Here are some depressing figures: It’s been slightly more than 19 years since Futurama premiered on Fox in March 1999, and it’s been slightly under 15 years since Futurama first ended in August 2003. To make matters worse, it’s honest-to-goodness been a whole decade since Futurama returned, this time on Comedy Central, in March 2008. And it’s been just shy of five years since Futurama ended a second time in September 2013.
Much has changed in those years, both on television and in the world around it. We have iPhones now, solar energy is much more affordable and Facebook’s almost done destroying human civilization. There aren’t flying cars or suicide booths quite yet, but The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live are still going strong, depending on what you mean by “strong,” and thanks to this golden age of television, some of the most interesting shows right now are science fiction—even if the sci-fi comedy offerings are fairly slim. For all the pleasures of, say, Rick and Morty and The Venture Bros., there’s still nothing quite on par with the sublime pleasures of vintage Futurama.
Fortunately those pleasures are just a few clicks away, as Futurama is currently streaming on Hulu. We highly recommend watching all of it, but if you’re pressed for time—or if you’ve got a free couple days ahead of you—here are our picks for the series’ best 50 episodes. Because Futurama did not air in the order it was produced, we’ve classified these episodes by their broadcast numbers (as opposed to their production numbers), since that’s what Hulu uses. If Netflix ever snatches Futurama back and orders it differently, well, our apologies to the intern who’ll have to edit this. Also, we’ve counted each of the movies as a single episode instead of three episodes, because we can. Happy watching.
Faced with the difficult task of following up on yet another of Futurama’s many finales, the opening of season six handles it with aplomb, immediately killing off almost every character and forcing Farnsworth to “birth” them again with disgusting specificity. —Graham Techler
Zoidberg’s status as Futurama’s funniest character often prevents him from getting a particularly personal treatment. Not so in “The Tip of the Zoidberg,” a flashback episode that filters Zoidberg’s past experiences with Farnsworth through his own reliably bizarre lens. —Graham Techler
This breathlessly funny outing also advances the unlikely and reliably entertaining romance between Amy and Kif, two characters otherwise used mostly as daffy comic relief. —Graham Techler
Never content to play within a single genre, Futurama here melds a traditional superhero story with a more grounded exploration of Leela’s relationship with her mutant parents. This is also the one where the Professor says, “Bad news, nobody!” —Seth Simons
Futurama tackled its fair share of contemporary-issues-but-with-robots, but rarely more successfully than in this riff on Creationism that rapidly escalates a relatively simple nanobot premise into total chaos. —Graham Techler
Not the best Futurama heartbreaker (we’ll get to that), but not far behind. Nominally a Bender episode—wherein he tries to confront the inspector who overlooked a defect that renders him mortal—ends up providing more insight into Hermes, with tear-jerking results. —Graham Techler
While fan reactions to the four movies that make up Season Five were, admittedly, mixed, “Bender’s Big Score” sticks the landing by honing in on the relationship between Bender and Fry. —Graham Techler
What to say about “Game of Tones,” the episode that sends Fry Inception-style into a dream-reunion with his mother? It’s sad—real sad. But at least ends on a happy note (here’s looking at you, “Jurassic Bark”), allowing us the same closure it finally gives Fry. Futurama rarely turns on the waterworks, but when it does… —Seth Simons
In the midst of a search for Bigfoot, Fry gets kidnapped by aliens who harvest his aphrodisiac “human horn,” i.e. his nose. When he goes to retrieve it from the Omicronians, Bender talks them into taking his “lower horn” instead. Along the way they stop at a bustling alien bazaar, Leela sings “I Will Always Love You” and two hideous alien monsters find love again. As episode-length dick jokes go, this one’s the gold standard. —Seth Simons
A muddled commentary on political correctness in television, to be sure, “Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV” is a fine showcase for Bender’s terrible acting talents, as well as two of Futurama’s most under-appreciated characters, Cubert Farnsworth and Dwight Conrad. —Seth Simons
