“His name was Seymour. He was once intimate with the leg of a wandering saxophonist. He had wet-dog smell, even when dry. And he was not above chasing the No. 29 bus.”
This is how delivery boy Philip J. Fry describes his dog when he discovers his pet’s fossilized remains in the 31st century. He’d last seen Seymour 1,000 years earlier — on December 31, 1999 — just before an ill-fated pizza delivery to a cryogenics lab, where Fry would accidentally become frozen for the next thousand years.
While far-fetched and unabashedly silly, the Matt Groening animated series Futurama was not without moments of surprising tenderness and pathos. While Fry’s fish-out-of-water story in the year 3000 is mostly played for laughs, it does occasionally deal with the real-life consequences of what happens when someone mysteriously goes missing, and never was it done so effectively as with the series’ 61st episode, “Jurassic Bark,” where its revealed that, after Fry’s disappearance, his dog Seymour waits for him every day for the next 12 years, until he quietly passes away.
It’s a moment that took audiences by surprise when it first aired on November 17, 2002 — the episode even earned Futurama an Emmy nomination. In the two decades since, as Futurama has found a wider audience, Seymour’s death has found a new life online, both as a memorable benchmark in TV history and as a symbol of the beautiful love and loyalty of a dog.
Surprisingly though, when the idea for “Jurassic Bark” was first conceived of by Futurama writer Eric Kaplan, the episode didn’t feature a dog at all.
Eric Kaplan, Futurama writer and producer from 1999 to 2009: Originally, Fry went to a museum and discovered his fossilized mother, and since cloning is possible in the future, the story was about this question of, “Does he want to rekindle this emotional relationship that he thought was over and done with?”
Whenever you write a story, you try to give the main character a really powerful choice between two things, both of which look really good — that puts a lot of heat on them. Then, when they make the decision, you learn more about who they are. That’s the structure of a good story in nine cases out of 10.
Does Fry want to rekindle this relationship that was very emotionally important to him in the past? Or does he want to go on with the relationships in his life now? I hadn’t thought of this before, but it’s a little bit like the dilemma that the woman in Casablanca has. She has this relationship with Humphrey Bogart and then her husband, who she believed was dead, appears again, and he’s a hero for the resistance. So it gives her a very difficult choice.
I wanted to give Fry a similarly difficult choice, but [executive producer] David Cohen thought it was a little gruesome that we were dealing with the fossilized body of his mother. So I said, “Well, what if it were his dog?” and David said, “Okay, let’s do that.” So that was the genesis of the story, which ended up being really effective for Fry as a character.
Billy West, voice actor of Fry: I always joke that I did my best stuff in the 31st century, and that’s because Fry is a character that I really love and identify with. I’ve done a lot of characters, but with Fry, I remember sort of being him. When I was 25, I had a whiny, nasally, complain-y kind of voice and I was also making weird decisions and didn’t think things through, but I was always a good kid — a good guy. I was always sensitive, much like Fry. Also, the same things that would affect Fry would almost ironically affect me, like being a project for a girl. If I found a girlfriend, I’d be like this project that needed to be changed and reworked, and Fry was like that too.
There’s still a little bit of that guy in me, too. Like, I think the best acting I’ve ever done in my life was an episode of Futurama where somebody told Fry, “Hey, I heard beer makes you stupid,” and Fry goes, “No I’m doesn’t,” and I just didn’t get it — it looked like a typo. I even mentioned it to David Cohen, and he just said, “Please read it as written.” I said, “Okay,” and I did it. Later on, I saw it on TV, and I was just on the floor — it was hilarious. But it was the best acting I ever did because I just didn’t get it. That’s the essence of Fry.
Kaplan: The way it worked on Futurama is that I would go home and do a pre-outline and then we’d all get together and pitch on it. Then I’d go home and do an outline, give the outline to David, get some notes, then I’d go home and write a script. Then we’d all rewrite the script as a group.
These things are very, very collaborative projects. With Seymour’s design, for example, while I had input on it, I didn’t quarterback that. I’m pretty sure it was Matt Groening who led the way on the design of Seymour as kind of a low-intensity, low-information kind of dog.
As for the writing, I’m sure that much of it came from the other writers. I just don’t remember who added what, because it all went into the same stew, though I imagine my original outline was a little over-complicated and David helped to simplify things, which is generally what happened. Ultimately though, the episode was always going to be about the choice that Fry makes, so all of the writing had to service that. The episode was always going to take place in two timelines — in the past and in the future — and the story in both of those timelines ended up being fairly simple. It’s almost a bit of a bottle show because it’s mostly people in rooms talking.
