Gift-Wrapping the Black Box: “Space Pilot 3000” (Futurama)

Merry December January, everyone! The Black Box usually looks at failed television pilots, but all month long last month plus this week, I’m gonna be checking out something different: The time honored trend of the Holiday special! Most folks just do a Christmas edition of their columns at the end of the month, but not I! Here, we’re hitting the quartet of holidays. Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years. And at the end of each review, I’ll tell you what the holiday is truly about according to the episode. So get your holiday sweaters on, light that menorah, pop a bottle of champagne, and something something Kwanzaa something. Let’s go, ’cause I hear those sleigh bells jingling!

This week, we wrap it up with the best thing I’ve reviewed for this column.

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Futurama is absolutely wonderful. Having seen the majority of the series (I still haven’t gotten around to the Comedy Central seasons though I’ve heard they’re great) I’d say it holds up among the best animated series of all time. It’s smart and clever and powerful and today we’re going back to its beginning to talk about its pilot which is thechnically a New Year’s Eve special.

Futurama was an animated comedy created by The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. It aired first on FOX and then on Comedy Central, with the first episode premiering on March 28th, 1999. The series follows Philip J. Fry and the crew of the Planet Express as they navagate the world of the future.

This episode really shows how to make a great pilot. We start right away with our premise: a downtrodden pizza delivery boy from 1999 gets cryogenically frozen for 1000 years and wakes up in the year 3000.

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There are childhood friends I’ve had whose faces I remember less than I do this image.

The smart thing this show does right off the bat is make Fry’s life in 1999 as miserable as possible. We only see a single day of his life (New Year’s Eve) but it is terrible and sad. Now, this is necessary, because for this show to remain light and fun, Fry needs to miss his old life exactly zero percent.

When Fry is unfrozen, he’s taken in to see Turanga Leela, whose job it is to find Fry a job.

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                            I can see why her character model lost the jacket.

It’s legit impressive how clear Leela’s character is from the first time we see her. Yes, she evolved as much as anyone else, but her backstory, her personality, her badass-ery, that’s all there from this episode.

After Leela tells Fry he’ll have to take a job as a delivery boy, he panics and flees into the city of New New York. Nad this is when Futurama really comes out to play.

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         Pictured: a more interesting future than in any movie I’ve seen in ten years.

The world of Futurama is packed to the gills with clever ideas and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jokes. It’s embarrassing how creative this show’s writers are. It makes me mad, is what it does.

So moving on, Fry meets Bender who, aside from his voice needing a little work, is also dead on perfect.

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                             TBH, I totally would bite his shiny metal ass.

Bender B. Rodriguez is one of the greatest characters in television history. he’s the kind of character you didn’t know needed to exist, but once he does you can’t imagine a world without him. I know none of this is really funny, but honestly, the only thing I can do is gush over this show. I mean, we have already introduced three iconic, memorable characters, and we haven’t even gotten to the greatest character in the history of the series.

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The head of Richard Nixon. I’m not explaining that further because quite honestly fuck you if you’re still reading this and not watching/re-watching Futurama by this point. The head of Richard Nixon is Futurama personified in one perfect character perfectly voiced by Billy West. When people do impressions of Richard Nixon, they aren’t doing impressions of Richard Nixon, they’re doing impressions of Billy West’s impression of Richard Nixon. FACT.

So our three chartcters come together and find Fry’s great great grand nephew Professor Farnsworth, who is also perfect. together, they become the new crew of the Planet Express spaceship and Fry gets to do what he always wanted: be a space adventurer. Even if he is still technically a delivery boy.

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Re-watching this pilot really hammered home just how gosh darn good Futurama is even from jump street. It’s so good, I started re-watching the series again because it brought back such good memories of the series as a whole. Just go watch it.

What New Year’s Eve is about according to this episode:

Finding a fresh start, taking control of your life, building a brand new day and leaving the past behind.

Huh, who woulda guessed the last one would be the only one to get it right.

Next week, we go back to normal. And we go back to an old friend who we spent the last month neglecting.


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