It’s hard to imagine another show that would see a Valentine’s Day episode as an opportunity to do an extended 2001 parody, as Bender falls in love with the Planet Express ship’s updated AI. —Graham Techler
Two charming stories about fatherhood converge as Cubert and Dwight start a delivery company to compete with Hubert and Hermes, who must ultimately come to their rescue. Meanwhile Bender brews his own beer-baby, Benderbraü, which he whips out to salve the conflict between the Planet Express gentlemen and a terrifying blob alien. Real heartwarming stuff, up until the alien’s son eats Cubert and Dwight. —Seth Simons
The first effort from stalwart (and well-represented on this list) writer J. Stewart Burns sees Fry accidentally drinking the emperor of the planet Trisol, populated by sentient liquid. —Graham Techler
When Fry learns that the 93 cents in his 20th century bank account has grown to a cool 4.3 billion, he spends his newfound wealth surrounding himself with relics of his old life. This includes a can of now-extinct anchovies he buys in an auction, outbidding Mom, who retaliates by stealing his riches. If you, like me, ever find yourself muttering “My secret PIN number!” whenever you type your PIN number, you’ve got “A Fishful of Dollars” to thank. —Seth Simons
So basically there’s a comet-sized ball of garbage on a collision course with Earth, thanks to our wasteful ways here in the modern day. After the Planet Express crew fails to blow it up, humanity must turn to garbage to save itself from garbage. More than any other episode in season one—“Love’s Labours Lost in Space” being a close second—“A Big Piece of Garbage” establishes the environmentalist point of view that would come to distinguish Futurama from its peers. —Seth Simons
Later seasons may have lost interest in the bit where Professor Farnsworth is, you know, an actual professor, but we’ll always have “Mars University”: the touching story of Guenter, a monkey given human intelligence thanks to a hat invented by Farnsworth, who uses that intelligence to feud with Fry. Meanwhile in the B-plot, Bender and the robot fraternity do “Animal House.” —Seth Simons
Featuring Sarah Silverman as Michelle, Fry’s ex-girlfriend, and a wonderful gag wherein a apocalyptic future New York ends up being Los Angeles in the present, “The Cryonic Woman” does what Futurama does best: infusing classic sitcom tropes with an impossibly fresh energy. —Graham Techler
Futurama’s take on Titanic makes a few choice emendations to its source material, namely a love triangle storyline where Amy tells her parents she’s dating Fry, while Leela tells Zapp Brannigan she’s dating Fry, and hijinks ensue. Meanwhile Bender falls for a robot aristocrat whom he later, uh, drops into a black hole. It’s a fine bit of world (universe?) building early in the series that also marks the beginning of Amy and Kiff’s long, stuttering romance. Plus it has this line from Kiff: “Sir, remember your course correction? Well, it’s proving somewhat more suicidal than we had initially hoped.” —Seth Simons
While having Nibbler be responsible for Fry’s cryogenic slumber may seem like a retcon, his shadow can be seen in the pilot—one of many ways in which this episode brilliantly ties itself into a larger Futurama continuity. —Graham Techler
Like other episodes on this list, “I, Roommate” finds the perfect marriage between a relatable, grounded story and what Jerry Smith would call “high-concept sci-fi rigamarole.” On the relatable side, two friends are looking for an apartment; on the rigamarole side, one friend is a robot who already lives in a closet and the apartments they view include one that’s underwater and another that’s built like an M.C. Escher painting. It’s a concise, funny preview of the series to come. —Seth Simons
There is much to love about the gang’s journey to the sunken city of Atlanta, where Fry falls in love with a Mermaid and Hermes loses—then finds—his Manwich, but this episode earned its place in my heart with just a few short lines of dialogue:
Leela: I’m afraid Fry is suffering from ocean madness.
Fry: Every time something good happens to me you say it’s some kind of madness, or I’m drunk, or I ate too much candy. Well, I saw a real mermaid. And I wish just once my friends would have the decency and kindness to believe me.
[whispering to Professor Farnsworth] Ocean madness.
[Fry storms out.]
Professor Farnsworth: He may have ocean madness, but that’s no excuse for ocean rudeness.
