As I’ve mentioned before, Futurama is one of my favorite shows ever. Few shows, if any, so deftly mix comedy and raw emotion. I could go on and on about my affection for Futurama, but right now I’d like to focus on one episode in particular–“The Series Has Landed.”
“The Series Has Landed” was just the second overall episode of the series, and for me, it showed exactly what Futurama is capable of. This is to take nothing away from “Space Pilot 3000″–the pilot episode which is very strong in its own right–but “The Series Has Landed” is such a fantastic, self-contained tale that fires on all cylinders.
In this episode the Planet Express crew makes a delivery to the moon. Fry, who had grown up entranced by the romantic mystery of the moon, is disappointed to learn that it has been turned into a tacky tourist trap called Luna Park–a Disney-esque theme park replete with animatronic, singing animals and chintzy souvenirs. Frustrated, Fry takes Leela and Bender outside of the park to show them what he thinks is the real moon.
After some misadventures involving a hydroponic farm, Fry and Leela end up taking refuge in the Apollo 11 lander. Leela expresses her displeasure to Fry, saying that the moon is nothing but a wasteland. It is at this point in the episode that Fry admits, “I never told anybody this, but a thousand years ago I used to look up at the moon and dream about being an astronaut.” Leela’s heart softens, and they watch the Earthrise.
Although certainly poignant, this ending doesn’t quite tug at the heartstrings like later episodes in the series–“Jurassic Bark”, “Luck of the Fryrish”, “Leela’s Homeworld”, “Time Keeps on Slippin”… That being said, it does a nice job of establishing Fry’s good-natured hopefulness, and lays the groundwork for the Fry/Leela relationship that would be a cornerstone of the series.
“The Series Has Landed” marks the first appearance of several key characters in the series: Dr. Zoidberg, Hermes, and Amy. Zoidberg in particular has a terrific introduction where he mistakes Fry for a female and demonstrates his overall lack of knowledge of the human anatomy. Zoidberg is far and away my favorite Futurama character, and seeing his particular brand of incompetence established from the get-go is pretty fantastic.
What really sets this episode apart from some other, lesser, Futurama outings is the comedy. It’s no secret that co-creator Matt Groening loves satirizing all aspects of American culture–as shown with The Simpsons. The way the Disney brand is so comically skewered in this episode is masterful. One of my all-time favorite Futurama jokes is the “Whalers on the Moon” song–a parody of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride that gets progressively funnier as the episode goes along. There’s also an awesome (and obscure) reference to the turn-of-the-century silent short film “A Trip to the Moon.” It’s brilliant.
Is “The Series Has Landed” the absolute best Futurama episode? I would say no, but for me it’s worth mentioning because–for being only the 2nd episode overall–its comedy is remarkably sure-footed and the intimate character relationships are already being constructed. Futurama has had its share of growing pains over the years, but “The Series Has Landed” showed early on just what type of show it could be when at its best.
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