Hulu/FX Reviews

Retro Review: Futurama Season 1, Episode 1 – “Space Pilot 3000”

These days there are a lot of shows coming back for revivals. Futurama might be the king of that as it’s a series that has survived cancellation nearly five times now. First premiering on Fox back in 1999, before being cancelled for the first time in 2003, it was saved thanks to reruns on Adult Swim and Comedy Central, as well as a renewal on the latter network. Just last week the series debuted brand new episodes for its latest revival at Hulu. In honor of that, I’d thought it be fun to look back on the series begging’s with some retro reviews. Perhaps this can be a fun excuse to do some re-watches before the new season ends.

As mentioned before, Futurama premiered on March 28th, 1999, with the episode titled “Space Pilot 3000”. Now, when it comes to most TV shows – even some of the greatest – you’ll hear people say the first season isn’t the strongest. From Seinfeld to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even The Office, sometimes it takes a while for the show to find its footing. It’s a sad luxury that’s not really available anymore in the age of streaming. Nevertheless, even other Fox animated series like Family Guy or American Dad don’t have the greatest pilots in the world. While I might not call “Space Pilot” one of the greatest, I think it actually does a very good job of giving you an idea of what you’re in for with the series moving forward.

The episode takes place on New Year’s Eve in the year 1999. There, our main character, Phillip J. Fry is barely getting by as a bored pizza delivery guy. Not only does he hate his job, his girlfriend has recently dumped him and he’s forced to work while everyone else gets to party. After getting a prank call and delivering an order to an empty lab, Fry falls into a Cryo-sleep chamber. Unbeknownst to him, exactly 1000 years fly by. When he reemerges from the chamber it’s December 31st, 2999, Before we cut to the iconic credits for the first time, we see Fry’s reaction to the fact he’ll never see anyone from his old life again, and it’s an unexpected (yet memorable) shout for joy. Instead of being depressed or horrified at the situation Fry is actually excited viewing this as a chance to start over and have a more fulfilling life.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Television

Fry’s reaction not only evokes some genuine laughter, but it lets audiences know that this won’t be like creator Matt Groening’s other major series, The Simpsons.

Shortly after his awakening, Fry meets Leela, a futuristic assignment officer who tells him that he must continue being a delivery boy in the future. Fry rejects this assignment, runs away and meets the show’s most iconic character, Bender. While the voice acting in the show is great all around, John DiMaggio is just perfect as Bender. It makes the initial controversy surrounding Hulu having a contract dispute with him all the more baffling. There’s no way you could do this show without him. The friendship between him and Fry is one of the best aspects of the series. Despite his infinite flaws, vices and lack of human empathy, Bender always proves that he does (somewhat) have a heart and cares for his friends.

By the end of the episode, Leela realizes that she understands Fry’s feelings and rejects her own assigned career too. After meeting up with Fry’s great-nephew, Professor Farnsworth, Fry, Bender, and Leela all get new jobs…at a delivery service. But this time, Fry’s actually optimistic about the job. For one, he doesn’t have to deliver pizzas anymore. Secondly, he gets traverse space. Most importantly, what makes this job so durable is the fact that in this second chance at life he’s surrounded by a small group of people he actually cares about.

Overall, I don’t know if “Space Pilot” is one of the all-time best episodes of the whole series. But as far as first episodes go, it does a good job of introducing the characters, the world, and even the type of humor you can expect moving forward. It’s not hard to realize why it developed such a strong fanbase over the years. In those first 22 minutes, it let the world know that it would consistently aim to subvert your expectations. Funny enough, by refusing to die, it still is today.

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