Top Ten: Futurama Episodes
Yes, yes, I’m a dirty, rotten cheater, but the episodes that took The Simpsons formula of three independent stories tied together by a loose narrative structure, the What-If Machine in the case of Anthology of Interest, are always solid half-hours as the writers have to go to great pains to make three eight minute segments work as effectively as a singular-plotted 22 minute episode. Reincarnation is an exception as its entire concept revolves around the reincarnation of Futurama in three different styles: old-timey cartoon, 8-bit video game, and anime. What I like most about these episodes is the fact that the stories are all out of the show’s traditional canon, which gives the show’s writers even more freedom to play around with the chracters and the universe they’ve created. My favorite segment would probably be “Whizzin'” where Leela finds herself in a Wizard of Oz parody and chooses to become a witch instead of going home to her “poor, dirt-farming aunt and uncle.” Oh, and Professor Farnsworth, as The Wizard, gives the cowardly Zoidberg a gun in place of actual courage…Moving on.
I make no apologies for my love of history and this episode delivers quite the wallop! Futurama has always made great use of the “heads in jars” trope going so far as to devote an entire museum to famous heads in jars. Well, turns out Fry has a night job at the museum and he’s very popular in the Presidents section. This plot contrivance crosses paths with Prof. Farnsworth’s idolization of his family tree and a bit of the science that allows the heads in the jars to stay alive and in their prime form. Turns out a finite opalescent substance is responsible and, as an added bonus, you get a time traveling LSD trip based on whichever head you lick. Farnsworth does just that to George Washington when he finds out one of his beloved ancestors was considered a traitor to the revolutionairies. What follows is an insane romp through 1776 that would make The Doctor proud!
8. Möbius Dick
What I love most about Futurama is its ability to make all of the characters flawed but loveable. Leela, as captain of the Planet Express ship, is usually presented as the voice of reason amongst a group of utter morons. But as the show progressed, Leela’s insecurities and complexes began to creep into the stories, presenting a woman who has always been driven to prove herself to the point that her overconfidence and hyper-competative nature nearly gets the crew killed on several occasions. That drive is most prominent when Farnsworth brings up the previous crews of Planet Express. In this case, the very first crew, which included a young and well liked Dr. John Zoidberg. Charged with retrieving a statue in the first crew’s honor, Leela makes the same mistakes they did, going through the Bermuda Tetrahedron to cut time on the delivery only to have the statue eaten by a space whale. What follows is a beautiful parody of Moby Dick with Leela cast as the obssessive Ahab. Hilarity ensues.
Yet another parody, this one takes us into the realm of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as Fry wins a contest to party with Slurms McKenzie after probably sterilizing himself using a device to see into cans of the strangely addictive drink. The whole crew goes to planet Wormulon where they meet Glurmo, their Wonka-esque guide, and tour the factory before partying with Slurms later. Coasting down the Slurm river, they come across the Grunka-Lunkas who aren’t as adept at warding off looky lous as their Oompa- Loompa counterparts. In their defense, you try finding a rhyme for “armed guards!” Anyway, after separating from the group, Fry, Leela, and Bender discover Slurm’s shocking secret ingredient and have to fight their way out of the factory as a result.
6. Teenage Mutant Leela’s Hurdles
As the characters continued to grow, so too did their backstories. Leela, in the beginning, was unsure of her origins and believed herself an abandoned little alien cyclops on the doorstep of the Orphanarium where she was raised. We later learned that Leela was, in fact, the daughter of two mutant cyclopses from the sewers who left their daughter with the Orphanarium to give her a better life. All of this serves the plot of this episode in which Leela actually gets to experience a brief childhood with her parents after Farnsworth accidentally begins a de-ageing process on the entire crew when they take him to a spa to make him less old. To cure them, they have to venture to the fountain of youth, but before that can happen we get to spend a little time with everyone as they relive their childhoods all over again. Of course, Leela being Leela, she can’t help but enforce rules on herself via her easy-going parents who want nothing more than to respect her privacy…after she finishes her tequila! The episode also heightens the cute factor by giving us a rebellious teenage Bender, fat Amy, adorable Fry, and Farnsworth as a dead-beat hippie dad. And I’d be remiss to forget Pazuzu, the ungrateful gargoyle Farnworth put through college. He’s kinda important.
