20 Best Episodes of Futurama
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For any television fan, 2013 has been both a blessing and a curse.
Indeed, for all the excitement surrounding this year’s crop of televisions shows, whether it be fantastic new programs like Hannibal, Orphan Black and The Americans or returning favorites such as Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation and The Walking Dead, one cannot deny that 2013 has also been a year of emotional goodbyes.
January alone brought the conclusion of the cult, sci-fi program Fringe as well as the curtain call for NBC’s award-winning comedy 30 Rock. The Office, Happy Endings, Southland and Gossip Girl (if you’re into that) followed suit. Furthermore, after September, we’ll be living in a TV world devoid of Dexter and Breaking Bad.
This week, TV fans will bid adieu to a show that has endured its fair share of road bumps: Matt Groening and David X. Cohen’s sci-fi/comedy extravaganza, Futurama. Having originally aired for four seasons on Fox, Futurama was taken off the schedule in the wake of its low ratings. Years later, booming DVD sales and a syndication on Adult Swim convinced the network to order four films as an official fifth season. Soon, the show was picked up by Comedy Central in 2010 and new episodes were ordered. Earlier this year, however, Comedy Central announced that it would not be renewing the series.
While the show has survived cancellation before and may do so again, head writer David X. Cohen claims the staff has written Wednesday’s episode to serve as an official series finale. Thus ends a show that, while only a moderate success ratings-wise, boasted a legion of devoted fans as well as some of the smartest, most creative comedy writers in the business.
Today, we say goodbye to the crew of Planet Express by cataloguing some of their greatest adventures.
20. Love and Rocket
Why It’s Great: Being that the Futurama writers are all massive sci-fi fans, it was only a matter of time before they built up to an extended 2001: A Space Odyssey homage. That the HAL figure would turn out to be a heart-broken Planet Express ship scorned by Bender’s rejection—well, that’s the kind of inventiveness we’ve learned to expect from Futurama. That the ship in question is voiced by Sigourney Weaver? Icing on the friggin’ cake.
Lrrr: [watching Friends] “This is ancient Earth’s most foolish program. Why does Ross, the largest friend, not simply eat the other five?”
Nd-Nd: “Perhaps they are saving that for sweeps.”
Why It’s Great: Much like The Simpsons’ annual “Treehouse of Horror” specials, Futurama developed its own anthology series—albeit without the restrictive Halloween theme. One of the shining beacons of this experiment—especially for animation fans—was this season finale. The episode envisions the show as three different animation styles—a 1930s Fleischer-influenced cartoon, an 8-bit video game, and an action-packed anime adventure. The episode is made all the funnier by how perfectly each segment appropriates the three aesthetics. It’s an episode made with one eye on hilarious satire and one eye on loving homage.
Professor Farnsworth: “How do you people do it? How do you go on knowing there’s nothing more to know?”
Fry: “I watch TV. It’s the next best thing to being alive.”
18. Parasites Lost
Why It’s Great:Fry’s unfortunate choice of a gas station snack turns out to be quite the fortunate selection when a group of space worms invade his body and begin changing him. Suddenly, Fry becomes stronger, smarter and infinitely more appealing to Leela. Naturally, as the Professor and the rest of Planet Express infiltrate his body to destroy the worms, Fry wonders if Leela loves him as a person or only what the worms have done to him. A ridiculously absurd episode with a surprisingly touching conclusion, “Parasites Lost” set up Fry’s determination to learn the Holophonor, an ambition that would come into play later in the season.
Professor Farnsworth: "Your suits will let you experience Fry’s worm-infested bowels as if you were actually wriggling through them.”
Dr. Zoidberg: “There’s no part of that sentence I didn’t like.”
17. Fry and the Slurm Factory
Why It’s Great: Watching Futurama parody a popular property is always a joy to behold. As indicated by its name, “Fry and the Slurm Factory” takes on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” only instead of “chocolate” we have a disgusting, yet highly addictive soda. The first part of the episode hits all the familiar beats from the Gene Wilder film (including a highly amusing Umpa Lumpa spoof), while the latter half has the Planet Express gang discovering the nefarious operations concerning the Slurm manufacturing as well as the top secret ingredient that makes the drink so delicious. And, yeah, it ain’t pretty.
Leela: “I’ve never seen anyone so addicted to Slurm ”
Fry: “This is nothing. Back in high school, I use to drink 100 cans of cola a week. Right up until my third heart attack.”
