This is a bittersweet week here at Pop Modern, looking forward at what’s to come. Tonight, the penultimate episode of on of our most beloved television shows, Futurama, will air, followed by the series finale next week. Sure, the series has seen its share of finales, but this time it’s probably for good. To honor this show, the three of us have put together a list of our personal, favorite episodes. It was a hard bunch to compile, as the show has had so many hilarious outings, but we did our best. So, without further ado, let’s get to them. And to those of you who think that this introduction lacks a certain zest or pep, I bid you a fond “Bite my shiny, metal ass.”
S7E23-“Game of Tones”: A recent episode from the latest season, “Game of Tones” almost feels like the epilogue to some of the series’ most emotional episodes. As a sonic boom-emitting ship approaches Earth, Fry realizes that he’s heard it before, so the crew’s first instinct is to have him explore his dreams and remember the source of the sound before it destroys their planet. For such a high-stakes scenario, it feels like a fairly restrained episode. There are plenty of jokes, but the main emotional focus of the story is Fry reconnecting with his parents through his dreams. As they delve deeper into his subconscious, he realizes that he can’t create what wasn’t there, and he has to leave them yet again on December 31, 1999. It’s a good episode for all the reasons Futurama is one of my favorite shows: it’s got heart, it’s genuinely funny, and it takes a science fiction premise, and makes it both plausible and dramatic. The ending of the episode brought tears to my eyes, and as Fry realizes that he can say goodbye to his mother, a chord struck in me that felt incredibly personal. It may not be the most famous episode, but it’s certainly one of my favorites.
S6E26-“Reincarnation”: The season 6 finale anthology is by far my favorite of its ilk. Each story has something to say about the characters, and the art style’s are done so true to the source material that it barely feels like Futurama. In the “Steamboat Willie”-esque segement, Fry blows up a dimondium comet to prove his love to Leela, which was the main emotional through-line of season 6. In the 8-bit video games segment, the Professor essentially “wins” science, and realizes how little there is to life when there’s nothing left to discover. This gets at the heart of Futurama‘s ethos, and takes the humor and nostalgia of gaming to represent something larger. In the final segment, the gang fights off aliens with dancing, and the style is based on Japanese anime. This one doesn’t work as well comedically, but the final scene where the aliens approach the Earth in descending rows ala Space Invaders is truly memorable.
S3E04-“Luck of the Fryrish”: My final choice was between this and the classic “Jurassic Bark” episode. Both come from the “emotional payoff first, jokes later” era of the series, but they’re both done extremely well. In this episode, we learn what Fry’s family did after he was cryogenically frozen, and how Fry and his older brother Yancy the copycat. What starts as Fry remembering how annoying Yancy was ends with him digging up his brother’s grave and realizing that there was a lot of love between them, and he truly regrets not being able to see his brother again. For a show about time-travelling pizza delivery and crazy future stuff, a lot of the best episodes just hit so close to home, and show just how much Groening and co. care about this world that they created.
S3E20-“Godfellas”: The plot to this episode was relatively simple. Bender gets stuck in space, and becomes the god of a race of tiny people. The real highlight here is the tone of understanding that the show demonstrates. Rather than condoning or condemning religion, it opted for an encompassing view of the difficulties of power and of raising children. By interfering with the race of tiny people, Bender had altered their environment to an unlivable state. This episode impressed me in particular because of the how tactful it was. Not only had it brought up the issue of God, but brought it up in a thoughtful, tactful way. An impressive feat for a character whose catchphrase is “Bite my shiny metal ass”.
S6E10-“The Prisoner of Benda”: This particular episode is my favorite for non-obvious reasons. The plot involves a duke and a series of disputes between Fry and Leela. That part isn’t important. What is important is the fact that the Professor has created a body-switching machine. The machine will not allow people to directly reverse a body-switch, but anybody can inhabit itself twice. The problem is solved in the episode by the legendary geniuses, the Harlem Globe Trotters. However, in real life, the problem was solved by a PhD mathematician who wanted to teach math in a fun context. The proof for this previously unsolved problem was the first ever introduced to television, making Futurama a truly ground-breaking show.