5. The Day the Earth Stood Stupid/The Why of Fry
Though occurring in separate seasons, these two episodes build upon a mythology mostly plotted out from the beginning of the show. Repeatedly throughout the series we’d get flashbacks to the fateful night that Fry fell into the cryogenics tube for his one thousand year nap before awakening in the future world of New New York. Always present, just as Fry falls, is a shadow, revealed to be Nibbler, the highly intelligent undercover agent parading as a dumb animal Leela adopted as a pet in Season 1. It was Nibbler’s job to make sure Fry fell into the tube and came to the future so he could fight the evil brains that deplete intelligence in beings with normal brainwaves whilst documenting all knoweldge before destroying their planet. Fry, however, is immune to the brains. As a result of being his own grandfather, he lacks the necessary brainwave the evil brains use to incapacitate their prey. He is the only person capable of defeating the Big Brain. “The Why of Fry” ultimately turns the tables on Fry, changing him from hapless victim of circumstance to the decider of his own fate. Sent back in time by the Big Brain, Fry confronts Nibbler just before his past self falls into the cryo tube. Throughout the episode, Fry believed himself to be unimportant in the grander scheme of things, certainly not important or special enough to impress Leela, but at episode’s end, Fry is the savior of the universe and gets to experience a moment of pride in his importance before Nibbler wipes his memory.
4. Bendin’ in the Wind
This is the episode that features on the best guest appearances in the show’s history. Horribly damaged by a magnetic can opener, Bender is unable to move. Moping in his hospital room, Bender discovers that his roommate is none other than Beck’s head in a jar(voiced by the man himself)! After befriending Beck and learning that his mangled body functions as a sweet washboard, Beck invites Bender along on his tour. The rest of the crew decides to tag along as groupies, following the tour bus in a diesel-fueled Volkswagon. Bender, moved by the multitude of other damaged robots, decides to hold a charity concert, but his “natural showmanship” gets the better of him and he flaunts his newly restored mobility in the face of all the other damaged robots and Beck, earning the violent ire of all! Beck is a fantastic guest star in this episode. He gets some great lines and pokes fun at himself effortlessly.
3. A Head in the Poles
Futurama tackles politics in this brilliant episode that starts with Bender pawning his body when the price of titanium goes up and ends with the election of Richard Nixon’s head to President of Earth. Matt Groening has always used Nixon jokes in The Simpsons, but on Futurama the writers managed tomake him into a loveable buffoon. Lamenting the loss of his own soft, pudgy body, Nixon buys Bender’s old body and uses it to circumvent a key piece of Constitutional language in order to run for President again. The episode is filled with jokes and references aimed at many of the Presidents of the United States, which I believe is the first appearnce of the Hall of President’s Heads. Nixon obviously gets the lion’s share as the writers shamlessly poke fun at him while also giving the guy a little respect. He did, afterall, open negotiations with China. But what makes me love this episode the most is this little bit of wonderfullness:
I previously talked about this episode in my Top Ten Cartoons Enjoyed as an Adult. For the sake of not repeating myself, I will say that this episode has some great jokes about religion while also showing some reverence for faith and doing good works for ones self. It also highlights Bender and Fry’s friendship, showing that Fry would be more than willing to spend the rest of his life looking for his friend in the vastness of space. Ahhhhh!
1. The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings
Introduced in “Hell is Other Robots,” the Robot Devil (voiced by Homer Simpson himself, Dan Castellaneta) is easily one of the best secondary characters on the show. The next is Hedonism Bot who also makes an appearance in this episode! The series’ last episode before cancellation, Devil’s Hands is a tour de force that gives every character either a beautiful send off or a quick cameo so that we the audience at least get to see them one last time. Fry, in yet another effort to woo Leela, makes a Faustian deal with the Robot Devil to give him hands capable of playing the problematic holophonor. After spinning a wheel containing the name of every robot on the planet (including Bender and the Robot Devil), Fry ends up getting the Robot Devil’s hands in an ironic twist that isn’t actually ironic (Alanis could learn something from this episode). With the Devil’s hands, Fry becomes a smashing success at the holophonor and is commissioned by Hedonism Bot to write an opera, which Fry agrees to only if he can write it about Leela. On the night of the opera’s premier, the Robot Devil plots and makes deals that result in his appropriately ironic marriage to Leela unless Fry returns his hands. All of this, by the way, at least in the final ten minutes, is accomplished through operatic verse. It’s simply amazing. Fry gives up the hands and is incapable of playing the holophonor and is shunned by his audience for playing badly. It ends with Fry alone and forlorn until Leela asks him to finish the opera so she can see the ending. At the time, it was a beautiful and satisfying ending that, thankfully, wasn’t really the end!
So, what’re your favorite Futurama episodes? Let us know in the comments! As always, you can like us on Facebook, follow us @NoiseSharkMedia, and you can follow me @darling_sammy
About Sam (68 posts)
I'm the lead writer for Noise Shark and I handle the creative content as well. And that voice of anger you'll hear emitting from the podcast? Oh, yeah, that's me. I'm so full of opinions it's ridiculous! My interests include movies, television, music, history, comic books...pretty much everything! No stone will be unturned, so expect a wide variety of articles from yours truly.
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