Fry buys an egg salad sandwich at a gas station and yada yada a civilization of worms takes up residence in his various organs. The worms make him smarter, which makes him more attractive to Leela, which leads to quite the moral dilemma for poor Fry. While Futurama had a bad habit of leaning too heavily on the Fry/Leela romance, “Parasites Lost,” which enlists most of the ensemble in an adventure deep into worm-land, strikes the perfect balance between rom-com and sci-fi romp-com. —Seth Simons
And indeed it had. Futurama’s second episode is character overkill, introducing Zoidberg, Amy and Hermes without giving any of them short shrift. It also solidified one of Futurama’s primary thematic exercises: subverting Fry’s expectations of what the future should look like. —Graham Techler
Not only a great head-in-a-jar episode, “Crimes of the Hot” ties it’s global warming A-plot to a B-plot featuring Bender saving a turtle in one of the show’s more acrobatic narrative coups. —Graham Techler
This introductory episode for Leela’s absent parents is yet another example of how Futurama can wreck us with a final montage, revealing how they have watched over and taken care of her throughout her entire life. —Graham Techler
One of my favorite things about Futurama is how gleefully and relentlessly it trounces Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and through them, American imperialism. The ever-present military is an important part of this, but more important is its total incompetence in the form of Zapp Brannigan. In “War Is the H-Word,” these three characters conspire to destroy a planet of, well, brain-balls, for no apparent reason. Having just enlisted for the military discount, Fry and Bender—and then Leela, who enlists to challenge the army’s men-only policy—are sent to the front lines, where Fry ends up as Kiff’s assistant and Bender ends up negotiating the balls’ surrender. But victory comes, of course, at a terrible cost… —Seth Simons
This episode has much to love: the Willy Wonka parody, the Grunka Lunkas, the Slurm Queen’s plot to turn Leela into another Slurm Queen, market her Slurm as New Slurm and then pivot back to Slurm Classic when everyone hates it, and of course Slurms MacKenzie. What I love most about “Fry and the Slurm Factory,” however, is that stupid little bit where Fry keeps ravenously drinking Slurm after he discovers how it’s made. Also this line: “This is nothing. Back in high school, I used to drink one hundred cans of cola a week, right up until my third heart attack.” —Seth Simons
It’s a tale as old as time: Delivery crew discovers a delicious snack on an alien planet, delivery crew starts a highly profitable fast food chain to sell the snack, delivery crew discovers the snack is actually alien larvae, delivery crew faces off with demented alien ruler (Lrrr, of the planet Omicron Persei 8), alien ruler eats a hippie and gets totally baked. Like many of the show’s other environmentalist storylines, “The Problem with Popplers” gets its message across without ever sacrificing the comedy; it also marks the first time we learn Leela’s first name, Turanga. Turanga Leela. —Seth Simons
In the crew’s second go at the What-If Machine, Bender finds out what life would be like if he were human, Fry lives out his video game fantasies, and Leela does The Wizard of Oz. A pleasant departure from the series’ norm, this episode also contains the hall-of-fame Fry/Professor Farnsworth exchange, “I know that monkey—his name is Donkey.” “Monkeys aren’t donkeys. Quit messing with my head!” —Seth Simons
One of the funniest running gags in all of Futurama, right up there with Bender saying he’s some huge percentage of this or that mineral, is that Richard Nixon is president. It’s maybe a little sad to think about—that “President Nixon” was the absurd extreme a bunch of comedy writers came up with in the late 90s, as George Bush was running for office—but let the election of 3000, won by a single vote, be a lesson to all of us here in 2018. (The lesson is, vote.) —Seth Simons
As classic a Bender episode as a Bender episode can be, “Bender Gets Made” finds B. B. Rodriguez joining the robot mafia under the pseudonym Blotto, a career move that puts him in inevitable conflict with Fry and Leela when the mob hijacks a shipment of Zuban cigars. Bender’s scheme to conceal his role in the heist involves blindfolds, a Ferris Bueller-esque loop of him acting sick, and a delightfully upper-crust accent. Also noteworthy is when the Planet Express ship damages the Planet Express building’s roof on takeoff, leading Hermes to tell Zoidberg: “That’s coming out of your pay!” —Seth Simons
It only took 24 episodes to get the Hermes episode Hermes deserves, a redemption story full of twists, turns, plenty of bureaucratic red tape, a spa planet that turns out to be a forced labor camp, the Australian man enslaved in that forced labor camp (who later returned in “A Pharaoh to Remember), and one of Futurama’s signature musical numbers. —Seth Simons
One of two excellent episodes centered around flying space brains, not to be confused with bouncing space balls, “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid” finds Nibbler, having just won “Dumbest in Show” in a pet competition, revealing his true intelligence to Leela when Earth is threatened by the Brain Spawn, which turn everyone dumb—except for Fry, who’s missing a crucial brainwave thanks to the bit where he became his own grandfather. With Leela’s (sort of) help, Fry tricks the brains into leaving “for no raisin,” though of course they will cross paths again before long. —Seth Simons
The crew’s scheme to “youthasize” Professor Farnsworth backfires when they all get youthasized, and backfires again when the Professor’s treatment causes them to grow younger every second. Once again, an absurd premise becomes the backdrop an exploration of Leela’s relationship with her parents, giving her the adolescence she never had—and which she ends up leaving behind to save her friends. —Seth Simons