S4E07-“Jurassic Bark”: Easily the most heart-wrenching episode, Jurassic Bark showcases emotion in a re-examination of Fry’s life. The episode starts when the crew discovers Seymour, Fry’s old dog. While we were originally given an impression of Fry’s life that showed no reason for him to stay in the past, Seymour the dog challenges that assumption. The episode shows their life together, and all of the fun times that Fry had back in the 20th century, linked to the dog. At the end, Fry mentions that he thinks the dog forgot him, but the montage of the dog waiting for his boy was heartbreaking, and showcased a depth of emotion that had yet to be explored.
S3E01-“Amazon Women in the Mood”: The infamous “snoo-snoo” episode, this is one of those Futurama outings that doesn’t have the kind of emotional heft of a “Jurassic Bark” or a “Luck of the Fryrish,” but more than compensates for that with the strength of its jokes. The genius of Futurama as a show is its ability to support a breakneck rate of jokes per minute, and this particular episode is the pinnacle of that. It features strong character moments across the board (Zoidberg’s whole side-adventure of looking for a new shell after his decision of “So I molted, why not?” is great flavor), as well as great cultural jokes. The idea of going to an Amazon planet lets the show play with gender stereotypes, allowing it to make fun of women’s basketball while also, almost paradoxically, giving Leela and Amy a chance to shine. There are also several strong visual comedy moments, from the skeletons with shattered pelvises to the long shot of the men’s facials expressions repeatedly changing when they learn of their punishment. On top of that, this episode features my two favorite lines from one of my favorite characters, Zap Brannigan: “I find the most erotic part of a woman is the boobies.” and “She’s built like a steakhouse, but she handles like a bistro.” Really, a dozen people could watch this episode and walk away with two dozen different favorite jokes, that’s how dense it is.
S3E19-“Roswell That Ends Well”: I picked this episode to showcase the “sci-” half of Futurama‘s absurd, sci-fi world. “Roswell That Ends Well” begins with the Planet Express crew watching a star collapse, and the “red” radiation it emits interacts with the “blue” radiation created when Fry puts some popcorn in the microwave, opening a wormhole and sending the ship back to 1947. What I love is how unapologetic this show is about its twisting of science, basically saying “screw it, we wanted to make some jokes” with complete disregard for logic. It’s this flippant attitude towards the laws of physics that ends up creating one of the most memorable episodes of Futurama. From the Professor and Leela trying to be covert in a malt shop with their apocryphal slang, to the military running tests on Dr. Zoidberg, to Fry accidentally getting his grandfather killed in a nuclear blast and then having sex with his own grandmother, this episode puts the characters in hilarious, insane situations that no other show on television could reproduce.
S4E18-“The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”: This is my personal favorite episode of Futurama, and I suspect I chose it for the same reason that many people would pick “Jurassic Bark” or “Luck of the Fryrish”: it’s a perfect blend of comedy and heart. The story revolves around Fry trading hands with the Robot Devil (my all-time favorite Futurama side character) so that he can play beautiful music to win Leela’s love. Everyone’s given a chance to shine, even Hedonism Bot, who’s thrown a few choice lines throughout. The whole thing culminates in a dramatic opera, wherein the Robot Devil forces Fry to trade their hands back, and in so doing lose his musical talent and Leela’s affection. He does so begrudgingly, but Leela still sticks around and listens to the rest of Fry’s music, rudimentary as it has become. It’s a beautiful note to end on, and given that this was the first “series finale” that the show had, it’s not surprising how pitch-perfect of an episode was produced.
Lamenting the omission of your favorite episode? Lrrr didn’t get properly represented? Lost as to why we forgot Nixon’s head, or Calculon, or any of the other great side characters? Lachrymose behavior won’t get you anywhere, let yourself be heard down in our comments section. Lay into us, enlighten us with your favorite Futurama episodes.