Futurama Review: Season 1, Episode 1: "Space Pilot 3000"

(Note: as a coda to this relatively unproductive month – I think I’ve hit a small burnout – I have decided to post a sample of my Futurama review blog. Here, my review of the first episode, posted back in January.)

Airdate: March 28th, 1999

And it’s still slower then the C train!

Synopsis (SPOILERS): It’s December 31st, 1999, Manhattan. Phillip J Fry’s life is in the toilet- he delivers pizzas on holidays, his girlfriend dumps him, and he’s placed on a crank call to a cryogenics centre. Ringing in the new year at the cryogenics centre, he winds up falling into one of the freezers. Thankfully, he eventually defrosts.

The date? December 31st, 2999. “My god! A million years!”

Fry is introduced to Leela, the cryogenics counsellor/fate officer. After being given a physical examination, he is assigned the career of… delivery boy. He has two options- take the career chip given to him, or be fired… (“Good!” “…out of a cannon, into the sun!”) He bolts for it, and runs for his nearest relative, the elderly Professor Hubert Farnsworth. While on the run, he meets Bender, who’s queuing for a suicide booth (which Fry mistakes for a phone booth). After escaping with their lives, the two befriend each other, and eventually manage to convince Leela to join them.

They all wind up at Professor Farnsworth’s place, and use his spaceship to escape prosecution from the cops. Afterwards, Farnsworth offers the three jobs at his intergalactic delivery company, Planet Express. This thrills Fry, who gets the job of… delivery boy.

Review (SPOILERS FOR THIS EPISODE): Pilot episodes are always hard to nail down- the writers still have doubts on the paths the characters are going, there might be idiosyncrasies relegated to the pilot, and the acting/art might be off until the show gets a full pickup.

Still, even with those elements, “Space Pilot 3000” is a pretty damn good pilot- in fact, it might be one of my favourite pilot episodes.

In many aspects, “Space Pilot” is about escaping the depressing confines of life, whether by fate or by self-realisation. In showcasing this, the show establishes the three main characters, their conflicts, and why they aren’t at each other’s throats.

Fry’s trapped in a dead-end job, in a dead-end life, in a dead-end world. He didn’t actively try and escape, nor did he actively try and stay- resigned to his current status, he fell into a cryogenics tube, and bye, 2000! Three minutes into the year 3000, we get to see him in action- he refuses to abide by the confines of the future, and is seemingly willing to evade the law. However, we get a dose of his kindness early on- instead of confining Leela to a thousand-year freezing, he gives her a five-minute confinement.

The story of Leela is somewhat less elaborated on. It takes a while to reach her backstory, and the backstory does have traces of sci-fi cliche in it. Alone on Earth, with no knowledge of what her species is, she’s also in a dead-end job- rounding up the defrostees for their careers. It’s heavily assumed that all that defrosted resigned themselves to their jobs… until Fry came along. Through Fry’s rejection of the confines of life, and the aftermath, she realises the callousness of the system, and decides that she has nothing left to lose by fleeing.

Bender is, by far, the most interesting example of how a character can evolve in one episode. Resigned to society’s rules, he feels the only way out is suicide. Sure, he makes small traces of rebellion by petty theft of services (the quarter-string trick, anybody), but he appears to have some small sense of morality, such as cleaning up his mess at the local pub. He maintains his resignation to society and his programming, calling Fry an idiot for suggesting that Bender break said programming. One chance encounter with a wire later, Bender is not only rebelling against his programming, but is bending grates simply to maintain the high he’s on, committing grander thefts (“He stole my ring!”), etc.

Some shows take episodes to fully showcase the world they live in. It takes Futurama two acts. Our first look at the future is that of a utopia beyond comprehension. Then a Star Trek-esque door closes on Fry’s head, and the game is set. Look closely, and Futurama might be one of the most dystopian sci-fi shows out there- unemployment is seemingly controlled by killing those without career chips, suicide booths are apparently a commonly-used commodity, the presidents are put on the shelves of a museum for idiots and tourists to gawk at them, the police are corrupt… the list goes on and on and on.

