Since debuting in 1999, Matt Groening and David X. Cohen’s Futurama has become arguably one of the most beloved television shows of all time. Focusing on the exploits of a cryogenically frozen delivery boy thawed out in the year 3000, as well as his various futuristic coworkers, the show has gained near universal acclaim and a passionate fanbase thanks to its memorable characters, witty and gut-busting humor, creative sci-fi storytelling, and heartfelt emotional core.
Moreover, if Groening’s earlier series, The Simpsons, is the show that won’t die; Futurama is the show that won’t stay dead. It was initially cancelled by Fox in 2003 after four seasons only to be brought back as a quartet of direct-to-DVD movies from 2007 to 2009 thanks to a successful syndication run on Adult Swim and the fervor of that aforementioned passionate fanbase.
After that, it was picked up by Comedy Central where it ran for two more seasons from 2010 to 2013 and now a full decade later is headed back to the airwaves for at least two more seasons on Hulu, the first of which is set to premiere on July 24. With the revival premiering soon, I figured now would be a good time to look back at the seven original production seasons of Futurama, or 10 airing seasons if you go by Hulu’s count, to see which episodes of this award-winning series rank among the best of the best.
Before we begin, I do want to make it clear that Futurama is one of my all-time favorite TV shows and aside from the transphobic garbage that is “Bend Her,” there isn’t a single episode I would consider outright bad. Narrowing this list down to ten was incredibly difficult, so if I leave off any of your favorites, please don’t be too mad as there’s a good chance said episode is among my favorites too. In fact, there are several episodes I love like “Teenage Mutant Leela’s Hurdles” or the anthologies that just didn’t quite make it. Now, to quote everyone’s favorite bending unit, “Let’s go already!”
#10. Time Keeps On Slipping
To help Earth win a basketball game against the Harlem Globetrotter homeworld, Professor Farnsworth sends the Planet Express crew to harvest time-altering chronitons so his “atomic supermen” can age fast enough to be competitors. Not only do they still lose the game, the sudden shortage of chronitons throws the space-time continuum out of balance, causing time to start skipping forward at random intervals. While events occur normally during the skips, no one can remember what happened in them.
This causes problems when Fry, who has desperately been trying to get Leela to go out with him, ends up married to her after one of the skips; only for them to get divorced right after the next skip since neither of them can remember why they fell in love. Only for the very end of the episode to reveal that Fry literally moved the heavens for Leela, writing her a love note in the stars with the ship’s star vacuum, only for it to get destroyed in order to stop the time skips before Leela ever got to see it.
There’s a lot to love in this episode. The Harlem Globetrotters being aliens and also remarkably intelligent physicists is really fun, accompanied by a great subplot of Bender wanting to be a Globetrotter, and the time skips facilitate plenty of excellent visual gags. But what makes it stand out is how it forces Fry to grow emotionally, particularly in his relationship with Leela. And the ending never fails to make me shed a tear.
#9. Leela’s Homeworld
Up to this point in the series, Leela’s origins had been one of the biggest ongoing mysteries. There were no other cyclops’, she never knew her parents, and as far as she and everyone else was concerned, she was an alien whose home planet was completely unknown. This episode finally paid off that mystery and did so in a very satisfying way.
Over the course of a thrilling investigation, Leela learns that she is in fact not an alien, but rather a sewer mutant and the least-mutated one at that. Her parents left her at an orphanage in an effort to give her a better life, since mutants aren’t allowed on the surface, but secretly watched and helped her from afar because of how much they loved her.
This episode gets a lot of deserved credit for the big reveal and the heartwarming ending montage, but I think how well the episode works as a whole often gets lost in the shuffle. It’s paced very well, the mystery is consistently engaging, and the world of the sewer mutants feels very much like a living, breathing world. Easily one of the most satisfying stories in the series.
#8. Where No Fan Has Gone Before
While most of this list consists of Futurama‘s more emotional episodes, this one earns its spot from shear fun factor. When Fry discovers that Star Trek has been outlawed in the future, he sets out to find the original cast, all voiced by themselves, only to discover they’ve become the living collectibles of an alien super-fan named Mellvar.
The writers of Futurama are all self-admitted Star Trek geeks and their love for the franchise really shines through in this episode. The TOS cast is clearly having a ball poking fun at themselves and so much of the setup and story feel like they were ripped straight out of a classic Star Trek episode. Thrilling space battles, exotic new planets, great Easter eggs, and plenty of laughs help make this episode some of the best of what both Futurama and Star Trek have to offer.
#7. The Sting
After Fry is seemingly killed by a deadly space bee, Leela can’t seem to go on without him. She keeps having dreams where Fry is still alive and even appears to be leaving her gifts in the waking world, only for more rational explanations to wind up being true. As reality seems to crumble around her due to grief, Leela becomes convinced that the best thing to do would be to use the space bee’s honey to sleep forever; as now that’s the only way she can be with Fry.
The twist of course is that Leela was the one who got stung, not Fry. The bee’s venom put her in a coma and the events of the episode were all in her head. Meanwhile, Fry has been by her side the entire time and constantly talked to her, with much of it actually getting through to Leela’s comatose brain.
The crumbling of reality around Leela makes for some excellent gags, a musical performance of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by the Planet Express crew springs to mind, the real highlight of this episode comes from its atmosphere. The way it puts the audience into Leela’s perspective and makes us question what’s real and what we want to be real alongside her is incredibly well done and the tearjerker ending is easily one of the best in the show’s history.
#6. The Luck of the Fryrish
Some of Futurama‘s most memorable episodes involve a story from Fry’s past in the 20th century that runs parallel with a story of Fry’s present in the 31st century. This was the first episode to really utilize this storytelling device and it remains one of the best to this day.
