For all of the love that the cinema has for outer space, there strangely enough aren’t that many conventional Western animated shows set deep in the cosmos. There are countless anime that go there, but outside of Futurama (Rick and Morty also leaves the Earth’s atmosphere a bunch) you need to look all the way back to fodder like Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars from the ’90s (which is in dire need of a reboot, by the way). Even live-action programs set in space tend to go for the drama route, outside of rare exceptions like Other Space and The Orville. So while Final Space might feel like it touches on a lot of familiar territory and genre tropes, it actually is a bit of a trailblazer for what it sets out to do here. Final Space dresses itself up as a goofy, nonsensical adventure through outer space, but underneath that costume is a deep, challenging series that strives to be much more than an animated comedy.
Final Space’s history charts all the way back to 2010 when it was known as Gary Space on Olan Rogers’ YouTube channel. At the time, it was meant to be a ten-episode animated web series, but it ended prematurely after three entries. Years later Rogers would reveal that he was re-tooling the web series as Final Space to pitch to Cartoon Network. That avenue eventually ran dry for Rogers as well, but when Conan O’Brien stumbled upon the pilot short on Rogers’ channel, he fell in love with it and jumped on board as an executive producer to turn the idea into a full-length pilot. After a bidding war between many animation mainstays (although curiously not Adult Swim), the series winds up at TBS, where programs like this, American Dad, and Tarantula have made the network quite the viable home for edgy animated content.
Final Space follows Gary Space, a reckless space rebel (who’s certainly not a captain) who is the closest he’s ever been to finishing his five-year prison sentence and being back out in the world. Gary is a very Zapp Brannigan-esque character who sees himself as a much bigger and brasher individual than he actually is. In fact, Gary is a lot like if Zapp Brannigan and Fry somehow had a child together. He’s the perfect mash-up of their sensibilities.
Series creator Olan Rogers voices Gary and he puts forward an egocentric performance. Rogers exhibits the bravado of a faux Will Arnett, but that makes his performance in this role even more appropriate. Rogers makes Gary feel like he tries to be tougher than he is, which is a great affectation for the character. The way that the character swings from bravado to falsetto mid-sentence is beautiful. He’s a character who’s just as happy to defeat an intergalactic tyrant as he is to sneak himself a cookie.
This premiere puts Gary unexpectedly in contact with Mooncake, an incorrigible green alien. Gary joins up with a feline mercenary, Avocato, with the hopes to locate and neutralize a dangerous bounty hunter who plans to let the villainous Lord Commander know that Gary has Mooncake. Gary soon learns that Mooncake is actually the Lord Commander’s possession and he’s none too pleased that Gary has his tool, otherwise known as E35-1. Gary may think that Mooncake is just a cute companion that can help stave off loneliness, but the series already toys with the idea that Gary’s new friend might be an ultra-powerful “planet killer” that’s true use has yet to be seen. This is a lot of information to convey in a premiere, but Final Space makes it a fun experience rather than a confusingly dense one.
In that sense, there’s a whole original space government and universe that’s in play here, but the show allows it to play out organically rather than attempt to cram too much down the audience’s throat right away (although there is a lot that this two-part premiere covers). There are concepts like lightfolding and life bubbles that the show brings up, which are all exciting ideas present in Rogers’ unique take on outer space. Part of the fun in this show is getting to learn about a new piece of technology or facet of this version of the future in each episode.
The first half of Final Space’s premiere delights in its many action sequences that effectively show off the danger that this series plans to make a regular occurrence. At the same time, the series also introduces some intense emotional moments and a predicament that needs to be solved with math and science-like reasoning in the likes of what you might find in a Futurama episode. The first entry gets a lot of mileage by how it focuses almost entirely on Gary and just lets him bounce off of a bounce of sentient AI. However, “Chapter Two” is the stronger of the two installments due to how it brings more of the show’s cast into view. While much of the story still gets filtered through Gary, it looks like Final Space will be more effective when it gives into its ensemble tendencies and shares the wealth.
“Chapter One” may be more plot-oriented, but “Chapter Two” turns up the humor in a big way. There’s an extended sequence where an alien takes a little long to expire that made me laugh out loud and the installment also turns up the weirdness factor. It looks like a series where background characters will be allowed to make alarming non-sequiturs that indicate a backstory far deeper than what’s seen on screen. There’s also a scene where Gary loses a limb and then must take it with him into a firefight that feels like a good representation of this show when it operates on all cylinders. It’s weird, hilarious, unpredictable, and surprisingly graphic.
The series also begins in media res each episode and teases a grisly end where Gary appears to be stranded in space and ready to die in isolation. He’ll surely pull out of this bleak situation, but it makes for a strong instance of high stakes and serialized tension that the show uses to build up the scope of this story. On that note, Final Space is a highly serialized show and Olan Rogers intentionally wanted to make an animated series that went outside of the norm in that respect. It really is a rarity to find a highly serialized animated series outside of something like The Venture Bros. or BoJack Horseman, so something like Final Space is very much appreciated in filling that niche.
Final Space also features a stacked cast of voice talent, with the likes of Fred Armisen, Tom Kenny, Gina Torres, Keith David, Ron Perlman, and whole lots more impressive talent (including David Tennant as Lord Commander, who’s slowly building a solid voice over resume between this and DuckTales). All of these people lend their voices to the robots, fantastical aliens, and anthropomorphic animals that make up the assorted group of friends that Gary has in his strange life. There’s also a fleeting romantic subplot for Gary that courses through the season underneath all of the intergalactic intrigue and cat-and-mouse action. It looks like the show is playing the long game with the romance material, but it should give it all an even greater impact when it does come together.
Beyond the plotting and characterization, Final Space is also a series that happens to just look gorgeous and feature incredibly crisp animation. The characters may look simple enough, but there are really incredible background designs and the art direction on the various space cities is stunning stuff. On top of all of that, there’s also a wonderful score that helps all of this material pop and get the most out of the show’s chaotic style.
This animation style may make it seem like this is a show that’s better suited for somewhere like Cartoon Network for a younger audience, but the series immediately begins with images of brutally space-exploded corpses as if to comfort the audience and say, “Don’t worry guys, this most definitely is a show for adults.” The series’ main antagonist, Lord Commander, might be a tiny creature that appears to be cute, but the show once more undercuts his cutesy appearance. Moments after Lord Commander is introduced, he’s psychically choking and smashing people while his beast pet eats them alive.
Final Space may not be the funniest show of this television season, but it shows an incredible amount of promise. It makes its characters seem like fun individuals to follow on more adventures, and it looks like it will only get better as it goes on. All of this rich universe will grow on you and you’ll find yourself eager to check out where this story is headed. This definitely feels like a show that’s meant to be binged and will only be stronger when its season is looked at as a whole. If the journey is this much fun and engaging at this point, the end of the season should really be some powerful stuff.
We all need a facehugger in our lives, and Final Space is most certainly a facehugger of the most comforting nature.
Final Space airs Mondays at 10:30pm (ET) on TBS.