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When Aliens Attack

July 20, 2012

Original airdate: November 7, 1999

Written by Ken Keeler; Directed by Brian Sheesley

There are two broad types of Futurama episodes. The character-focused and often deeply emotional episodes. And the madcap, absurd, non-stop action ones. “When Aliens Attack” squarely fits into the latter and does so perfectly. This episode is just insanely brilliant from start to finish and never let’s up. It starts on a beach filled with stolen monuments, goes through an alien invasion, presidential killing, space slaughter and winds up in a TV court room. We have the first appearance of the show’s main alien invaders, the ridiculous Omicronians, lead by their short-fused and hen-pecked ruler Lrrr, with some of the best jokes the show ever did, and some nice set-up for a future episode.

The premise alone says pretty much everything: back in 1999, Fry accidentally disrupted the broadcast of the Fox series Single Female Lawyer, about Jenny McNeal. While nobody on Earth cared, 1000 years later and 1000 light years away, the residents of Omicron Persei 8 have their viewing evening disrupted. There is only one logical course of action: invade Earth. Is there a more brilliant reason for an alien invasion than desiring to see a TV episode? Unfortunately for our main characters, this invasion comes during a Labour Day trip to the beach. The Omicronians’ communication of their demand to see “McNeal” is, though, unclear, and so, under the orders of a terrified Earth President McNeal, Zapp Brannigan drafts all available Earthican ships for an attack on the Omicronian mother ship (“I don’t care if you’re skin is red or tan or Chineice, you’re all going to have to learn to die together.”) Zapp’s assault shows his unrivalled military prowess: an Omicronian ship is destroyed, but it turns out it wasn’t the mother ship and the actual mother ship proceeds to destroy the majority of Earth’s fleet (“Stop exploding you cowards!”). Fry, Leela and Bender decide they’d rather die in the comfort of their own homes, so return to Earth.

Zapp finally does something useful and hands over President McNeal to the Omicronians. Lrrr clarifies that the “McNeal” they were referring to was actually the TV character and that, unless they are shown the episode, they will raise the Earth’s temperature by 1 million degrees a day. All tapes of the episode were damaged in the second coming of Jesus, so as the only person who remembers the show – based on his viewing of the first 30 seconds – Fry (who caused the whole problem in the first place) is charged with recreating the broadcast to appease the Omicronians. The broadcast somehow works well, until Fry’s two page script runs out and Leela (playing Jenny) improvises a sudden, show-altering plot twist. While clever and unexpected, the twist frightens and confuses the Omicronians and Fry explains this is exactly what people don’t want from TV. They want the same, safe, predictable thing each week. The status quo of Jenny as a single female lawyer is restored and the Omicronians return home satisfied.

I have nothing much to say about this episode; nothing interesting anyway. It has no real deeper meaning, no character development or so forth. And nor should it. It’s just a great plot with non-stop, top-notch, utterly absurd comedy. If it teaches us anything, it’s that we should probably watch more TV. In fact, do that now.

Trivia and Quotes

  • “Wow, so this is a real TV station, huh?/Well, it’s a Fox affiliate.”
  • Lrrr and Ndnd’s couch is hilariously tiny; it’s like they’re sitting on a cushion.
  • “Due to technical difficulties, we now bring you eight animated shows in a row.”
  • I can’t help but concur with Fry’s laziness in the opening scene. It’s why this blog is so crummy. “Everyone’s too polite to say anything, but you’re covered with bedsores./Not covered.”
  • New York’s supervillain governor stealing the world’s monuments for a beach, Bender’s lack of care for Hermes, Zoidberg destroying all the volleyballs, the professional beach bully (“No thanks mam, I’m actually gay”), the Independence Day reference, the little saucer destroying Fry’s sand castle… so much quality stuff in the beach scene.
  • “Last time aliens invaded, all they did was force the most intelligent of us to pair off and mate continuously. Oh yes.”
  • President McNeal’s incredible cowardice is fantastic. (“Outrageous demands for this ‘McNeal’, whoever he is”) His death also of course sets up the Presidential vacancy, which serves as the plot of “A Head in the Polls”.
  • “Anyone without a ship should secure a weapon and fire wildly into the air.”
  • “I refuse to fight: I’m a conscientious objector./A what?/You know: a coward.”
  • So much gold from Zapp: “Remember, our mission is simple: destroy all aliens”, but not Kif or Leela, the absurd bed-making scene (“You won’t have time for sleep soldier. Not with all the bed-making you’ll be doing.”) And of course “If we can hit that bulls-eye, the rest of the dominos will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.” And “When I’m in command, every mission is a suicide mission!” And Leela’s dismissal of his offer of sex “in case neither of use come back./Here’s hoping.”
  • I love the Star Wars shot recreations (the hangar, the briefing room and the attack sequence itself).
  • “Fry, this isn’t TV, it’s real life. Can’t you tell the difference?/Sure, I just like TV better.”
  • “Bender, damage report./The auxiliary power’s out. And they spilt my cocktail!/All right scumwads. This one’s for Bender’s cocktail!”
  • I think the Professor hiring the replacement crew on the assumption that his present employees are dead may be my favourite joke in the whole series. The Professor’s utter lack of concern for his crew’s welfare, while they were out defending the planet no less, is just horrifically brilliant (“Oh God, you’re alive! …I mean, thank God you’re alive! Sorry, check back in three days. A week at the most.”)
  • “Well, Omicron Persei 8 is about a thousand light-years away, so the electromagnetic waves would just only recently have gotten there. You see…/Magic. Got it.”
  • “Camera 1…Camera 2…Camera 3…” – Off-screen jokes are great.
  • I love that it’s all up to the Planet Express crew to save the day. The government’s initial attempt failed and they seemingly have no intention of coming up with any other ideas.
  • “It took an hour to write. I thought it would take an hour to read.”
  • “Trust me on this, while other people were out living their lives, I wasted mine watching TV, because deep down, I knew it might one day help me save the world. Plus I would have lost my workman’s comp if I had gone outside.”
  • A lot of gold from the overall crummyness of the Single Female Lawyer recreation: the cardboard jury members, theProfessor’s total failure to act dead, not to mention that Jenny now has one eye and the prosecutor is Zoidberg. It’s a nice subtle mention of how unobservant the Omicronians are, which of course comes up later.
  • “We are reasonably satisfied with the events we have seen. Overall I would rate it a C+. Okay, not great. As a result, we will not destroy your planet, but neither will we provide you with our recipe for immortality./Way to overact Zoidberg.”
  • There’s a lot I don’t remember in this one, and I watched it on TV fairly recently, so they must have cut a lot. The black/white, Arab/Jew, clown/nun hugging scene at the end is an example of this.
  • And amid the scene of New New York’s destruction, we end with this: “It was just a matter of knowing the secret of all TV shows: at the end of the episode, everything’s always right back to normal.”
One Comment leave one →
  1. July 21, 2012 3:41 am

    “Single Female Lawyer, havin’ lots of sex!”

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