This week, we say goodbye to the crew of Planet Express by cataloguing some of their greatest adventures.
10. War is the H-Word
Why It’s Great: The Futurama crew go to war. Right there is a pitch already ripe for a great episode. To the writers’ credit, the resulting product meets every expectation and then some. With references ranging from Patton to M*A*S*H to Starship Troopers to Stripes to Mulan, this season highlight finds the Futurama creative team firing on all cylinders.
Professor Farnsworth: “Now be careful, Fry. And if you kill anyone, make sure to eat their heart to gain their courage. Their rich, tasty courage…”
9. Hell is Other Robots
Why It’s Great: It’s strange to watch the first few episodes of Futurama. It’s obvious the show has not yet settled on its snappy pacing and some of the voices (most notably Phil LaMarr’s Hermes and Billy West’s Professor Farnsworth) are not quite solidified. Though it’s arguable as to when the series’ first truly great episode was, I always point to “Hell is Other Robots” as the quintessential example of the show’s ambition. Following an after-concert experimentation with electricity, Bender becomes a full-fledged junkie. Though he tries to turn his life around with religion, he eventually succumbs to his old ways and ends up in the clutches of the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta, in fine form). Throw in a musical number, the first appearance of Phil LaMarr as Reverend Preacherbot and a fantastic guest spot from The Beastie Boys and you have all the makings of a fan classic. Plus, let’s not forget the a capella version of “Sabotage.” Rest in peace, Adam Yauch.
Leela: “Who would’ve thought that Hell would exist – and that it would be in New Jersey?”
Fry: “Well, actually…”
8. The Sting
Why It’s Great: Probably the darkest episode that Futurama ever made, the sheer surreal visual stylings of “The Sting” have made it a somewhat polarizing entry for certain fans. Yet, even the episode’s dissenters would be hard-pressed to criticize the skill and risk-taking that went into this particular story. On a predictably dangerous mission to a bee colony, Fry is impaled by a bee’s stinger and dies. Racked with guilt over how she handled the mission, Leela begins experiencing frightening hallucinations during the day, only to be comforted by visions of Fry in her sleep. Using a jar of potent bee honey as a seditative, Leela must eventually decide if she wants to keep living her miserable life or overdose on the honey and fall asleep forever. Discerning viewers will no doubt predict the twist long before it happens, yet the team behind this episode certainly deserves praise for daring to sacrifice comedy for the sake of telling a compelling story.
Bender: “You’re screwier than my Aunt Rita, and she’s a screw.”
7. The Why of Fry
Why It’s Great: A follow-up to the fantastic “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” “The Why of Fry” proved to be a game-changer in the Futurama-verse, revealing a previously unforeseen element in Fry’s “accidental” freezing. Indeed, it’s truly incredible how much mythology and story the show’s writers and directors were able to cram into a sparse 21-minute episode. On a date with a hopelessly pompous Mayor’s aide, Leela tasks Fry with walking Nibbler. Dismayed over Leela’s continual rejection of him, Fry is nevertheless blown away when Nibbler reveals his true identity and brings him to the Nibblonian planet. Here, Fry is debriefed on the new activities of the Brains from “Day the Earth Stood Stupid” and how it is now up to him and him alone to stop their reign forever. Such a summary is but the tip of the iceberg. Yet, as with the best Futurama episodes, all the insanity and world-building is anchored by Fry’s emotionally fraught feelings for Leela.
Ken: You are the last hope of the universe.
Fry: So I really am important? How I feel when I’m drunk is correct?
Ken: Yes—except the Dave Matthews Band doesn’t rock.
6. Bender’s Big Score
Why It’s Great:
Futurma marked its return with four made-for-DVD movies released from late 2007 to early 2009. Each film was later re-broadcast as four episode arcs on Comedy Central. The results were a mixed bag, with the majority of the films feeling like little more than a few random episodes with the thinnest of premises connecting them. Bender’s Big Score was the major exception. In a plotline too intricate to properly summarize, Planet Express ends up being taken over by a trio of sleazeball, nudist aliens. Using a sequence of numbers inexplicably welded on Fry’s behind, the aliens order a corrupted Bender to travel back in time and steal valuable items from history. The plot goes in many different directions from here; however, just as you think something is becoming a random tangent, its place in the larger picture soon becomes clear. Indeed, despite all the complications, the episode wraps up beautifully with a highly emotional story that deepens the relationship between Fry and Leela.
Leela: “What’s the secret of time travel doing on Fry’s ass?”
Fry: “It was bound to be somewhere!”
5. The Late Philip J. Fry
Why It’s Great: Upon its revival in 2010, many feared that Futurama would undergo the same lapse in quality that afflicted a similarly resurrected program like Family Guy. And while the first few episodes proved to be a tad shaky, the series soon justified its return with a string of fantastic episodes. Perhaps the capstone of the season was “The Late Philip J. Fry,” another time-travel story with an emotional bent (you can probably see a pattern here). The episode begins with Fry promising to join Leela for a birthday dinner date—an attempt to make up for his multiple instances of tardiness. In typical Futurama fashion, Fry’s determination to make the dinner on-time goes astronomically wrong when he is forced by Professor Farnsworth and Bender to test out their new time machine. After a predictable mishap, the three end up traveling to the year 10,000 AD. With no way of traveling backwards in time, the trio’s only option is to keep traveling forward in time until they reach a point in history where a backwards time machine has been invented. The episode’s brilliance concerns not only how each time period is creatively conceived and designed but how the writers depict the power and strength of Fry and Leela’s bond. The two’s relationship provides the show with its heart and, in the whole of the series, few stories tested that bond quite like this standout episode.
