Futurama Fridays – S1 E4 “Love’s Labours Lost In Space”

This episode welcomes one of the best characters produced by the series: Kif Kroker! Okay, fine, this is the episode that welcomes Zapp Brannigan into the world and we should all love it for that.

SUMMARY

Leela’s (Katey Sagal) social life is in the toilet due to her cycloptic nature (and the fact that she judges other people with physical deformities). Amy (Lauren Tom) takes her out to meet guys at a bar called “The Hip Joint” and the rest of the crew comes along because we needed funny vignettes. At the end of the evening, Amy, Fry (Billy West), and Zoidberg (West) all find companions for the evening, while Bender (John DiMaggio) goes to see a saucy puppet show, leaving Leela all alone.

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If your standards can’t incorporate a long, prehensile tongue, get better standards.

The next day, Professor Farnsworth (West), gives the crew a charity mission that they’re doing for a tax write-off. They are to go to the planet Vergon 6, which has been mined hollow to collect Dark Matter starship fuel, and collect two of every species there before the planet collapses. Leela, an animal lover, is onboard while Fry and Bender have to join her because it’s their job.

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It’s a happy little doomed planet.

Meanwhile, on the starship The Nimbus (I’m sticking with “the Nimbus” even though it’s referred to as both “Nimbus” and “The Nimbus”), we’re introduced to the glorious velour-clad creation that is Captain Zapp Brannigan (West) and his long-suffering alien first officer Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche). Zapp sees the Planet Express Ship coming and suspects a fight, but the ship docks to talk to Zapp, who Leela knows as a famous hero. The crew joins Zapp for dinner, where Leela informs him of the mission to save the animals and asks for his help. Zapp refuses, saying that there is a rule against interfering with undeveloped worlds called “Brannigan’s Law.” When Leela says they’ll do it without him, Zapp has them imprisoned.

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He’s showing off the medal he won for sacrificing waves of men.

Zapp then determines the best plan of action is to seduce Leela, so he has her brought to his cabin. However, Zapp’s attempts fail, resulting in him breaking down crying over how pathetic he is. Leela tries to comfort him, clearly pitying him. Meanwhile, Bender and Fry try to escape the brig, but instead just turn it into a steam bath. It’s then revealed that Leela slept with Zapp.

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When pity sex is just too pitiful.

The next morning, Leela says that everything was a mistake and that she’s going to leave and save the animals. Zapp, now being a pompous jackass again, says that he’s not going to stop her, confident that she’ll be too horny for his sweet man-candy to complete her mission. She avoids telling Fry and Bender as they head down to the planet.

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And, yes, he does call himself candy.

On Vergon 6, the group collects two of every animal (or just one Hermaphlamingo) and puts them onboard. They also find a cute little three-eyed creature that Leela says isn’t on the checklist, but decides to take anyway, calling him Nibbler (Frank “I’m your childhood” Welker). While Leela worries that the other animals might eat Nibbler, when the trio returns to the ship, they find that Nibbler has eaten all of the other animals, rendering their mission pointless. Before they can try to get more, the planet starts to collapse. They get on the ship and try to leave, but Bender didn’t refuel the ship. Fry tells Leela to ask Zapp for help, resulting in the truth of her pity-sex coming out.

S1E4-6Hermaphlamingos
Nibbler and the Hermaphlamingos could totally be a band.

Leela calls Zapp and tries to suck up to him, but Zapp says he’ll only save them if they dump Nibbler, so she refuses, calling him a pitiful child inside of a big, pompous buffoon. She gives up on survival, but Nibbler craps out Dark Matter, the fuel they need, allowing them to escape. At the end of the episode, Leela writes a diary entry about not finding love and Zapp updates his Captain’s Log to mention that he had made it with a hot alien babe, “And in the end is that not what man has dreamt of since first he looked up at the stars?”

END SUMMARY

Zapp. F*cking. Brannigan. God, I love this character. He’s been described as what would happen if William Shatner, not Captain Kirk, were in charge of the Enterprise. He’s incompetent, he’s overconfident, he’s cowardly, and he’s obsessed with his appearance. Despite this, he’s considered a brilliant captain by all who don’t meet him, somehow managing to come out of every conflict sounding like a winner, even though his strategy is literally “send wave after wave of men to die.” To be fair, throughout the series, most of his campaigns are against planets which don’t have armies or don’t know they’re under attack, so I guess he actually has a decent W/L record.

