All aboard The Titanic, the world’s largest space cruise ship, where absolutely nothing could go wrong and love is most definitely in the air.
Things get a little strange here as we enter the wonderful realms of network interference. See our good friends the writers intended for this episode to be the tenth of season one, carrying on the upward momentum season one had begun to build. Our bad enemies at Fox disagreed, instead airing it as the first episode of season two several months later. I’ve decided to label it as was originally intended because why wouldn’t I?
Episode: S1E10 | Aired: September 26 1999
Director: Peter Avanzino | Writer: Eric Horsted
Opening Title Gag: ‘Filmed On Location’
Professor Farnsworth has a wonderful habit of sending the crew of Planet Express on deliveries to incredibly dangerous places, though we’re told more than shown this early on. But he’s not entirely without remorse, and thus decides to reward the team for their hard work with a lovely trip on the largest space cruise ship ever built: The Titanic.
Best boss ever.
Yes, our crew are leaving the familiar sights of Planet Express and New New York in favour of the swanky Titanic. And who better to act as captain for its maiden voyage? Well quite obviously Zapp Brannigan! After christening the ship by smashing the head of Leonardo DiCaprio in a jar against the hull, Zapp takes aim at his old paramour Leela. You may recall they bumped uglies a few episodes ago, something Leela will spend another 7 seasons and 4 movies trying to live down. In fact she’s so keen to ward Zapp off that she improvises a fake fiance, and luckily for Fry he’s an ever so slightly better option than Zoidberg, an alien squid, and The Professor, who is 149, and thus Phil lands the gig of pretending to be engaged to his dream girl. Good things happen to good people.
The Professor checks into his luxury suite in first class, with adjacent rooms for Hermes and his wife, Lebarbara (making her first appearance), and truly shockingly, Zoidberg! If this episode were written again even one season later, there’s zero change Dr. John gets this treatment. Meanwhile, Fry, Leela, Bender and Amy have to slum it many, maaaaany floors below on the ‘Fiesta Deck.’
Immediately sick of the company, Bender makes for the casino, while Amy heads off to chow down on the buffet, a subtle nod to the later revelation that Miss Wong used to be a very heavyset girl. This leaves Fry and Leela to act out the classic sitcom trope of attempting to keep up the charade of a relationship whenever Zapp comes a-knockin’.
Aaand complicating matters further, we get the first appearance of Amy’s parents, Leo and Inez Wong who desperately want grandchildren. In fact they’re so desperate they are literally prepared to watch their conception. Gross. Amy, a fun loving bachelorette has zero desire to mother children for at least 3 seasons, improvises an identical plan to Leela’s… using an identical patsy.
Man, no offence to Fry but there really is a shortage of babely dudes on this voyage, isn’t there?
So while Fry is making out with two women as part of our A-Story, Bender is busying himself by failing to cheat his way to a fortune at the casino before meeting Countess de le Roca, who I assume is named after associate producer for the show Claudia de le Roca. The Countess is a beautiful and exceedingly wealthy robot he attempts to sleep with and steal from. Men.
The problem is, Bender begins to feel guilty, having fallen for her even quicker than he found and lost religion last episode. Bender works fast, which is ironic as he rarely works at all. After a brief “but I’m poor” conversation, the two act out Jack and Rose’s parts in Titanic, including our first (but certainly not last) taste of nudity in the show:
Meanwhile Fry, Leela, Amy and the Wongs are all invited for dinner at the Captain’s Table, creating quite the awkward situation until Kif calls Zapp away due the ship careening into an asteroid field due to Cap’n Zapp growing bored of the simple course they were set on earlier. Every the pragmatist, he endeavours to steer them away from danger toward a black-ish hole-ish thing. Guess where this is going.
But while Zapp’s absence makes life easier for Fry and Amy so they can continue to fool her parents, Leela finds herself feeling a little jealous from having to watch the two make out repeatedly. For the first time we get hints Leela may reciprocate Fry’s attraction. Buckle up babydolls, it’s going to be a bumpy decade of television.
Unfortunately for Fry, this tender moment is interrupted by the black-ish hole-ish thing beginning to tear the ship apart. Cos Titanic. As Leela, woman of action and saviour of all these chumps time and time again, improvises a route to safety, Bender goes looking for the Countess who is trapped in a fire below deck. Dousing the flames with a hose, Bender declares he would risk his life for her again and perhaps a third time, but that would be it. That’s among my favourite lines in the show, in case you were interested.
Bender’s act of heroism is short lived however, as the room rapidly fills with the water he used to rescue the Countess while they’re busy smooching. Luckily, not only is she a member of the yacht club, she’s a class-three yacht.