16. The Prisoner of Benda
Why It’s Great: Brain-swap episodes are a cornerstone of any sci-fi program. It’s a chance to shake things up and have established characters cut loose from their traditional characterizations. “The Prisoner of Benda” takes this notion and, in the words of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, cranks it to 11. The situation starts when Professor Farnsworth and Amy decide to switch bodies as part of a mutually beneficial agreement. Farnsworth will get to relive his youth and Amy will get to pig out on food to her heart’s content. This one swap starts a chain reaction that results in the entire Planet Express crew—even Scruffy’s talking wash bucket—exchanging minds. Needless to say, it makes for some awkward pairings. What’s perhaps more impressive than the ensuing plot mechanics is how the episode’s writer Ken Keeler, who holds a PhD in mathematics, actually created a mathematical theorem to explain the episode’s resolution. For those curious math nerds, you can find information about said theorem here.
Hermes: [as he watches Amy eat in Leela’s body] “Sweet orca of Majorca! You make Fat Albert look like Regular Albert!”
15. Leela’s Homeworld
Why It’s Great: Talk about working the long con. It took almost three years into the series run before Leela finally discovered her true origins. Based on a mysterious note left with her as a baby, Leela had always assumed she was from a different world. Finally, due to an industrial accident caused by Bender, Leela travels down to the New New York City’s sewers where she discovers someone has been watching her grow up. Determined to unearth the mystery, Leela ends up locating her long-lost parents. In a Futurama grand tradition of adding a heart-wrenching, emotional codas to the end of special episodes, we see in a montage how Leela’s parents have actually been there for her over the years, watching her grow up from a distance.
Leela: “I’m sorry you had to see that, Fry. Usually I keep my sadness pent up inside where it can fester quietly as a mental illness.”
Fry: “Yeah. That’s what I do with my stupidness.”
14. The Problem with Popplers
Why It’s Great: Starting from the very beginning, the Futurama writers loved to skewer the tenants of corporate greed and Big Business. One of their most hilarious contributions was this episode, which has the Planet Express gang stumbling upon a planet ripe with delicious and seemingly inert animal-life. Bringing a batch back home, the company sells the items (which they dub “Popplers”) to a fast-food chain and Popplers become a hit. When Leela discovers that the Popplers are, in fact, the larvae of the Omicronian race, she quckly attempts to dismantle the food empire she helped create. Featuring one of the most memorable appearances from the alien warlord Lrrr (of the planet Omicron Persei 8), “The Problem with Popplers” remains perhaps one of the most flat-out hilarious episodes that the series has produced thus far.
Professor Farnsworth: [to protesters] “Hey! Unless this is a nude love-in, get the hell off my property!”
13. Time Keeps on Slipping
Why It’s Great: Due to an ill-conceived mission concocted by Professor Farnsworth, Earth begins sporadically skipping forward in time. The comedic possibilities for such a set-up are endless and the show exploits as many of them as possible to great avail, including a two-minute period that sees Fry and Leela getting married and promptly divorcing. This event leads a despondent Fry on a mission to figure out how he won Leela’s heart in the first place. If that weren’t enough, the show introduces some of its greatest supporting players—a version of the Harlem Globetrotters who are as adept in physics as they are in humiliating rival basketball players.
Leela: “Fry, please try to understand: you’re a man, I’m a woman. We’re just too different.”
12. The Day the Earth Stood Stupid
Why It’s Great: For the most part, Futurama works as a fairly episodic program. With only a few exceptions, one could watch any episode and get the general gist of the events occurring. Of course, every now and then, the writers will throw in a reference or situation that plays out over the course of several seasons. This proved to be the case for Leela’s adorable (if very hungry) pet, Nibbler. As this episode reveals, the primitive Nibbler is actually a highly advanced, ancient being who works as part of a secret organization to protect the universe. “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid” finds Nibbler recruiting both Leela and an oblivious Fry to help fight against an invading species brains (called The Brainspawns) that suck the intelligence out of everyone they come into proximity with them. For reasons the show would explore in later seasons, only Fry is immune to their attacks. This all leads to one of the show’s best set pieces—Fry’s mental duel with the The Brainspawns’ leader across a number of great literary works. Besides being a generally hilarious half-hour, this episode seeded Nibbler as a powerful character whose influence would stretch far and wide across the show’s mythology.
“All glory to the Hypnotoad;
11. Anthology of Interest II
Why It’s Great: Choosing between the two “Anthology of Interest” episodes is next to impossible. Yet, if forced to choose purely on a ratio of laughs to chuckles, “Anthology of Interest II” is the clear winner. “I, Meatbag” envisions what would happen if Bender were to become human. Needless to say, his compulsive behavior and inability to take anything in moderation leads to some of the show’s biggest belly laughs. Similarly, for the fans of old-fashioned video games, “Raiders of the Lost Arcade” is a dream sketch come true, if only for the image of General Colin Pac-Man. “Wizzin’” is perhaps the weakest of the three installments but still manages to get some great laughs for how it subverts the traditional Wizard of Oz tale.
Dr. Zoidberg: [examining an obese Bender] “Pulse: 300. Liver: failing. Cholesterol: 40?”
Leela: “Well, that isn’t too bad.”
Dr. Zoidberg: “No, I mean 40 pounds!”