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The Fifteen Greatest Episodes of Futurama
With its characters, plot details, clever developments, and running gags, Futurama is truly one of the more unique shows to air in its genre in quite some time. It managed to tell stories in a futuristic context that were still topical in our own present world today. It turned a mirror on ourselves and our society and provided fascinating commentary on many of the different aspects of our lives, all while delivering on clever comedy and fantastic character development. Truly, it is a show that deserves much of the same accolades as its counterparts.
But sadly, it was announced recently that the show would not be getting the green light on its next season. But before you pop a quarter in the suicide booth, let’s celebrate the series and take a look at the fourteen best episodes the series had to offer.
Love’s Labors Lost in Space
Being that it’s one of the first few episodes from season 1, Love’s Labors introduced us to key characters in the Futurama universe and helped establish conventions and relationships that continued to soldier on through the later seasons.
The most notable character we meet in this episode is Zapp Brannigan, the intrepid space captain and buffoon whose many appearances later on in the series continue to be some of Futurama’s best. Leela finds herself at the wrong end of Zapp’s affections in this episode and, after mistakenly taking pity on him, ends up spending a night of passion with the velour-savvy ingrate once he reveals how pathetic and alone he really is.
You find here that there’s a very delicate balance to Zapp as he tries to be macho and adventurous, all while trying to hide a deeper and more fragile side of himself that few manage to miss. The peculiar Nibbler also makes his debut in this episode, capturing Leela’s heart and eventually saving the crew when they find themselves in peril.
Really, the episode sets up for one of the longest-running gags in the show. In many of the episodes throughout the series, Leela’s regret for sleeping with Zapp and his continuous (and very sensual) advances persist throughout the course of the show. It’s both endearing and hilarious, as we’ve all experienced something of regret akin to this in our own lives.
Notable quote: “Kif, I have made it with a woman. Alert the men.” – Zapp
The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings
One of the most brilliant Futurama season finales to date, The Devil’s Hands sees Fry (and other characters within the episode) making a deal with the Robot Devil in order to become a skilled musician with the difficult holophonor and win the affections of the musician-attracted Leela.
Really, it’s hard to name exactly what makes the episode so great, as it nails down nearly everything that makes Futurama so unique in all the right ways. We see Bender and Fry’s friendship strengthened as Bender helps Fry get in touch with the Robot Devil, we see the Robot Devil wheeling and dealing with various crew members of Planet Express in order to get his way, and, at the end of the episode, we see the relationship between Fry and Leela come to a head in one of the most meaningful and interesting moments in the series. Call me a sucker, but when everyone clears out of the theater at the end save for Fry and Leela, I never fail to utter a little “Awww…”
It’s also worth mentioning that the operatic numbers of the episode are a great touch that, for all their tongue-in-cheek approach, actually lent a uniquely emotional angle to the season finale. All in all, it was a masterful way to close out Season 4 with a bang.
Roswell that Ends Well
Easily one of the best episodes in the series, Roswell That Ends Well credits the one and only Dr. Zoidberg with being the monster behind the Roswell, New Mexico UFO sighting back in the 50’s. It features some of the series’ best moments, including the Professor shopping with Leela and Fry becoming his own grandfather (a joke that would persist throughout multiple episodes).
Really, this episode was one of the first where Futurama really began to hit its stride. The characters were clicking, the dialogue was smart, and the plot developments were both clever and unbelievable in a way that only Futurama can deliver. It still stands as one of the best, making it more than a contender for this list of greatest of all time.
Futurama has an amazing way of turning mirrors on ourselves and providing some interesting commentary on the culture and mankind’s quirks as a whole. While there are elements of this in virtually every episode, this was made especially apparent in the first episode of Season 6.
When they’re faced with possible bankruptcy, the Planet Express crew launch into schemes to accrue enough money to save the company. This leads to the creation of a Planet Express commercial airline that, yep, crash lands on a distant planet. From there, the crew and passengers launch into a battle of the sexes that eventually inspires a mysterious alien to change them and play around with their respective genders. First, they’re rendered neutral, then their genders are effectively switched, leading to some hilarious encounters between the characters that both show the importance of gender and the roles they play.
It’s a great episode, because it not only exposes some of the ridiculous cliches and fallacies of sexism that persist today, but also shows us the value of both genders in their own ways. Plus, there’s nothing funnier an more cringeworthy than a calendar photo shoot featuring a near-nude Professor Farmsworth as an old, saggy woman.
While every episode of Futurama is great in its own way, there’s something truly special about Leela’s Homeworld, the one that finally reveals the truth of Leela’s past and answers the questions we’ve asked about her character for so long. Where did she come from? What happened to her parents? Why does she only have one eye?