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In a deleted scene, it’s revealed that the Killbot army is 1 button push away from going evil.

You’ve known a Zapp Brannigan, someone who is a bad person, a bad leader, a buffoonish idiot who constantly massages his own ego, and yet, despite all of that, somehow constantly seems to be able to stay in power, often through unethical acts (like, you know, declaring war on a planet of pacifists). There are so many of them out there, from managers to politicians, it’s impossible that you don’t. What’s crazy is that it almost makes sense that they are allowed to continue, because they’re just such a spectacle to watch. Hell, it’s almost worth dealing with Zapp’s incompetence just to watch his idiocy at work. But, let’s be honest, you’d hate to be under his command, because you know that, sooner or later, his screw-ups will get you killed. Still, it’s the fact that he’s just a slightly more ridiculous version of reality that makes the character so perfect.

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I’m sure not all of them wear short-cut robes, though.

Aside from Zapp, this episode introduces Nibbler (or does it?) and Kif, both of whom will be recurring characters for the rest of the series. Nibbler becomes Leela’s physics-defyingly-carnivorous pet and Kif usually sticks with Zapp (despite hating him).

The episode’s plot exists mostly as a vehicle to give us the character interactions within the episode, but I also like the creativity of the animals on Vergon 6 and the scene of Leela being introduced to dating prospects in the 31st Century is pretty funny. This episode also reinforces Leela’s loneliness, which is probably her biggest motivation and character arc in the series. Aside from that, IT GAVE US ZAPP BRANNIGAN, WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED???? Do you need a 50s sci-fi film style title card of the episode?

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Because here you go!

Favorite Joke:

No question on this one, it’s Zapp Brannigan’s Big Book of War.

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Don’t get me wrong, almost anything Zapp says or does in this episode could be on here, but the fact that while Zapp is talking about military strategy (incorrectly) he still plugs his own book, which is revealed to be a Dr. Seuss-esque children’s book about combat, is somehow the most perfect representation of his character. He thinks he’s a tactical genius, writes a hilariously underwhelming book, and manages to bring it up anyway while thinking he’s under attack by people who are peacefully hailing them. Then, when the Planet Express Ship arrives, he tells Kif that he’s going to abandon The Nimbus to save himself. Truly, this is a great sequence at showing us the nature of this man in almost no time.

See you next week, Meatbags.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Futurama Fridays – S1 E2 “The Series has Landed”

Welcome to the second episode of the show. It’s the way we really get welcomed into the status quo of the series after the pilot set it up.

SUMMARY

Professor Farnsworth shows his new employees Fry, Bender, and Leela an ad for Planet Express which advertises the company as having a replaceable crew, something that clearly drives employee loyalty up.

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Giant Birds are just part of the job.

At breakfast, Fry is talking about how he’s having trouble adjusting to the 31st Century, including the new cereals “Admiral Crunch” and “Archduke Chocula.” For the record, according to the US Navy’s Website, an Admiral is 4 ranks above a Captain and, according to Wikipedia (not a good source, I know) an Archduke is typically 4 ranks above a Count, so it’s good to know that the mascots’ careers advanced at the same rate. Granted, Chocula probably had to off a few people to get up the ladder, but he’s still below King Candy.

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The crew is introduced to Hermes Conrad (Phil “I’m Samurai Jack, mother*ckers” LaMarr), a Jamaican accountant and professional bureaucrat. Farnsworth also appoints Leela the captain of the ship, disappointing Fry. Fry is sent to meet the staff doctor, Dr. John Zoidberg (Billy West), a large crustacean from the planet Decapod 10. Zoidberg, despite being the staff doctor, has essentially no knowledge of human anatomy or medicine, something that somehow was used sparingly enough that it never really felt old in the show. Impressive. They also meet Amy Wong (Lauren Tom), Farnsworth’s engineering doctoral candidate and an heiress to a fortune so large that the concept of money isn’t real to her. Also, she wears a pink track suit to piss off her parents.

