Futurama Review of Season One Episode 1: Space Pilot 3000
Introduction and Plot Summary
For this series of Hubs I am going to take a look at Futurama one episode or movie at a time. As an avid sci-fi fan, Futurama is one of my favorite western TV shows. It takes place, as one may guess from the title, in the future. Loserly pizza delivery boy Fry gets himself accidentally stuck in a cryogenics tube and frozen in 1999 on New Year's Eve. He wakes up thawing out in the year 3000 on New Year's Day, having been frozen a thousand years
Adjusting to the way society has changed instantly becomes a struggle when cryogenics worker Leela, a one-eyed alien, tells Fry that he needs to get a "career chip" embedded in his hand. This will mark him as a delivery boy, the career the machines have decided he is best at, forever. He can't deal with this imposition since he sees being frozen into the year 3000 as a chance to make his life better than it was.
He runs away and Leela is forced to chase after him. Along the way he meets Bender, an obnoxious robot, whom he befriends. He encourages Bender to think outside his programming. Later, Leela also decides she's had enough with society telling her what to do, and she takes out her own career chip. As "job fugitives" the two get chased around by two bungling cops and eventually land jobs with Professor Farnsworth, Fry's only living relative. The professor is a crazy old geezer, but luckily he has the career chips from his old delivery crew, and that can allow Fry, Leela, and Bender to become his new crew. They escape the cops when Leela takes the prof's spaceship into space, and Fry gets to start the new life he wanted to start, even if it means still being a delivery boy.
Compared to later episodes of Futurama, this isn't exactly stellar. However, as a pilot episode, it accomplishes what a pilot should; it introduces the show's core concepts and story elements in a way that makes sense, does not have too much forced-feeling exposition, and that makes a memorable impact on the viewer, enticing them to want to see more.
What was interesting to me re-watching this one after so long was just how many characters and show concepts were put into this one episode. Richard Nixon (voiced by Billy West) and Leonard Nimoy (voiced by himself) show up as disembodied celebrity heads in the Head Museum, a handy way for the plot to weave contemporary celebrities into the future world, which is a device Futurama uses a lot later for multiple celebrity voice cameos. The three main characters, the professor, and his iconic green spaceship show up, but also some of the more obscure elements of the show like the travel by tube, suicide booths, ruins of Old New York, and the written alien language the writers made for the show popping up here and there in various backgrounds (which is really just English encoded with weird-looking symbols).
Basically, while the voice acting and animation will improve from this point considerably, this episode is a great first impression.
Good: The imaginative concept, the introduction without fake-feeling or awkward exposition, ability to capture viewer interest, character's struggles were easily understandable. Even for the pilot it's still enjoyable to watch.
Bad: Most fans of the show agree that this isn't a great episode, at least not in comparison with later Futurama episodes. Billy West and other voice actors in this show are all amazingly talented, but it took them some time to grow into their roles, which is to be expected.
Verdict: Everyone still did a good job. I enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it (although I started watching the show from the second episode and ended up seeing it later than its air date as a rerun) and I enjoyed it now. You wouldn't expect that a show would lack improvement from its first episode or so, but it's still a great start.