Recap: Futurama S 1 E 12 When Aliens Attack

Airdate: November 1999.

The year is 1999. Delivery boy Phillip J. Fry brings a pizza to the master control room for WNYW-TV New York (a FOX affiliate), during the season finale of "Single Female Lawyer", an Ally McBeal-esque legal dramedy about a sexually promiscuous female lawyer trying to prove her worth in the male-dominated world of being a lawyer. While hanging out with the operator, Fry spills beer on the control, knocking WNYW off the air. The operator panics, but Fry assures him that no one on Earth cares that the FOX Network is gone (and given FOX's long list of canceled TV showsnote  and harebrained decision to keep mediocre shows, his reasoning is justified).

1000 years later, however, the leaders from a far-off planet called Omicron Persei 8 are watching Single Female Lawyer and are livid when it goes off the air (replaced with 8 animated shows in a row) and launch an invasion.

Back on Earth, the Planet Express crew decides to take a trip to Monument Beach for Labor Day, where most of the world's monuments have stood since the 27th century (thanks to the activities of New New York's first super villain governor). The Omicronians invade at Monument Beach, and soon attack New New York City. Lrrr demands that the Earth produce "the one called McNeal". Coincidentally, the president of earth has the last name McNeal. He orders Zapp Brannigan to lead an assault against the alien invaders. Brannigan enlists all available ships, including the one operated by the Planet Express crew. He also turns on the patriotic chips in the robots, just after Bender mentions to the crew that he is a conscientious objector (a fancy way of saying "a coward"). The Planet Express ship manages to destroy a saucer-looking ship...only to have a bigger ship suddenly appear. It seems as if Zapp and his army just took out The Hubble Telescope rather than the mothership from Omicron Persei 8. Noticing the other ships getting blown up, the crew returns to Earth to get killed there rather than in space.

Earth's government decides to hand over President McNeal. Lrrr announces that he is the wrong McNeal, and vaporizes the President. Lrrr shows the world a photo of the McNeal they want, and Fry recognizes her as Jenny McNeal, the title character of Single Female Lawyer. The Omicronians demand the broadcast of the television show, or they will destroy the Earth by raising the temperature by one million degrees. Fry suggests giving the aliens the video of the final episode, but, according to Farnsworth, most videotapes have been wiped from existence during the Second Coming of Jesus in 2443. The crew decides to make their own episode, with Fry (Being the only human in the era to have seen any part of the show) writing.

During the filming, Fry's script comes up short, and Leela (as Jenny), is forced to improvise. She proposes marriage to the judge (played by Professor Farnsworth). During a commercial break, an aggravated Fry tells Leela that people don't watch TV to see clever and unexpected things, as Viewers Are Morons and they feel better when they've seen something that's been seen on other shows 1000 times before. Lrrr makes a public statement backing up Fry's assertion. Fry quickly writes an ending where the judge (Farnsworth) dies, leaving Jenny McNeal as a single female lawyer again. The Omicronians, satisfied with the ending, leave Earth to watch a one thousand year old Jay Leno monologue, saying the show was good enough for them to spare the planet, though not good enough for them to give humans their secret to immortality (Fry blamed it on Zoidberg's overacting).

The episode ends with Fry stating that the secret to a successful television show is that everything ends up back to normal at the end of each episode. Ironically, the camera pans out to a view of New New York burning in ruins (though, surely enough, it is restored in subsequent episodes).

This episode contains the following tropes:

