Captain on deck! That’s right people, this is not a drill; Zapp mother-freakin’ Brannigan has arrived! Rejoice, for verily this is a blessed day. I guess an episode of Futurama happens too.
Welcome back to Futuramarama, where I, Matt Waters, will be writing about every single episode of Futurama in order and attempting to determine its ranking. Last time we had our first spanner in the works with I, Roommate displacing Space Pilot 3000 at number one. But can that mighty episode withstand a full frontal assault from the titan of animation that is Captain Zapp Brannigan? Let’s find out! Also, sorry that this is a day late, it’ll never* happen again. (*It probably will.)
Episode: S1E04 | Aired: April 13 1999
Director: Brian Sheesley | Writer: Brian Kelley
Opening Title Gag: ‘Presented In Brain Control Where Available’
The intrepid Captain of the good ship Planet Express Ship, Turanga Leela, appears to be somewhat unlucky in love, lamenting about how most men are put off by her eye during a date at a fancy restaurant. Unfortunately this date won’t turn out much better as she is naturally(?) repulsed by her date’s lizard tongue. Fry and Amy blame Leela for being too picky and the group endeavour to take Leela out to find herself a man and thus be validated as a woman. Apparently 1000 years wasn’t enough time for progress. Personally, I’m all for Bender’s suggested forum.
Shockingly, while Fry’s success rate at parsing 31st Century nightclub culture is middling at best, he does far better than Bolt Rollands. Who the hell is Bolt Rollands? Well, he’s some sort of race driver Amy is trying to set Leela up with. Unfortunately, Leela isn’t interested, which is just as well, because Bender has some troubling news about him.
As their night out draws to a close everybody has somebody except Leela. Amy leaves with some kind of energy being called M-5438, and even Zoidberg goes home with a lobster. Quite frankly, I’m not sure which of those two scenarios troubles me more. Undeterred by the experience of being left in the club alone with even the janitors repulsed by her, Leela attempts to throw herself into her work, excited at the prospect involving rescuing animals from Vergon 6, a planet due to collapse in 3 days after being mined bare for dark matter, a substance valued as starship fuel.
You see, Leela loves animals, particularly defenceless ones, because she’s an orphan and an outcast and is thus drawn to other vulnerable creatures. This is why she took pity on Fry in the pilot. There you go, you just got your first piece of character analysis. Don’t say all I do is take pictures of funny moments and assign numbers to episodes.
Anyways, the mission leads them into the path of the Nimbus, a Democratic Order Of Planets (DOOP) ship captained by Zapp Brannigan, the greatest recurring character in Futurama and one of the greatest in any TV show ever.
He’s as wise as he is virile.
Zapp is voiced by Billy West but the part was intended for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons alumnus Phil Hartman before his tragic death. West thus does a slight impression of Hartman as an homage. Zap is accompanied at all times by his delightfully downtrodden first mate and straight man, Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche.)
Tales of Zapp’s heroism have stretched far and wide, and so Leela is initially quite taken with him… until he proves to be a bumbling, cowardly fool who has her, Fry and Bender locked up when they reveal they’re here to save the animals. Still, ever the opportunist, Zapp endeavours to seduce Leela using his exponential charm and sophistication.
If you don’t call your bedroom The Love-Nasium, you need to reassess your life choices. Leela resists at first, but she’s only human… or an alien… or something else (wink wink), and so takes pity on him when he confesses he’s desperately lonely and bursts into tears.
On the plus side, an overconfident Zapp is now willing to let the trio go, utterly convinced she will yearn to feel his tender embrace and turn around. Instead, Leela sets about completing the mission, rounding up 2 of every lovely, wacky animal on the planet, including the amazing Windy Shrimp and an incredibly important and incredibly cute recurring character.
Even though ‘Nibbler’ isn’t on the list of species needing rescue, Leela takes a liking to him and stows him away in the cargo hold alongside the others. He then proceeds to eat them. Every last one. Nibbler is kind of amazing.
Unfortunately they don’t find this out until it’s too late, and with the planet beginning to crumble in on itself and the ship out of fuel thanks to Bender’s laziness, they have no choice but to ask Zapp for help. But Captain Brannigan won’t help them unless they agree to leave Nibbler behind, the DOOP having declared the animals a hazard… or something. Leela obviously won’t take this deal and instead resigns her crew to die which I’m pretty sure is the exact opposite of being a good captain.
Thankfully, the answer to all their prays lies in Nibbler’s (magically appearing) litter box.
Yep, he can eat things 10 times his size and he poops dark matter. If not for Zapp, Nibbler might be the best. Hurrying the steaming pile of fuel to the engine room, the crew narrowly escape as Vergon 6 implodes. So, the planet is gone, all but a small handful of animals are dead, and those that did survive won’t last long as they’re sharing a tiny hunk of rock with no food aside from each other, BUT, Leela got a pet, so… a happy ending after all!
* * *
I want to give this episode all the bonus points in the world for the strength of Zapp’s dialogue alone, but I have to establish a firm rule here; Episodes will be ranked based on their overall quality, with no single moment or sequence artificially elevating its ranking. This will be very important much later when I don’t place an incredibly popular episode near the top of the list.
This episode obviously can’t compete with I, Roommate, but it’s also better than Episode 2: The Series Has Landed. It’s a tough choice, but I think I have to put it at number 3 because of how much important character information about Fry they managed to fit into the pilot. Also, this episode devotes so much time to introducing Zapp that it kind of comes at the expense of the pacing, with the end feeling a little flat to me personally.
- I, Roommate
- Space Pilot 3000
- Love’s Labours Lost In Space
- Episode 2: The Series Has Landed
Look at this crazy list! Who would have thunk it? Certainly not you. Extras time!
* * *
There’s a healthy amount of Dumb-Fry in this episode, and an even more healthy amount of Dumb-Zapp, including the memorable and inspiring quote: “I don’t pretend to understand Brannigan’s law, I merely enforce it.” But I’m a sucker for Fry’s stupidity, and him throwing a net over Leela instead of their target after a lengthy pause slays me.
Also that character design is amazing.
Another mediocre commentary track in this episode I’m afraid. The better ones feature multiple voice actors riffing and doing impressions together. This one does not have that.
- Billy West voiced the strange glowing green alien in the night club with zero vocal effects whatsoever. Furthermore, he once made the sound crew shut down their studio as they were convinced there was a fault with the equipment. Nope, just Billy West making crazy noises.
- Matt Groening came up with Zapp and Kif pretty early on, determined that in real life Spock would be a little more tired of Kirk’s chicanery.
- Nibbler originally had bat wings and could thus fly.
- According to John DiMaggio, Frank Welker, voice of Nibbler (and most animals in most things), knew Elvis, who made him do impressions of dogs. Which is pretty baller.
6 – Billy West (Fry, Professor, Zoidberg, Zapp, Doug, M-5438)
3 – John DiMaggio (Bender, Clubber, Heckling Crewman)
2* – Frank Welker (Nibbler, Animals (I’m not going to count them all))
2 – Phil LaMarr (Hermes, Bolt Rollands)
2 – Lauren Tom (Amy, 21st Century Girl)
1 – Maurice LaMarche (Kif)
1 – Katey Sagal (Leela)
1 – David X. Cohen (Computer)