Fry goes searching for his childhood seven-leaf clover in order to end a streak of bad luck, only to discover that it was seemingly stolen by his older brother Yancy, who was always trying to steal what made Fry special back when they were kids. He even discovers that Yancy apparently stole his full name, Phillip J. Fry, after Fry got frozen; living out the rich, successful, and adventurous life that Fry always wanted.
Fry takes Leela and Bender to what he thinks is Yancy’s grave to get the clover back; only to discover that this Phillip J. Fry was Yancy’s son, whom Yancy named after the child’s missing uncle. This episode is heartfelt and gut-wrenching while still carrying plenty of the show’s trademark wit and the twist ending plays out perfectly.
For a decade, this episode has been the series finale of Futurama and it’s hard to think of a more satisfying ending to this story. Fry finally decides he’s ready to propose to Leela and uses the Professor’s time button to get her an amazing engagement ring and to make the moment of acceptance last as long as possible. When Fry thinks Leela has rejected him due to her missing their date, he jumps off a skyscraper in an attempted suicide only to discover that she was actually arriving right on time and his watch was just off due to using the time button.
Fry uses the button to save himself only to be caught in an infinite loop of falling off the building due to the button’s built-in limitations. While the crew ultimately rescues Fry, he ends up breaking the button and freezing the entire universe, except for him and Leela. From here, the series ends on a beautiful montage of Fry and Leela getting married, living their life, and growing old together; their dreams finally fulfilled.
While the episode truly ends with them resetting the timeline back to the status quo thanks to the Professor, this ending for Fry and Leela is simply perfect and it caps off an already great episode that utilizes its time travel gimmick rather well. While I’m excited to see Futurama come back, following on from this brilliant of an ending is bound to be difficult.
#4. The Why of Fry
In this follow-up to the fan-favorite “The Day The Earth Stood Stupid” (which coincidentally was #11 on my list), Fry discovers that Leela’s pet Nibbler, secretly a member of a hyper-intelligent alien race dedicated to protecting the universe from evil floating sentient brains, intentionally pushed Fry into the freezer tube that would ultimately land him in the future. Fry is heartbroken by this and initially seeks to go back in time and prevent this from happening; but ultimately chooses to let things play out primarily because of how important Leela is to him.
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This all plays out while Leela is on a date with the mayor’s aid that goes horribly wrong due to him being a massive jerk, teaching Leela that titles aren’t everything; which in turn ties into Fry’s arc about not feeling important. These brilliantly interwoven storylines combined with some hysterical gags and surprisingly intense action make this a series best.
#3. The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings
This was the first of four episodes written to be a series finale for Futurama and while I think “Meanwhile” is the better ending for the show, this is ultimately the better overall story. Fry trades hands with the Robot Devil in order to play the holophoner and impress Leela. He ends up writing an entire opera all about her life and his love for her, but she can’t hear it due to being deafened by Bender’s airhorn.
Halfway through the opera, Robot Devil tricks Leela into giving him her hand in marriage in order to hear the rest of the show, leaving Fry with two options: finish the opera that captivated Leela while losing her to the Robot Devil or get his hands back and free Leela while losing the ability to play the music that made her realize she loved him. While everyone else leaves the opera after Fry becomes rather bad at the holophoner again, Leela still stays behind in order to hear how it ends.
Appropriately, this episode feels extremely operatic. The stakes feel bigger than ever, the emotions run high, and both comedy and tragedy are played at grand and epic scale. The music is excellent and the final holophoner vision of Fry and Leela kissing and starting a life together always brings a tear to my eye.
#2. Jurassic Bark
I can already tell some of you are crying just at this image and there’s a good reason for that. In this episode, Fry discovers the fossilized remains of his dog, Seymour. The Professor says he can bring Seymour back to life, which makes Bender extremely jealous. Seymour’s fossil is nearly lost in lava until Bender rescues him, ultimately placing Fry’s happiness above his own.
The Professor discovers that Seymour lived for 12 years after Fry got frozen, leaving Fry to decide against resurrecting Seymour since in his mind, Seymour lived a long and fulfilling life and probably forgot about him a long time ago. However, the audience soon learns the bittersweet truth that Seymour never forgot about Fry, spending the remainder of his life waiting outside Panucci’s Pizza for a reunion with Fry that never came to pass.
The ending montage of this episode is one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever put on television and that alone would place it in the Top 10, but the rest of the episode is also excellent. The parallel storylines work really well together, Bender’s arc is surprisingly satisfying and authentic given how tiring jealousy storylines tend to be, and it even manages to still be funny in spots despite the more serious nature of the story and the aforementioned emotional gut punch that is the ending.
The best episode of Futurama is one that not only makes me laugh and cry, but makes me think about how I see the world in a whole new way. After Bender is accidentally shot into the void of space, he ends up becoming a deity to a race of tiny people living on his body. He attempts to do what’s best for them only for his over intervening and later lack of intervening to wipe them all out. Bender is heartbroken by this and finds himself unsure of how to go on before coming face-to-face with what may or may not be the capital G God.
God miraculously sends Bender back to Earth into the welcome embrace of Fry, who has been desperately searching for him throughout the episode. The interwoven stories of Fry and Bender are expertly crafted from start to finish. Fry realizing that Bender was a true friend despite all the bad things he did and Bender realizing that he never appreciated what he had with Fry until it was gone. And then there’s the encounter with God.
While I’m not a particularly religious person, I do believe that there’s some sort of higher power and the line “If you do things right, they should question if you’ve done anything at all” has always spoken to me on a fundamental level. Futurama at its best has always made its audience laugh, cry, and think in equal measure and nowhere is that better highlighted than in this episode.