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The gang is now all here

The crew, along with Amy, go on a delivery to Luna Park, on the moon, something that excites Fry the way that, well, going to the moon should excite anyone. However, it only takes them about 2 seconds to actually get there (the moon is only 1.3 light seconds away from Earth, so that tracks), killing the grandeur of the trip. Once they arrive, Fry finds out that the moon is actually now mostly just Luna Park, a Disneyland knock-off and “the happiest place orbiting Earth.” Leela just wants to finish the delivery and go, but Fry convinces her to let him see the park.

S1E2-7LunaPark

Amy and Fry deliver the crate of toys for the crane games, but Amy accidentally drops the keys in the crate. The group goes into the park, which is revealed to be whimsical and fairly similar to “Main Street, U.S.A.” in Disney World. When looking through gift shop memorabilia, it’s revealed that Bender wants to be a folk singer, and that magnets reduce his inhibition. I’m only mentioning this now because it comes up a few times.

The group makes their way onto the ride Luna Park: Whalers on the Sea of Tranquility which contains one of the more bizarre jokes in the show, as it’s an “It’s a Small World” ride but with whalers who sing the, admittedly catchy, song:

We’re whalers on the moon,
We carry a harpoon,
But there ain’t no whales,
So we tell tall tales,
And sing our whaling tune!

S1E2-8WhalersOnTheMoon

This is the kind of gag I wish I could have been present for writing, because it represents something that’s obvious and yet I know I never would have thought of it. They then see an animatronics show with gophers in craters brought to you by Monsanto. As of this writing, that company name no longer exists, but neither do the original sponsors of most Disney rides, so the joke still works. Fry is getting sick of the park and wants to see the “real” moon, so Leela takes him on the Lunar Rover Ride, which goes out onto the moon’s surface.

On the ride, it’s revealed that history has become a little “muddled” over the last millennium, with the ride suggesting that Ralph Kramden was the first astronaut for threatening to hit his wife “to the moon” and that whalers actually DID come to the moon. Fry, annoyed, knocks the rover off its track and drives out onto the moon’s surface. He tries to find convince Leela to find the original moon landing site, but she points out it’s been lost for centuries. Back in the park, Amy and Bender find out that the keys to the ship are now in a crane machine. Amy tries to use the claw to win them back. Bender tries to help her, but gets caught by security, who throw him out, leading him to utter one of my favorite lines in the show:

Yeah, well, I’m gonna go build my own theme park, with blackjack and hookers.

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In fact, forget the park!

Fry drives into a crater, wrecking the car, and requiring Leela to use their oxygen tank to save them, leaving them stranded with almost no air. They stumble upon a hydroponic farm run by a Moon Redneck (Billy West), who tells them they’ll have to work all night to pay for the oxygen to get back to the park. Fry thinks that’s not so bad until Leela points out that night lasts 2 weeks on the moon. However, the temperature also drops to -173°C, so they really don’t have a choice. In the tradition of farmers in old jokes, he does have three beautiful daughters, they just happen to be robots: Lulabelle 7, Daisy-Mae 128K, and THE CRUSHINATOR (Tress MacNeille, Tress MacNeille again, and Maurice LaMarche).

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As Fry and Leela work milking buggalo (the mutated bugs that have replaced the now-extinct cow), Leela takes shots at Fry for not accepting that the moon just isn’t that interesting. They then see Bender being shot at by the farmer for sleeping with his robot daughters (though, not THE CRUSHINATOR, because “[a] lady that fine you gotta romance first”). They flee in a moon buggy across the lunar surface, barely escaping the farmer by jumping over a crater full of crocodiles. However, the buggy immediately breaks down.

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Never explain this. It’s beautiful just as it is.

Night begins to come across the moon as a wave of freezing darkness, so the three all start running away, finding the original Lunar Lander from the 1969 Moon Landing which was apparently put there by the “Historical Sticklers Society,” aka the people who would point out the lander left the moon with the astronauts. Bender gets left outside, leading him to say he’ll build his own lunar lander, with blackjack and hookers, before saying “screw the whole thing.”

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Also, the flag is no longer white.

