st century. The ability to keep heads alive in jars was invented by Ron Popeil (who has a guest cameo in "A Big Piece of Garbage"), which has resulted in many historical figures and current celebrities being present, including Groening himself; this became the writers' device to feature and poke fun at contemporary celebrities in the show. Curiously, several of the preserved heads shown are those of people who were already dead well before the advent of this technology; one of the most prominent examples of this anomaly is frequent Earth president Richard Nixon, who died in 1994. The heads also appear to be in the age that the individual was most famous and not the older age in which they died. The Internet, while being fully immersive and encompassing all senses — even featuring its own digital world (similar to Tron or The Matrix) — is slow and largely consists of pornography,pop-up ads, and "filthy" (or Filthy Filthy) chat rooms. Some of it is edited to include educational material ostensibly for youth. Television is still a primary form of entertainment. Self-aware robots are a common sight, and are the main cause of global warming thanks to their alcohol-powered systems. The wheel is obsolete (no one but Fry even seems to recognize the design), having been forgotten and replaced by hover cars and a network of large, clear pneumatic transportation tubes.
Environmentally, common animals still remain, alongside mutated, cross-bred (sometimes with humans) and extraterrestrial animals. Ironically, Spotted Owls are often shown to have replaced rats as common household pests. Although rats still exist, sometimes rats act like pigeons. Pigeons still exist, as well. Pine trees, anchovies and poodles have been extinct for 800 years. Earth still suffers the effects of greenhouse gases, although in one episode Leela states that its effects have been counteracted by nuclear winter. In another episode, the effects of global warming have been somewhat mitigated by the dropping of a giant ice cube into the ocean, and later by pushing Earth farther away from the sun.
Futurama's setting is a backdrop, and the writers are not above committing continuity errors if they serve to further the gags. For example, while the pilot episode implies that the previous Planet Express crew was killed by a space wasp, the later episode "The Sting" is based on the crew having been killed by space bees instead. The "world of tomorrow" setting is used to highlight and lampoon issues of today and to parody the science fiction genre.
Earth is depicted as being multicultural to the extent that a wide range of human, robot, and extraterrestrial beings interact with the primary characters. In some ways the future is depicted as being more socially advanced than Fry's, and therefore the audience's, reality. However, it is often shown to have many of the same types of problems, challenges, mistakes, and prejudices as the present.
Robots make up the largest "minority". Most robots are self-aware and have been granted freedom and self-determination, but while a few are depicted as wealthy members of the upper class, they are often treated as second-class citizens. Likewise, robot–human relationships (termed "robosexual") are stigmatized, and robot–human marriages are initially depicted as illegal. Sewer mutants are mutated humans who must live in the sewers by law. They are initially depicted as holding urban legend status and regarded as fictional by most members of the public. This was contradicted by later episodes that depict Earth society as having enforced laws regarding mutants. However, since the conclusion of Season Six, mutants have been granted full status as citizens and are therefore granted the same rights to surface use as normal humans.
Religion is still a prominent part of society, although the dominant religions have evolved. A merging of the major religious groups of the 20th century has resulted in the First Amalgamated Church, while Voodoo is now mainstream. New religions include Oprahism, Robotology, and the banned religion of Star Trek fandom. Religious figures include Father Changstein-El-Gamal, the Robot Devil, Reverend Preacherbot, and passing references to the Space Pope, who appears to be a large crocodile-like creature. While very few episodes focus exclusively on religion within theFuturama universe, they do cover a wide variety of subjects including predestination, prayer, the nature of salvation, and religious conversion.
Earth has a unified government headed by the President of Earth. Richard Nixon's head is elected to the position in Season Two, and holds the office in subsequent episodes. Earth's capital is Washington, D.C., and the flag of Earth is similar in design to the flag of the United States, with the western hemisphere displayed in place of the fifty stars. The show is set mostly in the former United States, and other parts of the world are rarely shown. Citizens of Earth are referred to as "Earthicans," and English is shown to be the primary language of almost every sentient species.
The Democratic Order of Planets (D.O.O.P.) has been compared to both the United Nations and the United Federation of Planets of the Star Trek universe. Numerous other galaxies have been colonized or have made contact by the year 3000. Mars has been terraformed and is home to Mars University, Mars Vegas, and tribes similar to Native Americans, though they departed upon learning that the "worthless bead" they traded their land for (the Martian surface) was actually a giant diamond worth a fortune, deciding to buy another planet and act like it is sacred.
Due to the fact that the world of Fry's time was destroyed, much of the knowledge of history before then was lost. In the 31st century, facts gathered by archaeologists are portrayed as grossly inaccurate. For example, in "The Lesser of Two Evils", the theme park "Past-O-Rama" presents a history in which 20th-century car factories had "primitive robot" assembly lines in which cars were not assembled by giant robotic welding arms, but by robots dressed like stereotypical cavemen. Another example comes from "The Series Has Landed", in which knowledge of the Moon Landing has been lost for centuries. As a result, archaeologists came to the conclusion that the idea to go to the moon came from the infamous quote from The Honeymooners.
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