Professor Farnsworth: “Just slow it down. I’ll just shoot Hitler out the window.
[shoots] Darn! I hit Eleanor Roosevelt by mistake.”
4. The Luck of the Fryrish
Why It’s Great: As previously mentioned, Futurama is renowned (some might say notorious) for tapping an otherwise hilarious episode with a stinger that is emotionally charged enough to bring a grown man to tears. “The Luck of the Fryrish” stands as one of the prime examples of this tendency. Alternating between various moments of Fry’s childhood as well as his time in the present (i.e. the future), the episode paints a poignant picture of Fry’s complex relationship with his brother Yancy. Perturbed by his recent string of bad luck, Fry decides to seek out the seven-leaf clover that gave him an abundance of good luck in his past life. Finding the clover missing from his hiding spot, Fry becomes convinced that not only did Yancy steal the clover (flashbacks confirm that Yancy was envious of Fry’s luck) but that he used the clover’s powers to achieve great feats in his life (including winning a billion dollars, becoming the first man on Mars and fronting a successful rock band). Only when Fry seeks out Yancy’s grave does he realize the truth is not necessarily what he envisioned. More than any episode that came before it, “Luck of the Fryrish” showed that—beneath the show’s sharp satire and occasional callous humor—it was a program with a huge heart.
Fry: “That clover helped my rat-faced brother steal my dream of going into space. Now I’ll never get there.”
Leela: “You went there this morning for doughnuts.”
3. Jurassic Bark
Why It’s Great: Oh man, this episode. Hands-down the most infamous in Futurama’s history, the mere mention of the episode’s title is enough to send any fan barreling into a corner to collect themselves. The impetus of the episode concerns Fry finding the remains of his old dog Seymour. When Professor Farnsworth brings up the concept of resurrecting the dog, Fry is on cloud nine. This, naturally, drives Bender into a fit of jealousy and the robot begins hatching plans to sabatoge Fry’s reunion. Simultaneously, we are shown flashbacks to Fry’s life in the late ’90s and how he formed a bond with the dog. According to head writer David X. Cohen, the episode’s devastating ending was polarizing even among the staff, citing that his assistant was “literally mad at me for about a month.” Love it or hate it, one cannot deny that it’s one of the most powerful endings to an TV episode you’re likely to ever see.
Fry: “Wow. They discovered an intact 20th century pizzeria. Just like the one I used to work at.”
Bender: “Interesting. No, wait—the other thing…Tedious.”
2. The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings
Why It’s Great: The fourth season of Futurama would prove to be the show’s last before its cancellation in 2003. Of course, the show would eventually return four years later, but—in the years prior—“The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” would serve as the series’ de facto series finale. And what a finale it was. Hoping to capture Leela’s affections through music, Fry has taken to teaching himself the Holophonor, a instrument whose music produces visual projections. Fry being Fry, he’s failing miserably. And so, Fry travels to Robot Hell where he strikes an agreement with the Robot Devil. Shockingly, Fry gets off with a great deal, securing the Robot Devil’s dexterous hands. Not one to be short-changed, the Robot Devil plots to sabtagoce Fry’s happiness as the whole episode culminates in a extravagant, hilariously realized opera parody. Had this truly been the last viewers ever saw of the Planet Express crew, the episode would have been a more-than-fitting conclusion. To this day, the final image of a crudely drawn Fry and Leela walking hand-in-hand into the sunset remains perhaps one of the most heartwarming images in television history.
Professor Farnsworth: [singing] “I can’t believe the devil is so unforgiving.”
Dr. Zoidberg: [singing] “I can’t believe everybody’s just ad-libbing!”
1. Roswell That Ends Well
Why It’s Great: A lot gets written (including in this list) about how Futurama manages to balance humor with heart-breaking dramatic situations. Yet, perhaps none of the show’s more emotional content would hit quite as hard if there weren’t hilarious episodes like “Roswell That Ends Well” to work from. The episode is not likely to instigate any tears (unless you count tears of laughter), but what it does do is offer a jam-packed 21-minute summary on everything the show excels at. Hilarious, inventive, boundary-pushing, hilarious, intelligent and geek-friendly (did I mention gut-busting hilarious?) Upon observing an exploding supernova, the Planet Express crew becomes caught up in a time loop that transports them back to 1947 Roswell, New Mexico—the year and location of a long-rumored alien sighting. This being Futurama, it’s not long before everyone finds themselves in hot water. Bender’s body is shattered into pieces, Zoidberg is captured and experimented on by the military and Fry interacts with his future grandparents and subsequently endangers his existence. Many of the show’s writers and creative personnel mark this as one of their favorite episodes of all time. Given the standard by which the Futurama team holds themselves to, that definitely says something about this episode’s merits.
Leela: “Well, settle in. Without a microwave, we’re trapped in this time period.”
Professor Farnsworth: “Oh Lord! We’ll have to endure the horrible music of the Big Bopper and then the terrible tragedy of his death!”