  • Alien Invasion
  • Aliens Steal Cable: The people of Omicron Persei 8, 1000 light-years from Earth, commonly watches early 21st century Earth TV. It is also the main reason for the invasion was because Fry thrashed WNYW's transmission console, cutting the signal when the Grand Finale of the Single Female Lawyer was being broadcast.
    • And yet Lrr won't watch animated films.
  • Armed Farces
  • Bad Bad Acting: Fry's take on Single Female Lawyer, with Professor Farnsworth reading "Cough, then fall over dead" as character line.
  • Bag of Kidnapping: Zap Brannigan uses this method to transport President McNeal to the Omicronians.
  • Bait and Switch: Hermes asks why Fry and Bender aren't doing anything. Fry points out it's labor day, and Hermes gets angry.
    Hermes: Labor day? That phoney-baloney holiday crammed down our throats by fat-cat union gangsters?
    Fry: That's the one.
    Hermes: Hot damn! A day off! (takes off his shirt and sits next to Fry and Bender)
  • Beach Combing: Hermes is seen combing the beach with a metal detector. It turns out that he was using it to play hide and seek with Bender though.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: FOX is repeatedly the target of jabs in this episode and throughout the series. Such as this exchange:
    Fry: Wow, so this is a real TV station, huh?
    Technician: Well, it's a Fox affiliate.
    • Fry then spills his drink on the control console, knocking the station off the air. The technician panics, but Fry is confident that nobody will notice.
    Technician: Oh my God. You knocked FOX off the air!
    Fry: Pfft, like anyone on Earth cares.
  • Dirty Coward: President Mcneal's plan for everything is surrendering. Unless he thinks he's threatened.
  • Dirty Old Man: Professor Farnsworth was really looking forward to the forced mating.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: After losing their Earth signal, the Omicronians attack Earth, and later threaten to raise the planet's temperature to upwards of 5 million degrees F if they don't get to see the rest of "Single Female Lawyer".
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Zoidberg captured in a lobster cage demands Bender "spring" him, and that he'd "never survive" in it.
  • Draft Dodging: Bender calls himself a concientious objector - "You know, a coward."
  • Early Installment Weirdness: For Futurama fans who are used to seeing the head of Richard Nixon as Earth President, this episode is going to feel odd, as a man only known as McNeal is seen as Earth President. The fact that he gets killed off by aliens does set up the events seen in season two's "A Head in the Polls."
  • Engineered Heroics: A professional beach bully who does this by hitting on a guy's girl, then pretending to go down when they fight, for fifty bucks. When Leela asks for an actual date with him he even bluntly tells her he's gay.
  • Epic Fail: Zapp's Army takes out The Hubble Telescope instead of the Omicron Persei 8 mothership. Oddly the Hubble looked alot like the mothership.
  • Evil Is Petty: The Omicronians send out a miniature saucer which destroys Fry's sand castle.
  • Fanservice: The scene where Amy Wong gets her bikini top eaten by Nibbler and the professor hands her a can to spray a new bra on.
  • First Contact: Involves first contact between Earth and the people of Omicron Persei VIII.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: While the filming their version of "Single Female Lawyer":
    Fry: Camera 1?
    (Bender's right eye zooms out and whirs)
    Fry: Camera 2?
    (Bender's left eye zooms out and whirs)
    Fry: Camera 3?
  • Got Volunteered: Bender and all other robots have their patriotism chip activated so that he will be forced to join the army and carry out any order that was given to him.
    Zapp Branigan presses a button on a remote and activates Bender's patriotism chip*
    Bender: SIR! I VOLUNTEER MYSELF FOR A SUICIDE MISSION, SIR! Aww crap.
  • Monumental Damage: The alien invasion at Monument Beach, where a former supervillain governor of New York left his collection of stolen world monuments, complete with the White House are blown up by an alien saucer in a parody of Independence Day. The aliens then go on to destroy Fry's sandcastle with a tiny saucer to complete the parody.
  • Noodle Incident: Fry's father was fired from working at McDonalds. What he did to get fired, we never know.
    • The Second Coming of Jesus in 2443 causing most of the videotapes of the world to be destroyed (which doesn't explain why Fry had videotapes of Sanford and Son on the episode where Fry finds out he's rich because he neglected his bank account for 1000 years, unless the Sanford and Son tapes were spared).
    • Professor Farnsworth mentions an unspecified time in the recent past when aliens invaded and forced the best of the human race to mate. No other information is given, but it's implied that Farnsworth was a part of it.
    • The people finally coming together after the alien invasion in the end include a white man and a black man, a Muslim and a rabbi, and a clown and a nun. With the first two, it can be explained that, after years of racial tension (the black man and the white man) and religious squabbling (the Muslim and the rabbi), two opposing sides can finally make peace with each other. The last pairing (the clown and the nun) really doesn't have an explanation (at least not an obvious one).
  • Pop-Cultured Badass:
    Fry: 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.
  • Prison Rape: A radariffic moment when Zoidberg claims he's "too pretty" to survive in a lobster cage...
  • Redshirt Army: As with all things related to Zap, he declares that regardless of what colour they are, they're all going to die. Which they do.
  • Replacement Goldfish: After coming back from their recruitment, the crew finds the Professor has found a new delivery boy, captain, and "foul-mouthed, alchoholic chain-smoking robot". He's surprised to find them alive, and tells the replacements to check back in a few days, "A week at the most".
  • Rule of Funny: The only way the joke about the Hubble Telescope works, since it looks nothing like the Hubble.
  • Rushmore Refacement: The stolen Mt. Rushmore monument by the former supervillain governor, whom added his face in it as shown in a sight-gag.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Faced with the Omicronian spacecraft gunning down everyone else, Leela decides to get the hell out of there.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Independence Day
    • Star Wars:
      • The shot of the Planet Express Ship flying by is based on an identical shot in the re-released Star Wars (time 11:47).
      • Fry wears a Rebel Alliance X-wing starfighter pilot's helmet.
      • The battle planning session (and battle) is very reminiscent of the scene in Episode IV: A New Hope.
  • Snap Back: Lampshaded. After convincing the Omicronians to stop attacking Earth with a fake 1999 TV broadcast, Fry says it's a law of television that "By the end of the episode, everything's always back exactly the way it was." The camera then shows an external shot of the building, with surrounding New New York in flames and the Statue of Liberty crumbling. Despite this, by the next episode, everything is back exactly the way it was.
  • Strictly Formula: Parodied.
    Leela: Why not? It's clever; it's unexpected.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Fry unwittingly the conflict between Earth and Omicron Persei 8 in 1999.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: When Brannigan proposes a ridiculous idea for a suicide mission, Fry believes a better idea would be to send (expendable) robots first, prompting Bender to strangle him silly.
  • Zerg Rush: Brannigan's attack plan on the Omicronians.
    Zapp: The alien mothership is in orbit here. * points to map* If we can hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate!
    Kif: (sighs)
    Zapp: Now, like all great plans, my strategy is so simple an idiot could've devised it. On my command, all ships will line up and fly directly into the alien death cannons, clogging them with wreckage.