Admittedly, I think I’ve praised this episode enough, so I’ll toss out some critique. First off, Professor Farnsworth is more of a typical senior citizen compared to his character in the rest of the series, where he’s a mad scientist who just happens to be 150-ish years old. Elements in this episode (career chips) are abandoned later on. Maybe it’s the quality of the Netflix copy, but the voice acting sounds a bit anti-crisp compared to later seasons. The art is a bit off model- the colours are muted. Lastly, the amount of character comedy isn’t really as high as it will be in future episode- the show instead goes more into sending up sci-fi pop culture.

Still, as far as pilot episodes go, it’s a pretty damn good introduction to the world of tomorrow.

Tidbits:

  • One interesting inconsistency picked up by fans is a scene where Bender and Fry are at a local pub. Bender tries to defend his drinking, saying “I can quit anytime I want.” Just two episodes later, we learn that Bender is literally powered by alcohol- thus creating an inverse effect, where drinking keeps him “sober”.
  • Fry notes that he wanted a robot friend since he was 6. Assuming he was born in 1974, by 1980, Fry probably saw sci-fi programming with robots, such as Star Wars, with C3PO, and maybe Doctor Who, with K9. Interesting that, compared to the normally heroic and logical robots in those two shows, Bender is anything but.
  • Kinda strange (and a bit sad) to see Dick Clark’s head counting down New Year 3000. So full of youth…
  • This is one of two episodes written by Groening and Cohen. The other one was “Rebirth”, the first new episode to debut on Comedy Central.
Favourite Scene: The scene in “Old New York” is poignant. It hits home for Fry- he’s never going back to the year 1999. His family is gone. Whatever friends he had are gone.
Least Favourite Scene: The scene where the Professor gives Fry, Leela, and Bender the tour felt awkward, in that it felt a bit out of character. Again, the characters hadn’t been settled in yet, so I’m a bit light on this. Still.
Memorable Quote: “Here’s to another lousy millennium”- Fry, just before he falls into a freezer for all but one day of the new millennium. 
Score: 8

Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 3: "Headhunters"

Three figures, only one with dignity
In fair Oregon, where we lay our scene.
From retro grudge to break a nouveaux peace
Where wax-made hands make wooden floors unclean.
From forth the fatal hands of Mabel Pines
A wax figure of Stan loses his head.
But Stanford’s wax head had no connection
To Archibald Cox and eighteen minute gaps.

Airdate: June 30, 2012

Synopsis: Dipper, Mabel, and Soos stumble across a hidden room in the Mystery Shack. Said room is full of wax figurines. Stan reveals that he once had a wax museum, but it didn’t bode too well for him financially. He decides to reopen it, and commissions Mabel to make a new figure. She makes one based off of Stan. The figure itself, plus the poorly-organized press conference announcing the relaunch, makes the wax museum fail once again.

The night after the press conference, the wax figure is decapitated. With the cops on other business, Dipper and Mabel set out to find the vandal. Who is the vandal? Well, let’s just say they were close to wax Stan… and far from regular Stan.

Review (SPOILERS): One of the many, many, many things that drives people to watch Gravity Falls is the relationships between the characters – especially between our protagonists. After all, many TV shows showcase something of a power struggle between siblings, or partners/bosses in detective-type shows.

What makes Gravity Falls unique in this regard is the relatively egalitarian relationship between Dipper and Mabel. This episode cements this idea. Neither of them are a “leader” or a “follower” – they both participate in the investigation, contributing equally, while adding their own quirks to make the characters relatable.

We got a glimpse of that at the end of “Tourist Trapped” and during parts of “Legend of the Gobblewonker”. However, in the latter, the two were buoyed by Soos, and the latter was more to introduce the characters, with the dynamics being secondary. Here, the focus is on Dipper and Mabel. The dynamic that they have is brilliantly played – whatever conflict there is between them comes not from a desire of power, but due to their contrasting personalities.