Inside the lander, Fry tells Leela that he always dreamed of being an astronaut and that, to him, the moon was this untouchable, beautiful, romantic dream. But, in reality, it really is just a rock. Leela, feeling for him, tells him that it really is beautiful as they watch the Earthrise together. Meanwhile, Bender is being chased again by the farmer because he went back for THE CRUSHINATOR. He’s rescued by Amy in the Planet Express Ship using the magnetic crane, which then picks up the lunar lander. It’s revealed that Amy spent the day at the crane game, getting so good she won back all the prizes and the keys. Bender, hit with the magnet, is stuck singing “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” as the episode ends.

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END SUMMARY

First off, I have to congratulate the writers on knowing when a joke just wasn’t funny. In this episode and the pilot, the Professor tries to use the catchphrase “I am already in my pajamas” as an excuse not to do anything to help the crew. These are the only two uses of it, because it was dumb. Great job recognizing your mistake, guys.

This really was a solid follow-up to the pilot and it allowed people who missed the first episode to be brought up to speed really quickly with the opener about Fry being uncertain about the 31st Century. The advertisement at the beginning drove home exactly how Professor Farnsworth treats his crews. We’re introduced to the Cliff’s Notes versions of our future recurring characters, Hermes, Zoidberg, and Amy and we get a decent idea of who they’re going to be. Hermes is the bureaucrat, Zoidberg the incompetent doctor, and Amy is the… I don’t want to say ditz, but “absent-minded” character. She is a Ph.D. candidate in engineering, she’s clearly got brains.

The idea of the moon, one of the most romanticized objects in human history, becoming a cheap commercialized theme park is just brilliant. It’s a statement on humanity’s tendency to normalize what had previously been wondrous, like how we complain about airline meals or streaming speeds. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, in fact it’s why humanity progresses so rapidly, I’m just saying that the point they’re making is completely valid: Whatever was once a dream will quickly become a gewgaw.

The recurring theme that nobody in the future really knows anything about the past is also sadly perpetually relevant. The show comes back to it a lot for that reason, but I do think the idea that they mistake Ralph Kramden, a media figure, for the brave men who went to the moon is also a solid joke. On that note:

Favorite Joke: Oh, God, this is tough. I love CraterFace getting a beerbottle shoved in his eye to resemble “A Journey to the Moon,” the amazing short film by Georges Méliès, but I’m going to have to give it up to a joke I only just got: That the Professor’s tape player has VCR++. Okay, so, I’m dating myself now, but back in the 90s, kids, when you wanted to record a TV show without being present, you had to use a VCR, set the clock and the date, then set a timer to record the show. This was considered so difficult that only our most advanced scientists could dare hope to record As the World Turns. However, eventually, a system was created called VCR Plus where, instead of having to figure out the timer, you just read a 6-digit code for the show out of the TV Guide and pushed it into the VCR, which coded it to record the date, time, and duration of the program. This alone would be a fun joke on the fact that they’d still be using tapes for some reason in the future, but it’s that it says VCR++ that made me laugh, because that’s a joke on C++, the coding language that was the next step forward in C (the language used to code VCR Plus). It’s a complicated joke, but I sometimes think those can be the best because it makes you feel like you earned the chuckle.

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TiVo killed his joke shortly after this episode debuted. 

See you next week, meatbags.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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21) Godfellas (Futurama)

Futurama almost had three episodes on this list. Around ten were nominated in general, but three almost got on. This one, “Lethal Inspection” which brilliantly address mortality through a presumed immortal being, and “Prisoner of Benda,” because it actually generated a mathematical theorem within group theory that is now known as the “Futurama theorem.” Ultimately, though, this one was the only one that made the cut.

Zoidberg

Futurama is, for me, one of the ultimate hit-and-miss shows. Some episodes are boring or ill-conceived or based on a one-joke premise that just can’t sustain 22 minutes. Some episodes are pretty good. But, once in a while, the show would earn another season or two by producing something amazing. This episode is one of the latter.

FuturamaCastThe show’s premise is that a delivery boy, and complete idiot, named Fry (Billy West) gets frozen in the year 2000, wakes up in the year 3000, and becomes part of an interstellar delivery company for his great-great-etc. nephew, Professor Farnsworth (West). He usually goes on adventures with his cyclops captain/love interest Leela (Katey Sagal), and his best friend, Bender the robot (John DiMaggio). Also, since I’m mentioning characters, why not Zoidberg? (West) He’s a giant, broke, incompetent, crustacean doctor. He’s not really in this episode, but if you liked the show, that was an inside joke.

