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
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