It really is refreshing to see a show without a battle in the balance of power. Granted, shows like that are not to be knocked: House of Cards (both versions) and Red Dwarf showcase an antagonistic relationship between the main character and another character or two or ten. However, not every show can be Lister v Rimmer, or Frank Underwood v the President. It’s nice to see a friendly relationship such as the one between Dipper and Mabel written so well.

Their plot is actually intriguing enough as it is – not only is the twist generally, uh, “twisty”, but the climax is actually pretty scary. It’s the first time the show actually went into a sense of terror, rather than just use peril for comedy.

One might wonder whether the wax figures were really nuts before their interactions with Stan, or whether being locked away drove them mad. That’s our moral dilemma for the episode – relatively small, but worth thinking about.

John Oliver (Last Week Tonight) does a brilliant job as Wax Sherlock Holmes – managing to convey a form of comedy and terrifying leadership in his character. Oh, and getting Coolio and Larry King to guest star? Ignore the hiatus – this really shows what Disney thinks of the show; they had so much faith in it, and were so impressed, that the third episode got high-end voice actors. Brilliant.

That’s not even getting into the rest of the characters. Sherrif Blubs, Deputy Durland, and Toby Determined, as far as gag and minor characters go, are all brilliantly written, multi-dimensional, and hysterical. Kevin Michael Richardson, Keith Ferguson, and Greg Turkington are all fantastic voice actors.

While not a “must watch” episode, it’s definitely a fun one, showing the show’s evolution in the three episodes alone.

Trivia:

  • While Stan’s reaction to losing his wax self might seem exaggerated, recent events do show a… darker side to this loss. Still, a bit egocentric, eh?
  • Come to think about it, Soos’s keyboard is a bit tragic, given that he got it on the day that he realised his dad was a damn deadbeat!
  • When I first did the review, I read on the Gravity Falls Wiki that one of the detectives on Duck-Tective was voiced by Gavin McTarvish, who voiced Warden Ackerman in Series VIII of Red Dwarf. Turns out that was just a rumour. Also, I said in that review something along the lines of “weak Dwarf is better than no Dwarf.In hindsight… not so much.
  • One thing I don’t like is that they gave Richard Nixon… nothing. C’mon. Nixon would’ve been awesome. Two words: Billy. West.
Favorite Scene: The botched exposure of Toby Determined, including… “Your little knees must be sore… from jumping to conclusions!” Yeah, it’s corny, but there’s also a hint of character in it. 
Least Favorite Scene: Take out the “Duck-tective” scenes – not because they’re not funny, mind you, but because they’re unnecessary – and you would get just a bit more wax figure lines and action. Thankfully, “Duck-tective” does help flesh out Dipper and Mabel’s character, so it’s not a total write off.
Score: 9

A Farewell to Phineas and Ferb

Well, the same day I found out Red Dwarf was getting renewed for two more series (the day my blog post on that was posted – I may or may not be the master of efficiency that fact would imply), came the announcement that, in many regards, represents the end of an era in TV.

Phineas and Ferb, the Disney Channel animated sitcom, is drawing to a close. The final episode will air on June 12th.

If I may be honest, I didn’t really watch the show too much in the past year or two, mainly because I was so engrossed in the masterpiece that was Gravity Falls. I was too convinced that Phineas and Ferb had been outclassed in every way possible, and I just sorta lost interest.

Still, I can’t help but feel mournful for the loss of what was once a giant in TV. I mean… this might be one of the most epoch-making shows in animation.

I’ll admit that it constantly used a formula, which many fans of any show on Disney know, so I won’t elaborate. To some, it would be a lazy-man’s Mad Libs plot. Yet, for some reason, Dan Povenmire, Jeff Marsh, and others twisted the formula around and around, over and over.

But that’s not the impact of Phineas and Ferb.

Really, without this show, what would the state of animation – and, to a small extent, of TV – be like?