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He’s all the memes

So, as the episode opens, the crew are attacked by Space Pirates, which are like regular pirates, but in space. During the fight, Bender gets launched out of a torpedo tube while the ship is going at full speed, meaning it’s impossible to ever catch him. Bender then drifts through space before being hit by an asteroid, later revealed to contain miniature life, called “Shrimpkins.” The Shrimpkins begin to worship Bender as a god. Bender appoints a prophet, and even issues commandments. Specifically, the one commandment – God Needs Booze.

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A message we can all enjoy

In return, Bender tries to answer the prayers of all of the Shrimpkins, but, at each turn, he accidentally hurts or even kills the worshippers. Eventually, he is told that a group of Shrimpkins that moved to his backside have felt that Bender has ignored them, which he has, because they’re on his ass, resulting in them becoming atheists. With a holy war looming, Bender’s prophet, Malachi, begs Bender to smite the unbelievers to save the faithful. Bender declines, saying that every time he acts, he messes up. Bender’s non-interference seems to be going well, right up until the faithful Shrimpkins decide to start a nuclear war with the atheists, resulting in the entire species being wiped out in a matter of seconds.

Bender, alone again, wanders through the cosmos until he sees a galaxy signaling in binary code. Bender tries to signal back, but doesn’t know binary. Fortunately, when Bender asks if the galaxy speaks English, it responds with “I do now.” The galaxy’s nature is never fully revealed, but it is speculated by Bender to either be God, or a computer which collided with God. Bender and the Entity then proceed to have a deep conversation on the nature of being God, which the Entity summarizes with “If you do too much, people depend on you, and if you do nothing, they lose hope,” concluding with “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Bender then asks if he can be sent back to Earth, to which the Entity replies that it would need to know which place Earth is.

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See? Even God-ish has trouble with this.

Meanwhile, Fry is desperate to find Bender, and has gone to the monastery of Dschubba, or Teshuvah, depending on the audience. The former is the name of a star, the latter is the Hebrew word for “Answer” or “repentance,” and both make sense. The monastery is actually a giant radio telescope, allowing the monks to try and discover the physical location of God in the universe, and broadcast a simple prayer to him. The monks refuse to let Fry search for Bender, but Leela locks them in a laundry room.

After 3 days of searching, Fry gives up, angrily swiping at the controls, which end up locking onto Bender and the Entity. Fry then unwittingly broadcasts a prayer to get FuturamaGod.jpgBender back, allowing the Entity to know where Earth is, and send Bender back through space until he lands on Earth directly in front of Fry and Leela, in what Leela calls “the least likely thing to ever happen.” Fry then remembers they never left the monks out, but decides against returning to released them, believing that their prayers to God will lead to them getting released. Bender responds that “You can’t count on God for jack. He practically told me so himself,” and the trio go to release the monks. The camera then pans out to the Entity, who repeats “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

At the end of this episode, you might have more questions than you got answers from the viewing. Bender certainly seems to have received almost no definitive answers from talking with the Entity. The thing is, that’s the only definitive answer that the Entity gave:

That, if you’re doing things right, you aren’t going to give people the answers, you’re only going to remind them that the answers exist, and then let them find things on their own.

FuturamaTaoIronically, despite the fact that the episode often interacts with the Entity as if he is the Judeo-Christian God, this is closer to the teachings of Taoism, which states that when a master governs well, the people will believe they did everything themselves. Does the Entity send Bender back because Bender wants to go? Or because Fry prayed for it? Or because the monks are praying to get out? Is it all of them? We don’t know, and that’s the point of this literal Deus Ex Machina… involving both God and a machine.

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Faith is believing that things are being done for a reason, even if it’s one that we’re never able to fathom. It’s believing that there is something watching over the universe. This episode tries to not only justify faith, but also to justify why faith is supposed to be difficult. If you knew God existed for sure, you can’t have faith. If the universe seems completely without meaning, then you can’t have hope (although, other episodes on this list have posited philosophical answers to that). For a 22-minute cartoon about a robot, this episode manages to touch upon and convey an incredibly complex set of concepts, and, true to the nature of such things, leaves it to the viewer to find their own answers.

Link to the Archives.

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