Project G.e.e.K.e.R.

You’d be forgiven for having never heard of Project G.e.e.K.e.r., an animated sci-fi series that aired for just three months in 1996. And, you wouldn’t be crazy for thinking that the protagonist kinda looks like a worm; or that he sounds an awful lot like Philip J. Fry. Actually, the only two reasons worth watching this little show are that Doug TenNapel of Earthworm Jim fame created it and Billy West voices Geeker.

The animation is after school quality. After school in the mid-90s quality. We didn’t demand much from our animated series until later in the decade when we started to see more of it in prime time, with shows like Futurama and King of the Hill. Futurama fans watching Project Geeker today may get a brief second of déjà vu; both pilots open with a voiceover by the main character (played by the same dude, you remember) pontificating, “The future…” before explaining things to the audience. (Of course, in Futurama, it’s a goof, as it turns out that Fry is explaining a video game. Have I mentioned that Futurama rocks?)

As with a lot of kids’ shows—I’m assuming kids were the target audience—the premise is explained fully in the opening so the pilot could just as well be any random episode. The plot of this one doesn’t matter. Something about a destruct sequence. The overall plot of the series is that an evil genius, Moloch (Jim Cummings, most recently of Gnomeo and Juliet), is trying to track down the AI he created. The AI is Geeker, or Project GKR, and he wasn’t quite fully baked when he was stolen. Now he is in the hands of a voluptuous cyborg whom he calls Becky but who calls herself Lady MacBeth (Cree Summer, of a million different projects including Dragon Age: Origins). Brad Garrett, who I didn’t even realize has done a ton of animation, plays a big talking Tyrannosaurus who hangs out with them. The trio runs around trying to escape the reach of Moloch, while Geeker shape-changes, getting them in and out of various scrapes.

What else can I say? It’s a kids’ show. There’s a lot of noise and color and predictable jokes. The bad guy talks like a Bond villain. Geeker is kind of loveable, though. He’s one of those unlikely heroes who succeeds by screwing up. Kind of like Jar-Jar Binks. Wait, I said loveable. I don’t know, it’s a weird show. In prime time it could have been edgier and echoed the brilliance of the original Earthworm Jim game.

Futurama

Futurama fans are rejoicing. After being cancelled from Fox, then revived in the form of some straight-to-DVD movies, and given another shot with reruns on Comedy Central, the little animated show that could has returned with new episodes. And we didn’t even have to order any Subway footlongs. In celebration of the return (and the fact that the new episodes are hilarious, at least so far), I thought I would take an overdue look at the pilot episode of Futurama. I read once where someone referred to this as “the perfect pilot.” If not perfect, it’s pretty close.

When Futurama aired it was “the new Matt Groening show.” Fortunately for us and Matt Groening it is nothing like the Simpsons. The Simpsons does its thing—well—and Futurama does its just-as-witty- but-totally different thing. In fact, Futurama is more original. The Simpsons basically took an existing TV formula and animated it. Futurama mashed up situation comedy, science fiction, 20-something slackerdom, political satire and Y2K fear.

In the pilot we meet Philip J. Fry (Billy West), a pizza delivery boy with slouching shoulders and gravity-defying orange hair. His life is as miserable as we, the viewers, have ever thought ours were. He finds out his girlfriend is leaving him as she drives by him in a cab with her new man. He’s good at one thing at least, a 1980s-era video game that allows him to fly through space and shoot stuff. For anyone who ever fantasized that their gaming skills would come in handy in the real world someday, Fry is about to live out their fantasy.

Tonight it’s new year’s eve 1999. A newspaper headline reads, “2000. Doomsayers Cautiously Upbeat.” (It’s these simple little gags that fill every moment of the show with humor and make it worth watching over and over.) Fry, as the victim of a crank call, is delivering a pizza to a cryogenics lab when he falls into a cryogenic chamber set to thaw in 1,000 years. A montage of the next millennium shows us Groening’s satirical prophecies for the human race. New York rises, falls, rises, falls, and rises once more. There are many details worth slow-mo’ing.

Fry finds himself in the year 3000, in an unfamiliar New York City. The future has many of the things you would expect—robots, space travel, and flying cars—and many you wouldn’t. It’s got celebrity heads in jars and suicide booths. One of the funniest and weirdest scenes ever takes place when Fry meets the wisecracking robot Bender. “Well, I don’t have anything else planned for today,” Bender declares, “Let’s go get drunk!”

Next we meet Leela (Katey Sagal), whose job is to program other people with a chip that determines their vocation. Apparently their system is pretty accurate, because it labels Fry as a Delivery Boy. Leela is kinda hot considering she’s got one giant eye in the middle of her head, and there is no denying that she’ll be Fry’s love interest for the series. (We’re told she’s an alien, but a later episode will reveal otherwise.) We also meet Professor Farnsworth, who hires Fry, Leela, and Bender as his new flight crew aboard the Planet Express. And, voila, Fry is a delivery boy again. Context is everything; he couldn’t be more excited. Thus, Fry and the audience are off on a series of adventures.

It is brilliant how Groening can say so much about our own time with a story set a thousand years in the future. Bits of what happened since 1999 are filled in here and there like little warnings. And yet, some things never change. Human beings—and other species as well—will probably have the same neuroses in the future that they have now.