Gabe Cheng, comic book creator and co-host of Another Lousy Millennium podcast: Much of the episode is actually about Bender, because it really explores his friendship with Fry. Bender is a robot and he didn’t have a human friend until he met Fry, so he’s still kind of new to this idea of being around humans and how human friendships work. So, when Fry discovers Seymour and it’s found out that Seymour can be brought back to life with his memories intact, Bender goes through something of an identity crisis. Bender is Fry’s best friend, so when Fry’s former best friend — who is a dog — is reintroduced back into Fry’s life in the 31st century, Bender is afraid that he’s going to lose that part of himself.
Kaplan: That’s the emotional vortex of the episode, Fry having to choose between Seymour and Bender.
Cheng: Bender’s also the one who learns something in the episode. While he spends most of the episode jealous of Seymour potentially coming back, when he tosses the fossilized dog into a volcano, he sees how upset Fry gets and finally understands.
Bender, from “Jurassic Bark”: Fry, I’m sorry. I should have understood how someone could love an inferior creature, because I love you. Not in the way of the ancient Greeks, but the way a robot loves a human and the way a human loves a dog and, occasionally, the way a gorilla loves a kitty.
Cheng: Bender also has the episode’s big heroic moment, when he jumps into the volcano to save Seymour before he melts.
Kaplan: Oh right, there’s a Volcano Room in the Planet Express Building. I definitely find the concept of volcanos to be funny.
Cheng: While the future story is about Bender’s journey, the story in the past establishes Fry’s relationship with Seymour, which began when he was a puppy and continued for the next three years until Fry went missing, then it shows that Seymour was the only one looking for Fry after he was frozen.
Finally, when it comes to the end of the episode, Seymour is just about to be cloned in the future and we find out that Seymour actually died of old age years after Fry got frozen, so Fry decides not to clone him.
Professor Farnsworth, from “Jurassic Bark”: Interesting, it seems that Seymour died at the ripe old age of 15.
Fry, from “Jurassic Bark”: Fifteen? You mean he lived for 12 more years after I got frozen?
Fry: Stop the cloning!
Bender: Fry, what’s wrong?
Fry: Think about it. Seymour lived a full life after I was gone. I had Seymour till he was 3. That’s when I knew him, and that’s when I loved him. I’ll never forget him, but he forgot me a long, long time ago.
Kaplan: The whole point of the episode was to create a situation where the character that you identify with, Fry, makes a decision that makes perfect sense, but that decision is wrong. Fry comes up with this story that he tells himself — that Seymour moved on with his life — and that story is just wrong. Seymour didn’t move on.
Paul Zuniga, Futurama fan and writer of “Here’s Why Futurama’s Most Heartwarming Episode Will Have You Weeping”: The episode definitely showed Seymour’s deep connection to Fry, but it was kind of bittersweet because, after Fry gets frozen, Seymour just sat and waited for him until he died.
Kaplan: There was a woman working on the show then named Michelle Long, and when the animatic came back with the music on it, she was crying. That was the first time that I realized that this episode really packed an emotional punch. This might be a bit de-mystifying, but very often when you add the music, that’s when the emotion comes in. Futurama is a rather cerebral show — it’s a cartoon, it’s in the future and it has a lot of brainy jokes and so forth — so sometimes the pictures and words are made more emotional by the addition of music.
That Connie Francis song that ends with, “If it takes forever I will wait for you! For a thousand summers, I will wait for you!” — my grandpa, Eddie, and my grandma, Do, would play that song at the piano. It fit quite nicely because the dog did wait a thousand summers for Fry, although Fry ended up not waiting for him. So that landed well. We didn’t end on a joke, either. No one slipped on Seymour or something like that. We just ended on this dog dying, which I’m happy we did. I’m glad we stuck to that emotional throughline.
West: I knew it was going to be sad, but I didn’t know it was going to be that sad. I read it, I performed it, but I couldn’t picture it on TV — I only understand it as a radio play until I see it. And when I saw it, I was just welling up.
One of the big reasons is because I’m an animal lover. I’m so pro-animal. I don’t have a dog, I have a cat, but when I was younger and single, having an animal took the sting out of being alone. It was this being in the house that depended on you and would love you without conditions. I know these are clichés, but they make us better than we are. I used to say, “I wish I was half the man that cat thought I was,” you know?
Kaplan: To be honest, I was really interested in the tragedy of it. When people move on, it might be the right thing for them, but maybe not for the people that they’re moving on from. That was really the emotional core of the story for me, rather than it being specifically dog-related pathos.
In a funny way though, it being about a dog is good because it makes us really focus on the heart of Fry. Seymour is an animal. He doesn’t understand what’s happening, and he has this uncomplicated love that you couldn’t get if it was Fry’s girlfriend or something like that. That simplicity, I think, makes Fry’s choice more emotionally powerful.
Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, author of Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty and Life With Dogs: We hear stories all of the time about the bond between a dog and a person, and what makes them so resonant is that that bond is one that we can really only aspire to have with another person. There is no partner or friend who can offer that selfless devotion that dogs have, where they keep the faith that is so hard for people to keep. That’s what makes those stories incredibly moving and inspiring. I think that they ask us to imagine ourselves loving better and showing up for each other better.
West: When I was really young we had dogs around and I had a beagle named Buck and he was my best friend. It’s almost like, in my child’s mind, I didn’t make a separation that he was another species, you know? Because I used to share my food with him and we did everything together.
In the following years, we had other breeds of dogs. One of them was a Weimaraner. He was so big and powerful that when I’d take him for a walk, he’d see something in the distance and go chasing after it — I’d be literally flying through the air because I was so small. And he loved beer! He used to lap up beer out of a big ceramic ashtray. It was screwy.
Zuniga: I resonated a lot with Fry in this episode. I’ve always had a strong connection with my pets, so Fry and Seymour really hit home for me. Seymour waiting for so long is pretty realistic, too. There are a lot of stories about how dogs grieve and stories about dogs staying by their owners even when they’re dead. The most famous one is probably Hachiko.
If you’ve not heard it, in Japan in 1923, there was a man named Ueno who adopted an Akita dog and named it Hachiko. He and the dog would walk side-by-side to the train every day until one day in 1925, Ueno didn’t come home. Unfortunately, Ueno had died from a brain hemorrhage, but, of course, his dog had no idea what happened, so all Hachiko could do was go back to the train station. There, Hachiko would wait for the trains to roll in and search them endlessly, hoping to see his owner again. The dog would repeat the same routine for nine years until his passing on March 8, 1935.
Julia Espinosa, PhD candidate studying cognitive processing in dogs at the University of Toronto: A lot of these things that we hear about dogs and their attachment to humans lacks really proper, quantifiable scientific evidence, in part because you can just imagine the ethical issues involved in abandoning dogs just to study this. So it’s hard to explain how and why a dog can be so devoted. Some think they’re special and they love us, while others think it’s part of the family pack structure like you’d see in wolves.
I think it’s a bit of both nature and nurture, because we hear these powerful stories of a dog’s love that go beyond simple dependency for food and shelter. You hear stories about dogs finding their way home years later and of dogs grieving for their owners. While anecdotal, they’re really powerful examples. In Futurama, while there’s some creative license, what the dog does isn’t impossible, because there are real stories of things like that happening.
Hayden: “Jurassic Bark” was definitely one of the most hard-hitting episodes of the show. “The Luck of the Fryrish,” which came earlier, dealt with Fry’s brother and was really emotional, but I think “Jurassic Bark” hits harder because it involves an animal and dogs are just loyal to the end. They really showed that with Seymour and Fry, and Futurama fans really connected with it.
Whenever I post a clip of that episode on Twitter, I get a big response from people who say they’re crying or they’re pissed off from it. It’s almost kind of a running joke.
Cheng: I honestly think “Jurassic Bark” is the best episode of Futurama because of the themes about friendship and loyalty and because Futurama fans have a really deep connection to it. That being said, whenever I do a full series rewatch of the show, I usually skip “Jurassic Bark” because it is very sad.
Kaplan: There are a lot of people who have come after me online with a lot of mock hostility, saying things like, “You made me cry harder than I’ve ever cried in my life and I hate you!” because a lot of people who seek out a science-fiction cartoon show are more comfortable thinking than feeling.
But I would say that good art challenges you. It doesn’t only give you what you want. It doesn’t excoriate you — it doesn’t give you what you don’t want — but it either gives you what you want in an unexpected way, or it helps you get in touch with feelings that you don’t ordinarily get in touch with, and when you do, you’re glad that you did. Rather than simply pandering, art can be a tool for self exploration and self transformation and self discovery. I think we tried to do that on Futurama. I mean, it’s supposed to be enjoyable, but within that, it’s also supposed to make you think and make you feel.
West: I know a lot of people get mad if you even refer to “Jurassic Bark.” Like on Twitter, all you gotta do is show a picture from it and people get upset. I mean, I get that some people don’t want to be reminded of it, but I welcome things that tweak my emotions. It means you’re alive and you’re human. And I’m glad I get to talk about it because I miss the show and I miss Fry terribly. I have real separation anxiety from it.
Futurama was such a good show, and it had such great character development. That’s the thing that makes the show and “Jurassic Bark” historic to me. If I can step out of it for a minute, the idea that a cartoon could evoke such an emotion, I mean, I never heard of such a thing — I don’t think anything like that existed before Futurama.