Oh Captain: Zapp Brannigan

Ship’s captains have been an important part of genre fiction for a long time. Thusly, in our first genre feature series, we’re looking at ship’s captains. Today’s captain is Zapp Brannigan of the Nimbus.

When Zapp Brannigan was introduced to the animated, comedy, sci-fi series “Futurama,” he was intended as a direct parody of William Shatner and James T. Kirk.

The series creators have even stated in DVD extra content that he was intended to be more Shatner than Kirk. The details of his life and career parallel Kirk’s directly:

His ship, the Nimbus is the flagship of the Democratic Order of Planets (doop), and though it isn’t generally shaped much like the Enterprise, it does seem to use what look like very startrekian nacelles for propulsion.

His first officer is an alien who invariably has much better ideas than Brannigan does about how to succeed in a particular mission, which isn’t difficult because Brannigan’s ideas are always terrible and reckless, much of the time getting large numbers of men killed to accomplish relatively unimportant goals.

Brannigan’s costume is also a parody, as the members of his crew all wear short skirted uniforms similar to the women’s uniform on the USS Enterprise. He also wears a girdle, which Kirk did not do, but Shatner is rumored to have done so.

Zapp’s primary character flaw is his libido. He considers himself a ladies’ man, and by most accounts, he seems to be able to get any girl he wants due to his undeserved reputation as a hero and military genius. In several episodes, the audience gets to see inside his quarters, in which there always seems to be at least two girls, not always humans, waiting for him. The only characters who seem to be able to see through Brannigan’s bravado are the protagonists of the series, including Lela, whom Brannigan frequently attempts to seduce, usually unsuccessfully.


ver the course of the series, the character does develop slightly. While all of the above traits remain, a lot is added to the character by the vocal performer who played the part, Billy West. West chose to base the voice, and some aspects ofthe character on Phil Hartman’s Simpson’s characters – most notable of which was Troy McClure.

Phil Hartman was initially cast as Brannigan, but was murdered just before production of the first season of Futurama began, and West wanted to try to perform the character as Hartman would have done.

Come back tomorrow when we will feature Captain Kathryn Janeway. If there is a Ship’s captain which you would like to see featured in this series, let us know in the comments.