While a good deal of well deserved praise is often lauded on Matt Groening’s first animated endeavor, The Simpsons, it’s a poorly kept secret that his second animated endeavor, Futurama, is also one of the most acclaimed cartoon series of all time. Futurama, which ran on both Fox and Comedy Central during it’s time on-air, had characters voiced by Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio and others, and told the story of Philip J. Fry, a boorish pizza delivery man who is accidentally frozen for one thousand years only to be awakened to a strange and often hilarious future. With his trusty best friend (a robot named Bender), a single-eyed love interest named Leela and a whole crew of odd aliens, Fry continues to navigate the future in the most interesting and absurd way possible. It’s a very funny show that also manages to mix in Groening’s signature heart and social commentary, and it’s this glorious combination of elements that left us feeling as though we ought to highlight the 10 Best Episodes of Futurama. Here they are.
10. A Fishful of Dollars (Season 1, Episode 6)
A thousand years is a long time to be frozen, and in “A Fishful of Dollars”, the sixth episode of Futurama’s first season, Fry quickly finds out that while he’s been frozen for quite a while, his bank account hasn’t been; apparently, the 93 cents Fry had in his savings when he was frozen has accrued significant compound interest over the years, and he’s now rich beyond his wildest dreams (to the tune of 4.3 billion dollars). Of course, what is money if you can’t buy long lost and extremely rare items? With his new found fortune, Fry sets his sights on buying the very last can of anchovies (they’ve long since gone extinct), but with a small hiccup along the way; the world’s leading robot manufacturer would also like the anchovies, as their oil represents a way to permanently lubricate robots (thus representing a huge threat to the business). It’s a funny set up made all the more hilarious by watching Fry accumulate significant 20th century artifacts (at one point, he buys Ted Danson’s skeleton).
9. The Day the Earth Stood Stupid (Season 3, Episode 7)
It’d be a poor science fiction cartoon that didn’t in some way feature an alien invasion, and luckily Futurama tackles the subject on more than one occasion. The best of these occasions occurs in “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” the seventh episode of Futurama‘s third season, which sees a host of giant floating brains invading Earth and making its citizens as stupid as they can physically become. Fortunately for the world, one Philip J. Fry is already as stupid as he can become, so it’s up to him and Leela’s sentient pet, Nibbler (a being of immense power who only pretends to be a pet), to stop the brains from attempting to wipe out all intelligent thoughts in the universe. The episode, which features many allusions to The Day the Earth Stood Still, remains one of the highest rated in the series and is noted for its reveal of Nibbler’s intelligence.
8. Hell is Other Robots (Season 1, Episode 9)
Futurama‘s Bender-centric episodes are some of the best in the series, and “Hell is Other Robots”, the ninth episode in the show’s first season, helps illustrate why that’s true. An episode which sees Bender developing a debilitating addiction to electricity and subsequently joining the Church of Robotology as a way to cope, “Hell is Other Robots” features notable allusions to Dante’s Inferno, complete with the Nine Levels of Robot Hell (which Bender is sentenced to after leaving the Church of Robotology to revel in booze and prostitutes). Notable for being the first Futurama episode to introduce the Robot Devil (who we’ll have more on later), voiced by Homer Simpson himself (Dan Castellana), “Hell is Other Robots” functions as a worthy critique of organized religion, and takes obvious shots at the Church of Scientology along the way.
7. Where No Fan Has Gone Before (Season 4, Episode 12)
Futurama makes no attempt to hide its affinity for Star Trek, and this adoration culminates in “Where No Fan Has Gone Before”, the twelfth episode of the show’s fourth season. Beginning with Fry, Leela and Bender being court marshaled for landing on the banned planet of Omega 3, the episode sees the trio explaining the events leading to their exploration of the planet, which involve long lost tapes of Star Trek and one very, very big fan. With Star Trek being banned in the future after becoming a global religion, the group are forced to seek out the lost tapes (along with most of Star Trek‘s original cast) on Omega 3, where they are kept alive and in eternal youth by Mellvar, a being comprised of only energy who adores Star Trek and watches the tapes endlessly. In what amounts to a Star Trek homage with endless amounts of in-jokes and trivia, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” sees Futurama paying tribute to the science fiction godfathers who came before it.