In a callback to Futurama’s very first episode, the Planet Express crew embarks on the very mission that killed their predecessors, a mission to a gigantic space hive filled with space bees who produce valuable space honey. Alas, Leela’s hubris gets the best of her, and tragedy ensues—or rather, it unfolds, deftly and painfully, in one of the series most inspired angles into Fry and Leela’s love story. “He’s walking on sunshine now…” —Seth Simons
While, on paper, a perfunctory companion to The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, the first of Futurama’s Anthology episodes doubles down on it’s own inventiveness by presenting a variety of scenarios from Farnsworth’s “What-If” machine. —Graham Techler
The only thing better than a Bender episode is a two-Bender episode, which roughly describes “The Lesser of Two Evils.” When the crew runs into—or rather, over—Flexo, a goateed bending unit, the Professor enlists him as extra security during the delivery of a highly valuable atom. Fry quickly suspects Flexo is the evil Bender, only to discover that Bender is in fact the evil Bender. Notable lines include Bender shouting that he got “ass whiplash” in the car crash and the exquisite “First Bender, then Flexo, then Fry” exchange. —Seth Simons
After Zapp Brannigan conquers the Spiderians of Tarantulon 6, seizing one trillion dollars in treasure, President Nixon redistributes the spoils to Earth’s citizens in the form of one $300 “Tricky Dick Fun Bill” apiece. The episode juggles something like five storylines as each character spends the surplus on their various whims, ultimately converging in a magnificent, beautifully animated climax. “Alright, closure!” —Seth Simons
In the episode that started it all, our hapless hero gets dumped, gets frozen, wakes up one thousand years in the future, meets Leela, meets Bender, meets the Professor, and finally gets the job he was destined for: delivery boy. Other highlights includes the first appearance of a Suicide Booth, the “probulator,” and our introduction to the head museum. —Seth Simons
Many will love the Planet Express crew’s team-up with the Harlem Globetrotters for its time-twisting take on the Fry/Leela will-they-won’t-they, but this episode is so much more than that: It’s also about mutant basketball players and Bender’s heartbreaking quest to join a goofy performance art basketball team. —Seth Simons
Easily one of Futurama’s most satisfying sci-fi premises, “The Late Philip J Fry” uses a time machine that only goes forward to set up an all-time great sci-fi twist. Also, the Professor accidentally kills Eleanor Roosevelt instead of Hitler. —Graham Techler
In a charmingly show-off episode reminiscent of “The Farnsworth Parabox,” writer Ken Keeler used his PhD in mathematics to pen his own theorem using group theory—exploring and proving the idea by having the Planet Express crew constantly switch minds. Mathematicians now refer to it as the “Futurama Theorem.” I have no idea how it works. —Graham Techler
Futurama’s quasi-Star Trek crossover, featuring members of the original Star Trek cast, glides on the strength of its enthusiastic references to the source material and some choice new bits it invents along the way. I refer, of course, to Welshy. —Seth Simons
Futurama’s reputation as a comedy show you need a PhD to understand is a real disservice to its actual accessibility. No episode shows off the writers’ ability to filter their considerable ingenuity through an everyman perspective than this narrative experiment with a host of parallel universes. —Graham Techler
Exploring Fry’s pre-cryogenic suspension with achingly sincere detail, “The Luck of the Fryrish” explores the consequences of Fry’s disappearance on his family as well as his own resentment for the life he feels was stolen from him. —Graham Techler
A few highlights from the classic episode where That Guy, a guy frozen since the 80s, takes over Planet Express and tries to sell it to MomCorp: Fry and Zoidberg go to a Bot Mitzvah looking for free food, but Zoidberg isn’t allowed in because shellfish aren’t kosher; Scruffy has 40,000 shares in Planet Express stock, apparently; “Don’t you worry about blank, let me worry about blank”; and who could forget: “My only regret… is that I have… boneitis.” —Seth Simons
The series finale of Futurama’s original run is an expertly plotted masterwork, weaving the show’s strongest character threads—Fry’s musical ambitions, his and Leela’s romance, the constant tension between Bender’s love of self and love of his friends, Hedonism Bot—into a surprising, touching story. “Please don’t stop playing, Fry—I want to hear how it ends.” —Seth Simons
The big one. The one that will make you cry no matter what. Fry’s misguided attempt to clone his old dog leads to a silent, devastating epilogue. It’s both the blueprint for and best example of a Futurama episode that plays you like a fiddle, Pixar-style. —Graham Techler
“Focuuus!” When a jiffy-pop incident inadvertently causes the Planet Express to travel back in time—kick off the Roswell U.F.O. incident in 1941—we are treated to an Emmy-winning, horrifying spin on Back to the Future, and the series at its absolute peak. —Graham Techler
At its best, Futurama was more than just the sum of its parts: not just a funny show about the future, nor simply a metaphor for contemporary anxieties, but a wildly imaginative, visually arresting parable for how to live in any age. Its characters are silly yet full of depth, its situations high-concept but still, somehow, familiar. “Godfellas,” which turns Bender into a god before putting him face-to-face with God, and which sends Fry to the ends of the earth in search of his best friend, exemplifies this better than any episode in the series. It’s gorgeous (that god-galaxy!), extremely funny (“You were doing well, until everyone died”) and surprisingly moving: Rarely do we see Bender suffer the consequences of his actions as viscerally as when the dueling Shrimpkin societies on his front and back nuke each other into kingdom come. “You can’t count on God for jack,” indeed. —Seth Simons
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.