For those who may not know, Futurama is an animated sitcom that aired from 1999 to 2013. It tells the story of Philip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy, who becomes cryogenically frozen, and wakes up in the 30th century. Lost in the retro-futuristic New New York, he is eventually given a job as a delivery boy by his distant descendant, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth. Farnsworth is a mad scientist who runs an intergalactic delivery company to finance his experiments. Fry is soon joined by a team of goofy co-workers: Leela the cyclop, Bender the robot, Zoidberg the decapodian (an alien crab), Amy, Hermes, and Scruffy (the other three humans). Over the course of seven seasons, the crew goes on either dangerous or absurd adventures, making them stumble into the most improbable situations. A pet project of Matt Groening’s invention, Futurama had a tough time hitting the mainstream, Fox executive deeming it too strange and complicated for a cartoon. The show was cancelled from 2003 to 2010 (!), because it failed to gather the hype The Simpsons had. Of course, the show can seem a bit off-putting at first (I know I didn’t love it right away), but re-watching it after a few years, I realize few cartoons could have got away with such a high brow concept, and still be so entertaining. Today, I think Futurama has since been accepted in the very select club constituted by The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park. This is why I am giving you a shiny new list of 10 favorite episodes of mine.
S3E20: After having been accidentally fired into outer space, Bender collides with an asteroid, and becomes host to a civilization of tiny humanoids. The ‘Shrimpkins’ worship Bender as a god, and, of course, he takes advantage of the situation. However, he is soon faced with a responsibility he cannot handle. An episode that gets its strength from the sheer originality of its concept. Normally, Bender represents the edgier side of Futurama: because he is a robot, and supposedly cannot die, he can get away with the worst excesses, without asking himself too many philosophical questions. I think lending him such immense responsibility was a masterstroke, which led to a very interesting character development. You would seldom expect such rich theological reflexion from a simple cartoon, and that, I believe, is key to understanding why Futurama is so great. An episode illuminated by discreet beauty, both in terms of writing, humor, and animation.
2. Amazon Women in the Mood
S3E1: After crashing on planet Amazonia, the crew is captured by the planet’s giant all-female inhabitants. The crew’s women are set free, but Fry, General Zapp Brannigan, and his second, Kif, are sentenced to ‘death by snu-snu’ (which is exactly what you’re thinking of). Arguably the most hilarious episode, so overstuffed with gags, it almost outmatches The Simpsons. There are a lot of Zapp Brannigan episodes in Futurama; the comically incompetent General can be found in gems such as ‘War Is the H Word’ or ‘Brannigan, Begin Again’. Still, I think ‘Amazon Women’ is the best of them all, as Brannigan freely expresses his sexist persona, while being encouraged by Fry and Bender. While it is not as deep as ‘Godfellas’, ‘Amazon Women’ still showcases a merciless satire of gender relations, which is one of the main themes of the show, I believe.
3. The Sting
S4E12: While returning from a mission on a giant space beehive, Fry is stung to death by a giant space bee. Fueled by hallucinatory space honey, the episode offers a gorgeous insight on Fry and Leela’s evolving relationship, as she is haunted by his memory and cannot shake off her guilt. As we delve into layers after layers of alternate realities and twists, we are left to wonder what is real, and what is not. If there is such a thing as a shakespearean episode of Futurama, this is it. Far from the sappiness of later seasons, the episode weaves a strong emotional link between the main characters, as it masterfully balances humour, dark themes, and beautiful animation sequences.
4. Roswell That Ends Well
S3E19: The Planet Express ship and the whole crew accidentally travel back in time, and end up in Roswell, 1947. While Bender and Dr. Zoidberg are captured by the military, Fry meets his grandfather and becomes obsessed with his ancestor’s safety. Often regarded as the best episode, this one is an unquestionable classic. While not being as emotional or artistically interesting as the three mentioned above, ‘Roswell’ remains a spectacularly fun ride. The plot moves forward with incredible ease, and the episode offers important twists, notably regarding Fry’s story arc. Also, one can note that the episode is one of the only ones where characters travel back in time. Indeed, the writers decided to make an exception with ‘Roswell’, as they had so many ideas how to satirize the US during the 1940s, and the Roswell UFO sighting.
5. Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love?