6. Fry and the Slurm Factory (Season 2, Episode 4)
As this list has illustrated thus far, Futurama is often at its best when parodying or pointing fingers at iconic pieces of entertainment, be it Star Trek, The Day the Earth Stood Still or otherwise. In “Fry and the Slurm Factory,” the fourth episode of the show’s second season, the series takes Fry and his compatriots on a Willy Wonka-esque tour of the Slurm Factory, a place where the most popular soda in the galaxy is produced. What follows are a series of hilarious allusions and misadventures that sees the crew discovering the true (and grotesque) source of Slurm, in a happy jab at soft drink manufacturers like Coca Cola and Pepsi. It’s an episode complete with the necessary parody framework and Groening’s acidic social commentary, and it’s one of the most memorable in the series history (pay special attention for the joke made at New Coke’s expense…remember New Coke?).
5. The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings (Season 5, Episode 16)
The sixteenth episode of Futurama‘s fifth season, “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” sees the return of the Robot Devil, but this time he’s got his eyes on Fry rather than Bender. When Fry becomes frustrated with his ability to play the holophonor (a futuristic instrument that combines both sound and visuals), he makes a deal with the Robot Devil to swap for some more nimble hands. The Robot Devil is horrified when it turns out it’s his hands he must surrender, and while Fry enjoys the fast fingers his new robot hands afford him, the Robot Devil sets his sights on losing Fry’s fleshy digits and getting his own chrome mitts back. An episode complete with musical numbers and operatic performances, “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” also contains a heaving dose of heart, as it deals heavily with Fry’s feelings for Leela (those feelings being the catalyst for him wanting to play the holophonor in the first place).
4. The Luck of the Fryrish (Season 3, Episode 10)
Some of the most touching episodes of Futurama are the ones that explore Fry’s past, as underneath all the humor present in the show is an underlying sadness. After all, Fry has been torn away from the world he once knew, and while that’s exciting in the sense that he now lives in what is essentially the future, it also means everything and everyone he knew before is long gone. In “The Luck of the Fryrish”, the tenth episode of Futurama‘s third season, audiences get a glimpse of Fry’s past through the character of his brother, Yancy. Extremely successful in his time, Yancy’s numerous victories are ascribed to his lucky seven leaf clover, which he stole from Fry (ipso facto, those victories should have been Fry’s). A poignant episode which touches upon the idea of destiny, “The Luck of the Fryrish” also makes excellent use of Simple Mind’s “Don’t You Forget About Me”, similar to The Breakfast Club.
3. Roswell That Ends Well (Season 3, Episode 19)
The recipient of an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Animated Programming (Less Than One Hour)”, “Roswell That Ends Well” is the nineteenth episode of Futurama‘s third season and, as its accolades might suggest, it is one of the most famous episodes in the series history. In “Roswell That Ends Well”, the Planet Express crew find themselves transported back in time after experiencing a supernova from a great distance, where they unintentionally become the space craft that crash landed in Roswell circa 1947.With numerous in-jokes and references to Back to the Future, “Roswell That Ends Well” remains a laugh a minute episode that culminates in Fry becoming his own grandfather (because what’s time travel without a little accidental incest, right?).
2. Jurassic Bark (Season 5, Episode 2)
The most heartbreaking episode of Futurama ever, “Jurassic Bark” is the second episode of the show’s fifth season, and it’s one of the most tear-inducing pieces on animation you could ever hope to wander across. In “Jurassic Bark,” audiences watch while Fry, after discovering that a canine skeleton in a museum happens to be his old dog Seymour, attempts to have the creature cloned so as to get his old best friend back. Incensed at the arrival of a new best friend, Bender acts out petulantly with significant consequences. We won’t spoil the end of this episode, but needless to say when you watch it, you’ll come away with a new understanding on “man’s best friend” and if you have a dog, you’ll be sure to go give him or her some love right away.
1. Godfellas (Season 4, Episode 8)
Futurama was never afraid to shy away from asking big questions, and it’s this willingness to engage with real, thoughtful subject matter that helps it stand apart from many of its Cartoon Network contemporaries. In “Godfellas,” the eighth episode of Futurama‘s fourth season, the show explores themes as dense as existentialism, religion, and the meaning of existence, all while managing to incite laughing fits and even a small tear in the appropriate moment. “Godfellas”, which sees Bender launched into outer space and subsequently becoming a God-like figure for the tiny alien civilizations that begin growing on him, is wildly intelligent and spectacularly funny, all the while asking more of its audience than your standard cartoon would normally dare. The episode, which also features the real “God” (if there really is one; and if there is,whether he’s just the Bender to our tiny alien civilization), is one of the most critically acclaimed in the series history, and definitely rates as our favorite Futurama episode of all time.