While it was assumed for a long time that she was merely the last of her kind of alien race, we instead learn here that Leela is, in fact, a mutant whose parents gave her up in order to ensure she had a better life that wouldn’t relegate her to living in the sewers with the other mutants. This moment brought to a head the emotional ride Leela had been on her entire life as she’d struggled with the idea that she didn’t belong anywhere or to anyone, an insecurity that had been bred early on in her youth at the Orphanarium. Finally learning the truth about her origins not only rounded out her story and gave Leela a new lease on her life as a whole, but also helped us to understand her in a new way and sympathize better with her character.
While it is classified as comedy, fans of Futurama know that the show has had its, dare I say it, tear-jerking moments. No episode makes this more evident than that of Jurassic Bark, where Fry finds the fossilized body of his dog from the year 2000 and tries to resurrect him, all while having flashbacks of the animal during his time at the pizzeria in Old New York.
This episode will especially strike a chord for animal and pet lovers. Throughout its entirety, you’ll see Fry’s dog grow to love him, the bond they shared, the dog’s attempt to notify Fry’s family of where the twentysomething went after he was cryogenically frozen, and you’ll see the dog wait for Fry in quite possibly one of the most heart-wrenching end sequences ever made. Seriously. Go watch that and try to tell me you didn’t well up.
The Tip of the Zoidberg
Whether it’s Meg Griffin in Family Guy or Jerry Gergich in Parks and Recreation, every good comedy show includes a tertiary character that typically rests at the butt of everyone’s jokes. In Futurama, this character is the unfortunate Dr. Zoidberg, the clueless crustacean doctor who typically finds himself in dumpsters and left out of many of the crew’s plans.
While it’s fun to talk about the best jokes at Dr. Zoidberg’s expense, it’s also important that the show gives us a little more insight into his character and offers us more information about why Zoidberg is who is he is and does what he does. After all, if he’s so terrible, why does the professor insist on keeping him around?
In The Tip of the Zoidberg, we finally learn that Zoidberg has entered into an agreement with the Professor that was set up long before Planet Express even existed. See, the Professor has contracted a rare disease that will eventually kill him, and he’s asked Zoidberg to stick around and help him pull off an assisted suicide once the time is right so Farmsworth can die with dignity. Sure, it’s a fairly heavy subject that sounds more like the plot of an HBO special, but it’s handled with Futurama’s natural wit and humor in a brilliant way.
Furthermore, it lends a uniquely emotional side to Zoidberg and makes his character seem a bit more multi-dimensional than in the preceding episodes that came before it, making it one of the more important ones in the series.
And you have to admit, an assisted suicide Rube Goldberg machine is pretty brilliant.
A Clockwork Origin
There’s something to be said about how well-crafted the writing of Futurama is. Sure, it can make fart and sex jokes along with the other semi-rude cartoon shows that populate the likes of Fox, Adult Swim, and Comedy Central. But for all the fourteen-year-old humor, it also has the unique ability to really make us take a deeper look at ourselves and at the issues we face.
This is especially well done in the episode A Clockwork Origin, an episode that takes to task the highly sensitive theories of both the Creation and Evolution. While it appears to take a strong stand on the side of Evolution in the beginning, the episode evolves (heh) to show the merit and ideology behind the creation theory when the Professor and the Planet Express crew witness the rapid evolution of robots that the Professor himself created. What it leaves behind is the idea that, instead of forcing us to choose between one or the other, maybe there’s a way both theories could exist in one, all while acknowledging the glory of science and the possibilities of a higher power. It takes a solid writing team to be able to pull that off in the context of comedy, and in this episode, they handily succeeded.
Space Pilot 3000
While it might not be the strongest episode of the series, Futurama’s pilot is still the episode that started it all. It was here that we saw the pathetic Fry back in the year 2000, witnessed his freezing, saw the future according to Matt Groening, and met the Planet Express crew. It was the episode that set up for the rest of the series and allowed for us to take in the show’s unique and brilliant universe in a way that was both engaging and hilarious. Being that the show progressively builds off of the conventions originally set up in the pilot, it’s hard to not include this as one of the best Futurama episodes of all time.
One of the first to really establish the relationship between Bender and Fry was I, Roomate, the episode in Season 1 that saw Fry and Bender trying to find a place to live together. The episode sees the two house hunting and eventually finding themselves at odds when Fry tries to move out and leave Bender on his own. Of course, in true sitcom style, everything works itself out in the end, and everyone comes out happy.
Bender is one of my favorite characters in Futurama for several reasons. Most notably is his character. While he comes across (and rightfully so) as a coy and conniving scheister, Bender has a well-protected fragile side that makes an occasional appearance throughout the series. Sure, he plays off the idea of destroying all humans with one eyebrow raised, but there’s a genuine love for Fry as a friend there that links the two together in a meaningful and compelling relationship. This is made especially apparent when Bender tries to help Fry adjust to his place and becomes somewhat distraught when Fry wants to find his own. On top of that, this episode saw the origins of the two character’s relationship that would continue to evolve as the series soldiered on.
