While working on The Simpsons, Matt Groening conceived of another animated sitcom, this time set in the far future. With the help of David X. Cohen, this idea became Futurama. Though initially canceled by Fox after five seasons, the show was revived by Comedy Central for two more seasons and again by Hulu for its eighth, which will premiere in July.
Futurama found a large fanbase thanks to its brilliant writing and unforgettable characters. When not delivering plenty of laughs, the show touched on timeless themes and explored engaging scenarios within its science-fiction setting.
10 “Godfellas” — Season 3, Episode 20
IMDb Score: 8.8/10
During a battle with spare pirates, Bender (John DiMaggio) is fired into space. While Fry (Billy West) tries to find a way to rescue him, Bender is struck by a meteor containing a miniature civilization. They worship Bender as a God, but his attempts to help them cause more harm than good.
This episode has an interesting take on the nature of the divine. It shows the dangers of too much or too little physical involvement while advocating instead for a lighter, more subtle approach. Bender’s relationship with the little civilization is also touching, as he truly comes to care for them more than objects of worship, which shows a rare emotional side of our favorite kleptomaniac robot.
9 “Parasite Lost” — Season 3, Episode 2
IMDb Score: 8.9/10
Fry becomes infested with parasitic worms after eating a truck stop bathroom sandwich. As Leela (Katey Sagal) distracts Fry with a date, the rest of Planet Express use mini-robot versions of themselves to travel through his body. When it’s revealed the worms are improving Fry’s body and mind, Leela questions if they should be removed.
This episode is an homage and parody of The Fantastic Voyage, and the animators and writers have a blast making jokes about the human body. Yet like all the best Futurama episodes, the drama makes it stand out. Fry ultimately chooses to expel the worms from his body, as he’d rather have Leela love the real him than an idealized version.
8 “The Farnsworth Parabox” — Season 4, Episode 15
IMDb score: 8.9/10
When his latest experiment almost kills him, the Professor (Billy West) places it inside a box and schedules it to be tossed into the sun. Leela is tasked with guarding it, but after flipping a coin, she takes a peek. She ends up falling into a parallel universe where coin tosses end up opposite, and the rest of Planet Express, minus Hermes (Phil LaMarr), get roped in as well.
This episode takes full advantage of its premise: the first half is about the Planet Express crew getting to know their alternate selves. Fry and Leela have the biggest revelation, as their alternate selves are dating, which helps to encourage Leela to give Fry a chance. The second half turns into a universe-hopping adventure that puts Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to shame in under four minutes.
7 “Roswell That Ends Well” — Season 3, Episode 19
IMDb Score: 9.1/10
When Fry cooks some microwave popcorn during a supernova, he accidentally sends the Planet Express ship back in time to 1947. They crash-land near Roswell, New Mexico, where Bender’s damaged body and Dr. Zoidberg (Billy West) are captured. Meanwhile, Fry takes the opportunity to meet his grandfather, Enos (Billy West).
This episode makes for a fun time travel story that allows the rest of the Planet Express crew to feel like fish out of water. The jokes range from sci-fi references to Zoidberg being interrogated by President Harry Truman. Fry’s story also goes through some fun and unexpected twists that have long-reaching consequences for the series.
6 “The Sting” — Season 4, Episode 12
IMDb Score: 9.1/10
Determined to prove their superiority to the Professor’s previous crew, Leela forces Fry and Bender to help her extract honey from deadly space bees. Leela also snags a baby queen, who attacks them and impales Fry, killing him. Overcome with grief, Leela starts seeing Fry in her dreams and begins to question what is and isn’t reality.
“The Sting” has some of Sagal’s best acting as Leela. The fear and anguish she exuberates as Leela’s reality comes crashing down around her is palpable and makes you question things as much as her. The ending is a pretty clever twist and recontextualizes a lot of earlier scenes and dialogue choices, making it perfect for a re-watch.
5 “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” — Season 4, Episode 18
IMDb Score: 9.1/10
Hoping that learning to play the holophonor will impress Leela, Fry goes with Bender to Robot Hell to make a deal with the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta). He agrees to swap Fry’s hands with a random robot, which just so happens to be himself. Fry becomes a master musician and prepares an opera for Leela, but the Robot Devil is determined to get his hands.
This is yet another episode that juggles character drama and comedy. Fry’s opera for Leela is one of his most romantic gestures and results in an unforgettable musical spectacle. Meanwhile, many of the jokes in this episode have become internet memes, most notably Zoidberg’s statement, “Your music is bad, and you should feel bad.”
4 “The Late Philip J. Fry” — Season 6, Episode 7
IMDb Score: 9.3/10
When Fry is late for work and Leela’s birthday lunch date, he promises to make it up to her by taking her to a fancy restaurant over going to a party. But first, the Professor forces him and Bender to help him test out a time machine that can only go forward. They accidentally jump forward to the year 10,000 AD and are forced to keep going forward until they can find a backwards time machine.
This episode is one of the best at balancing drama with thought-provoking science-fiction concepts. It explores Fry and Leela’s relationship and how much they mean to one another while treating audiences to an exploration of time and the fate of both Earth and the universe. It even has a hilarious parody of the song “In the Year 2525.”
3 “Meanwhile” — Season 7, Episode 26
IMDb Score: 9.4/10
After Leela is almost killed on the moon, Fry decides it’s time to propose to her. Meanwhile, the Professor has invented a device that can set the universe back ten seconds. Fry steals it and uses it to make his proposal, but due to a misunderstanding, he ends up in a loop threatening the entire universe.
“Meanwhile” was the show’s finale before its revival on Hulu, and it was a terrific one. When the device is broken, it freezes everyone except for Fry and Leela, allowing them to grow old and travel the world together. It’s a beautiful conclusion to their romance, and the episode’s ending left things open for future stories.
2 “The Luck of the Fryrish” — Season 3, Episode 4
IMDb Score: 9.4/10
After a string of bad luck, Fry decides to look for his lucky seven-leafed clover. When it’s not where he left it, Fry believes his brother, Yancy (Tom Kenny), took the clover. This is reinforced when Fry finds a statue of his brother engaged with his name, leading Fry to think that his brother stole his identity and dream of becoming an astronaut.
This episode has a powerful message about family and legacy. It is interspaced with flashbacks showing Yancy’s jealousy towards Fry and establishing aspects about their family not previously discussed. When the finale flashback happens at the end, it recontextualizes everything, resulting in one of Futurama’s most emotional moments.
1 “Jurassic Bark” — Season 4, Episode 7
IMDb Score: 9.5/10
At a museum, Fry is shocked to discover the fossilized remains of his pet dog, Seymour Asses (Frank Welker). After some protesting and dancing to “The Hustle,” he is given custody of the fossil, and the Professor says he can clone it and keep Seymour’s memories. As Fry prepares to get his pet back, Bender begins to feel jealous.
“Jurassic Bark” is a funny and touching episode, but its tragic climax is what elevates it so high on many people’s lists. When Fry learns that Seymour died at fifteen, he stops the procedure since he lived a full life without Fry. The audience then sees that this isn’t the case: Seymour never stopped waiting for Fry to come home.
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