S2E5: Alien Dr. Zoidberg goes back to his home planet for mating season. This is the oldest episode on my list and, in my view, it marks the moment when Futurama became really great. One of my personal favorites, it is centered around my favorite character: Dr. Zoidberg. It is also a parody of the Star Trek episode ‘Amok Time’. Still very much influenced by Matt Groening’s humour, the plot feels very natural, and offers gags that never cease to amuse me. The rendition of Zoidberg’s home planet is unexpectedly gorgeous, and the Decapodian’s life every bit as entertaining. I highly recommend it, just for the sake of Fry giving advice on seduction.
6. The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings
S4E18: In order to learn to play the holophonor (a futuristic instrument) as quickly as possible, Fry makes a pact with the Robot Devil. In a twist of events, he exchanges his own hands with the Robot Devil’s, and becomes the greatest holophonor player of all time. I consider this episode to be a sequel of ‘Parasites Lost’. In the latter, Fry becomes infected with space parasites that turn him into a sort of super human. Among other things, they grant him the ability to play the holophonor perfectly, and seduce Leela. While ‘Parasites Lost’ is excellent at times, I find it a bit uneven on the whole. In comparison, the ‘Devil’s Hands’ showcases a very strong structure, while effortlessly making fun of operatic melodramas. As Fry is charged by a patron to write the greatest opera of all-time, he falls victim to the Devil’s hilariously convoluted plan. Offering a very fun opera within the opera, the episode ends the fourth season in a spectacular fashion, just before the show’s seven years cancellation.
7. The Day the Earth Stood Stupid
S3E7: Earth is invaded by giant floating brains that make people stupid. Fry is inexplicably spared by the epidemic, and becomes humanity’s sole hope. This is the first episode of (what I call) the niblonian story arc, the second one being ‘The Why of Fry’. While I find the latter convoluted and a bit too serious for its own good, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Stupid’ is hilarious, and makes the most of its clever premise. Seeing Fry becoming the most intelligent human being by default is surely worth a watch. The chase scene in the library is also one of the wittiest and most fun climaxes I’ve seen on TV. It’s while seeing episodes like this one that I realize Futurama used to play in a superior league, intellectually speaking at least.
8. The Silence of the Clamps
S6E14: Witnessing robot actor Calculon being viciously beaten by the robot mafia, Bender decides to testify in open court against them. This is a late episode, the writing of which reminds you of the show’s heydays. ‘Silence’ borrows elements from earlier episodes (Calculon, the robot mafia, the moon farm) and makes them work together splendidly. Maybe because of this, the episode received mixed reviews upon release, as some critics thought that it felt rehashed, and deemed it unremarkable. Of course, I thoroughly disagree: for me, this is, hands down, the best post-cancellation episode. The plot seamlessly bounces from one hilarious scene to another: the mafia wedding, the court room, the unlikely friendship between Fry and Clamps, the final showdown with Zoidberg. A rare instance of an episode where the writers know the show so well that every single moment is worth your time.
9. Jurassic Bark
S4E7: While visiting a reconstitution of the pizzeria he used to work in, Fry finds a fossilized version of his former best friend, a stray dog named Seymour. Fry becomes obsessed with bringing him back to life. There are two other notable instances of flashback episodes in the series: ‘The Luck of the Fryrish’ (very overrated) and ‘The Late Philip J. Fry’. Quite simply: these episodes have a structure that alternates between present and past, in a way that things from the past shed a new light on ‘present’ events. These episodes are often fan favorites because of the strongly emotional content they offer. To my knowledge, ‘Jurassic Bark’ is the second instance of a flashback episode (after ‘Luck of the Fryrish’), and offers a very poignant vision of Fry and Seymour’s friendship. As the episode unravels, we get to understand why Fry is so obsessed with his dog. He is the one thing that he really loved in his 20th century life. The episode is particularly famous for its gut-wrenching closing scene.
10. Murder on the Planet Express
S7E24: The Planet Express crew goes on a team-building trip and gets trapped in the ship with an horrific carnivorous alien. One of the very last Futurama episodes, and arguably showcasing a much stronger writing than the actual finale (‘Meanwhile’), this episode is like Futurama’s swan song. Drawing a lot from the Alien franchise, the episode is as weird as it is brilliant. But most of all, it’s downright SCARY. It’s not bloody or very dark, but you can easily relate to the oozing madness the characters experience as the shape-shifting murderer make them lose their grip on reality. In my view, the final twist is a most unforgettable feat of dark humour.