The Day the Earth Stood Stupid
It doesn’t take watching more than a handful of episodes to see that Philip J. Fry is kind of…well, dumb. He’s a few bricks shy of a load, and while his intentions are typically good, he’s still guilty of being something of an idiot.
While this is played up as a plot device throughout the entirety of the series, this becomes even more apparent in The Day the Earth Stood Stupid. See, Fry is so dumb that his brain doesn’t respond to the powers of stupidity that the evil Brainspawn who take over the earth are wont to use on the unknowing Earthicans. When everyone else on the planet is rendered stupid, it’s up to Fry and Nibbler to take out the brains and prevent the destruction of the Earth.
Using Fry’s lack of IQ is a genius way to structure the episode and really empower his character as a whole. Sure, it was funny and awkward to watch, but by the end you really had an appreciation for Fry despite his shortcomings.
Throughout its run, Futurama has taken a look at religion in a way few shows will ever even touch. While A Clockwork Origin showcases this in a brilliant way, Godfellas continues to be one of the more fascinating attempts to commentate on religion and the nature of God in both the show’s universe and in our own.
The episode sees Bender becoming his own God when a colony of tiny aliens make his mechanical body into their home. Reliant on the titanic Bender for all of their needs, the robot soon finds that being a God isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it comes along with many painful situations and difficult moments that even he didn’t anticipate, made even more apparent when Bender meets the real amalgamation of God in the flesh(sort of…).
Being that I am a religious person, I actually admire Futurama’s ability to comment on this sort of idea without forcing a viewer to take one side or the other. Rather, it’s the show’s peculiar ability to stay neutral and present both sides of an ideology that makes it inspiring and sparks a unique conversation where most shows do not. This episode did so in a masterful way that neither offended or preached, but simply raised questions of the existence of God and how he/she/it would operate.
Notable Quote: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” – God
One of my favorite aspects of Futurama is the show’s ability to comment on issues we face in the present in a futuristic and comedic context. This ranges from everything between global warming to even the Obama birth certificate debacle.
In Proposition Infinity, Bender and Amy end up in a relationship together and take it upon themselves to help legalize Robosexual marriage. Which is, you guessed it, marriage between a human and a robot. And is, guessed it again, a metaphor for the troubles we face with homosexual marriage legalization in our society today. Looking at it, Proposition Infinity is a play on the controversial Proposition 8 seen in California several years ago.
The best part about Proposition Infinity is its ability to shed some light on the more ridiculous arguments made by those who oppose Robosexual (and by extension, homosexual) marriage. While it may admittedly be a bit more biased than some of the more political episodes tend to be, it still manages to turn the mirror on us without necessarily championing any cause. Rather, the strength is found in its subtle ability to commentate on our own present actions and show how ridiculous some of our issues are in way that only comedy can truly capture.
One of the most clever ideas Futurama explores is how the past (our present) will impact and be perceived as in the future. This is seen throughout many episodes, including when the crew goes to the Moon and when they visit museums in New New York.
But there was something really interesting about the way they portrayed the common cold in Cold Warriors. While we consider the illness to be minor and not that big of a deal, it is taken as a death sentence in the future, leading the Planet Express crew to freak out and eventually end up locked away in quarantine.
Now, this makes complete sense. After all, the virus has had a thousand years to mutate, and human bodies and ways of living have vastly changed since Fry’s seemingly primitive time. Therefore, it’s completely plausible that the common cold could be deadly to those living in the year 3000.
But not only does this bring up interesting issues we might not even consider today, it also fleshes out the relationship between Fry and his dad. Typically, Fry’s father is portrayed as a harsh, militaristic man who demands nothing but the best from his sons and tries to hold himself to what he considers to be qualities of a true man. This is something Fry struggles with, but it’s also something we see reconciled a bit at the end when Fry and his dad share a moment during ice fishing. Sure, it’s not important to the overall show’s success, but moments like these go a long way in connecting us to the characters of the show in a meaningful way.
In my time, I’ve found that the people who appreciate freedom are the ones who have experienced opression in their home countries. This idea is explored heavily in the episode Freedom Day, where all Earthicans enjoy an entire day dedicated to celebrating freedom by doing whatever they want without fear of repercussions. It’s the oafish Dr. John Zoidberg who shocks the nation with his overt patriotism when he eats the Earth flag and sends the citizens of Earth hunting him down in a mad rage.
Zoidberg is especially passionate about freedom, as he felt opressed on his home planet and can now appreciate fuly the joys of freedom and having the right to express oneself in whatever way they see fit.
This episode was great because it managed to say some really compelling and interesting things about freedom and how we take it for granted in our modern day. Everything from political tolerance to the true appreciation of freedom and freedom of expression is explored in a humorous and albeit meaningful way as only Futurama could deliver in one of the best Zoidberg-centered episodes in the series.
What are your favorite episodes of Futurama? Tell us in the comments below!