By 2007, animation had arguably taken a path of overt slapstick and vulgarity. Even once subtle, intelligent kids shows such as Spongebob, unfortunately, had evolved into slapdash, more simplistic imitations of themselves. The Simpsons, once the smartest show on the planet, evolved into an odd combination of campy plots and well-worn cliches. (By the way, The Simpsons will be on until Season 28. Think about that next time you buy anything connected to Rupert Murdoch.)

Cue P&F.

Povenmire and Marsh had just debut a show that, while campy in some areas, also had a breath of intelligence with it. Hell, even the campy elements had some form of brilliance to it. Wanna parody the campy nature of the 007 scripts? Cue a platypus fighting a businessman who dabbled in the mad sciences. (Oh, by the way, I consider Dr Doofenshmirtz one of the greatest characters of all time.) Mock the music industry? “Flop Starz”. Parody speculative fiction? “Out to Launch”. Send up the development of a civilization? “Unfair Science Fair Part II.”

What made this show awesome is that it rarely, if ever, treated it’s audience like idiots. References to Mendelev’s theory, obscure scientists, math formulae, physics, existentialism, anti-disestablishment-arianism (“I can finally stop wearing that puce ribbon!”)… all while appealing to children without pandering to them.

The artwork is stunningly both simple and fantastic. With the exception of the crisp colors, it’s hard to tell for the simple viewer that it was at least partially done by computer – same with Gravity Falls.

And the characters… oh, the characters. Candace is complex and tragic in a way similar to a Shakespearian hero. Doofenshmirtz, as far as “supervillains” go, is sympathetic and has a well-defined backstory and relationships. Phineas and Ferb, super-geniuses as they are, are escapist in a way that’s not annoying, but makes the characters, and the show, fun. Even those characters that seemed like cliches were fleshed out enough to provide for awesome comedy, and the most fleshed out characters make you care even in the more formulaic plots.

It’s hard for many shows to do all of that.

Phineas and Ferb did so.

And the end result is shows like Gravity Falls, Wander over Yonder, Adventure Time, Steven Universe – shows that don’t talk down to their audiences, that know their limits when it comes to their odd vulgar/slapstick moments, that know how to balance comedy and character development.

The series finale airs on June 12th. The 104 days of summer will fade away after almost 8 years. The only regret, I think, is that it didn’t end two years sooner – it’s sorta faded out of the national mindset until the announcement of the end.

Thank you, Dan Povenmire and Jeff Marsh, for creating this fantastic, groundbreaking show. Thank you, Disney – even if you don’t know how to schedule your cartoons, you produce and greenlight fine cartoons, and this was no exception.

I’m gonna catch up on some episodes I’ve forgotten about on Netflix.

Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 2: “The Legend of the Gobblewonker”

Airdate: June 29th, 2012

Synopsis: It’s the opening of fishing season in Gravity Falls. In order to spend some time bonding with the twins in a more… legal way (“The county jail was so cold!”), Stan takes them out to Gravity Falls lake. On cue, a crazy old man, last name McGucket, screams about a monster in the lake. That, plus Soos having a boat that doesn’t have holes or creepy fishing lures, causes the twins to high-tail it to the “SS Cool Dude” in search for the mysterious Gobblewonker.

Review (SPOILERS): Smashing sophomore episode. Smashing.

Ah, you want more in this post. That’s why I’m posting these “remastered” reviews, right? Alright, ya got it! Spoilers ahead, though – I’d recommend watching the episode before going on. Continue reading

The Boys are Back in Town!!!!

They’re back!!!!

It’s official- Red Dwarf is coming back for TWO MORE SERIES, baby! Count ’em- TWO. 2. II.

They will be broadcast in 2016 and 2017, respectively, on the Dave Network in the UK. (This should be enough incentive for WNET to pick up Red Dwarf X here on Long Island/New York. I’m not upset, however – thank you, iTunes.)

There’s little word on what could be in the plot, although based on what I’ve read on Ganymede.TV, this is what I know:

That’s pretty much all. Obviously, I’m excited, and I can’t wait for 2016.

Oh, if you live in the UK, and if you are of legal age to do so, VOTE!