Futurama‘s “Space Pilot 3000” kicks off the science fiction comedy in a hilarious manner, as audiences are introduced to its main characters, setting and concept right off the bat. These elements make the pilot necessary viewing even though the rest of the episodes aren’t heavily serialized.
Unlike other animated sitcoms such as The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy and American Dad, Futurama‘s pilot doesn’t start off in an established setting. The show begins with its main protagonist Fry in New York City during New Year’s Eve in 1999. After falling victim to an elaborate pizza prank, Fry falls into a cryogenic chamber and wakes up 1000 years in the future.
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This beginning sets up a few essential aspects of Futurama‘s story. Many episodes in the first few seasons revolve around Fry being an outsider to this new setting. As someone from the past, he has a hard time navigating the year 3000’s many societal and technological changes. It also sets up one of the show’s overarching stories by showing Nibbler as a shadow right before Fry falls into the chamber. This Easter egg becomes an important plot point for the Season 3’s “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid” and Season 4’s “The Why of Fry.”
Other important characters such as Leela, Bender and Professor Farnsworth are also introduced from the start of the series, but the first two go through drastic changes by the end of “Space Pilot 3000.” Leela starts out as a Fate Assignment Officer, who assigns people from the past new careers in the future. This episode also establishes Leela’s belief that she’s one of the last alien cyclops in the universe, which fuels a few of Futurama‘s later episodes, such as Season 2’s “A Bicyclops Built for Two” and Season 4’s “Leela’s Homeworld.” Bender’s programming also undergoes a major change at the end of the pilot, as he becomes able to bend whatever he wants.
Several important aspects of New New York’s setting are also established. The transportation tubes, which are an iconic part of the show’s intro, establish the city’s most common transportation system. The Head Museum also establishes living heads in jars, including the show’s future president Richard Nixon, which become a recurring part of Futurama canon. The Planet Express ship and building are also introduced, which allows the crew to go off on their sci-fi adventures throughout the series.
While “Space Pilot 3000” establishes much of the show’s canon, some of the concepts it introduces are later abandoned. Although career chips make later appearances, this episode claims that people who refuse them are blasted out of a cannon into the sun. Some of Futurama‘s later episodes disprove this, however, as the Planet Express crew members quit at different points during the show. Homeless and unemployed people also make appearances later on, further contradicting the pilot. Bender also claims that he can “quit drinking” whenever he wants, but the show’s first season later establishes alcohol as a necessary component for a robot’s survival.
“Space Pilot 3000” is a necessary starting point for Futurama, but the rest of the series can be seen in almost any order. This pilot is also entertaining and serves as a great starting off point for the high concept hijinks that the Planet Express crew adventure through.
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