On route to the escape pods the others overcome (undercome?) the obstacle of a narrow gap under a doorway thanks to retired olympic limbo champion Hermes overcoming his past demons of a child paralysing himself attempting to mimic him. Hermes as he had previously been written on the show didn’t have an awful lot going for him, but this episode introduces his increasingly awesome wife and tremendous limbo past, putting him on the path toward being an even remotely worthwhile character.
With seconds to spare and everybody desperately scrambling aboard an escape pod we have a lot of dangling threads to tie up. First, Amy frees herself from the pretend Fry romance with an incredibly important intended one-time gag that will come to define her character arc much later:
Bender and the Countess to barely grab hold of the pod as the ship crumbles apart. As tragedy dictates, Bender is unable to maintain his grip and the Countess gradually drifts off before being suddenly sucked into the black hole in a moment that no still image could ever do justice. Needless to say it’s voiced and animated perfectly.
Heartbroken, Bender consoles himself with her priceless bracelet. But only for a moment, as Hermes reveals it’s fake as he is inexplicably an expert in gems. NOW Bender is devastated.
Oh! Where was Zapp during all this, you may wonder? Why, he immediately gave command to Kif so he could go down with the ship and then…
* * *
Incredibly strong showing from the writing staff topped only by the animators. This is a gorgeous episode thanks to the luxurious setting of the Titanic providing a beautiful backdrop. Furthermore our characters spend about half the episode in different costumes, there’s some cool lighting effects when Bender rescues The Countess from the fire and the the use of 3D-animation on The Countess as both a yacht and black-hole victim is right on the money. Seeds of character development are planted all over the place, with major elements of Amy’s past and future teased, the introduction of Labarbara and the Wongs, and the Fry and Leela starting down the path toward romance. Even the music is pretty great if you pay attention to that kind of thing. Also! iZac!
It’s also just a fun parody, with the high-stakes premise immediately memorable to all fans of the show, and like all good episodes, has a liberal sprinkling of The Zapper. For all these reasons I’ve got to place it pretty high up the list, easily beating out ‘My Three Suns’ and ‘A Fishful of Dollars’ but in my opinion narrowly losing out to the relentless comedy of ‘A Big Ball of Garbage.’
- I, Roommate
- A Big Ball of Garbage
- A Flight to Remember
- A Fishful of Dollars
- My Three Suns
- Space Pilot 3000
- Love’s Labours Lost In Space
- Hell Is Other Robots
- Episode 2: The Series Has Landed
- Fear of a Bot Planet
* * *
Leo’s head being used as a bottle of champagne is good. The Countess being a class 3 yacht is good. But as is usually the case when Zapp Brannigan is in town, the DOOP Captain steals the show with this little two-man comedy routine with Kif.
How is there any argument against Zapp being the greatest?
A so-so commentary track here with lots of cool info but not much in the way of funnies. Still gonna recap it for you though!
- David X. Cohen explained that when the episode was first written Titanic had just been released. How old do you feel now? Due to Fox’s interference with the intended schedule, the parody lost some zing. Neither Cohen or Groening have seen Titanic. Furthermore Groening hasn’t seen Three’s Company or The Love Boat and thus gets zero references in this episode.
- I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but Matt Groening claims they contacted Leo to voice himself but he was too busy.
- This episode features the first background appearance of the dude wearing a big gown with a giant number 9 on it. Groening explains an abandoned concept for the show was that there would be a complex caste system with mutants and such and this character is a leftover. He will of course finally find a use much later.
- They created a special mouth chart during scenes where Zapp talks through his teeth, such as when he’s adding extra syllables like here when he says ‘rebound…d’.
- John DiMaggio points out that Bender at one point wears a magnetic bowtie despite the previously established quirk that magnets cause him to malfunction and begin singing folk songs ‘against his will.’ Cohen explains it away by claiming only magnets coming into contact with his head cause this phenomena.
5 – Billy West (Fry, Professor, Zoidberg, Zapp, Leo Wong)
4 – Tress MacNeille (Countess de le Roca, Hattie, ‘Boy’, ‘Additional Voices’)
3 – Phil LaMarr (Hermes, iZac, ‘Additional Voices’)
3 – Lauren Tom (Amy, Inez Wong, ‘Additional Voices’)
2 – John DiMaggio (Bender, ‘Additional Voices’)
2 – Maurice LaMarche (Kif, ‘Additional Voices’)
1 – Dave Herman (Mayor Poopenmeyer)
1– Dawn Lewis (Kif, ‘Additional Voices’)
1 – Katey Sagal (Leela)
I’m not thrilled about how many ‘additional voices’ are listed here, but I guess because there’s a number of crowd scenes the actors are performing random chatter which is impossible to quantify or credit.