Futurama is filled with Star Trek references from the pilot’s opening moments. The animated science fiction series from Matt Groening and David X. Cohen takes place in the year 3000 but follows a throwback from the year 2000 named Philip J. Fry (Billy West).
Thanks to his age, Fry is an outspoken Trekkie. As such, this means his dialogue includes many Trek references. However, as the series progresses, the allusions to TV’s greatest sci-fi franchise continue to come hard and fast (like Brannigan’s Law – see below). Here are 10 references to Star Trek in Futurama. And please note that this barely scratches the surface: we aren’t even getting to “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” this time.
Space Pilot 3000
The first allusion to Star Trek comes in the very first moments of the series. After a screen displaying text that informs viewers the scene is set on December 31, 1999, the pilot opens on a video game spaceship traveling through a field of digital stars. Dialogue from Fry states: “Space: it seems to go on forever. Then, you get to the end, and a gorilla starts throwing barrels at you.”
This opening references the opening titles of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation (and anticipates the opening titles for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds). All three of these opening themes feature the show’s respective captain intoning, “Space: the final frontier.” These lines are echoed in Fry’s opening dialogue.
Man vs Door
Upon waking up in the year 3000 in “Space Pilot 3000,” Fry immediately begins to relate to the strange new world of New New York City through Star Trek. In response to an automatic door, he says, “Cool, just like on Star Tre -” However, he is interrupted by the door closing on his face.
This calls to mind a longstanding tradition of Star Trek actors having to deal with imperfect “automatic” doors on set. Most recently, Strange New Worlds actor Anson Mount (Christopher Pike) dealt with the issue. You can see this for yourself in the bonus features on the Strange New Worlds season one set.
Nimoy & Nixon
One of the central conceits of Futurama was the “Head Museum.” Here, the severed heads of celebrities and important historical figures were kept alive in jars. This allowed for both 20th-century guest stars and political satire. In “Space Pilot 3000,” Fry encounters the head of Leonard Nimoy, who originated the role of Spock on TOS. Immediately upon meeting him, Fry gives him the (four-fingered version of) the Vulcan salute.
Nimoy previously guest starred on The Simpsons, and would later guest star on Futurama again. He isn’t the only head Fry encounters in the pilot, either. Playing a recurring antagonistic role is the head of Richard M. Nixon (West). While it’s probably a coincidence, Nixon was in office when the final episode of TOS aired in June 1968.
The “Good” Doctor
The second episode of the series, “The Series Has Landed,” introduces the rest of the Planet Express crew. This includes Doctor John Zoidberg (West). The oldest friend of Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth (West), Zoidberg is a Decapodian who has a flimsy grasp of human anatomy.
In the commentary for “The Series Has Landed,” Cohen explains that the inspiration for Zoidberg was an inversion of Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) on TOS. McCoy was a human who was often forced to treat aliens with whom he had no biological familiarity. By contrast, Zoidberg is an alien who has no knowledge of human biology.
In the fourth episode of the series, “Loves Labours Lost in Space,” the recurring character of Zapp Brannigan (West) is introduced. According to DVD commentary for the episode, Zapp’s character concept is based on the idea of William Shatner being in command of the Enterprise rather than James T. Kirk. Zapp’s aesthetic (including his ship and uniform) strongly recalls Star Trek.
Zapp’s ship isn’t the Enterprise, it’s the Nimbus. This alludes to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which Shatner co-wrote and directed. In that movie, Nimbus III is “The Planet of Intergalactic Peace.” This echoes the nominal goals of the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP), under which Zapp serves.
Zapp’s second in command is Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche). In the “Amazon Women in the Mood” commentary, Groening states that Kif is based on “an annoyed Mr. Spock.” Kif does bear some similarities to Spock, including in design: they both have pointy ears, for one thing. And Kif’s green skin tone calls to mind the original plan to have green Vulcans, instead of just green-blooded ones.
Furthermore, certain aspects of Kif’s anatomy echo Vulcan physiology, and when we meet more members of his species, they echo other Vulcan characters. Both of these elements come into play in “Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch.” The latter comes through via the Grand Midwife (Tress MacNeille), who bears an incredibly close resemblance to T’Lar (Judith Anderson) from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
In the season 1 episode “When Aliens Attack,” the Planet Express crew joins an Earth defensive effort led by Brannigan. As they fly into battle against the invading Omicronians, Fry states, “I’m going to be a science-fiction hero, like Uhura or Janeway or Xena!” This dialogue refers to Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) on TOS and Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) on Star Trek: Voyager.
Fry is immediately admonished by Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal). She points out that Fry has cited TV characters and asks if he realizes this is real life. Fry replies that he does, but says he prefers TV. This concept (and its relationship to Star Trek specifically) is explored in subsequent episodes of the series. And with all due respect to Leela, many real-life astronauts and other scientists have cited Star Trek characters as inspiration for their studies and achievements.
The season 2 episode “Why Must I Be A Crustacean in Love” is a full-fledged parody of TOS season 2’s “Amok Time.” Just as Spock must return to his home planet to mate, so too must Zoidberg. The episodes follow the same essential plot, ultimately pitting Zoidberg against his friend Fry just as Spock was forced to fight Kirk.
However, there are plenty of other references to “Amok Time” in “Why Must I Be A Crustacean in Love.” These include musical cues and set design. But perhaps most subtle of all is the clothing damage Amy Wong (Lauren Tom) experiences in the first act, which matches Kirk’s ripped clothes in the climax.
Eventually, Kif and Amy begin dating. In the Futurama season 3 episode “Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch,” Amy and the crew of the PlanEx ship visit the Nimbus. Soon, Kif is showing Amy his programs in the “Holo-Shed,” which is the Futurama version of the Holodeck.
Just like on Star Trek, safety protocols are disabled while Amy and Kif are visiting. Soon they’re attacked by “history’s greatest villains”: Atilla the Hun, Evil Abraham Lincoln, Professor Moriarty, and Jack the Ripper. This calls to mind many Star Trek hologram episodes, including “Elementary, Dear Data.” And there’s a little bit of “The Savage Curtain” in there, too; an episode parodied by Futurama again in “Neutopia.”
After the Holo-Shed incident is resolved in “Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch,” the crew heads to the “Sick Bay & Horta Burn Clinic.” The latter part of the name refers to the creature from the TOS episode “The Devil in the Dark.”
Inside the Nimbus sick bay, care is administered by Doctor Veins McGee (David Herman). It isn’t only the name that recalls Bones McCoy, it’s also his demeanor, voice, and appearance. In a deleted scene for the episode, McGee even echoes McCoy’s catchphrase.