The Best Futurama Episodes Ever (So Far!)

Posted by Jesse June 24th, 2010 at 10:49am In General

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Good news, everyone! My grumpiness over Seth MacFarlane’s dominance in the world of animated sitcoms has slightly subsided! This has happened not because I suddenly find any of his shows particularly funny, but because the universe just got one or two iotas less hilariously cruel, although several iotas more hilarious overall: Futurama is returning to air! Even if you’re not a superfan, you can catch up on what you’ve missed with the above recap video from Comedy Central.

I must begrudgingly admit that we have Family Guy to thank for this. That show’s unholy resurrection after strong Cartoon Network rerun ratings encouraged Fox to invest in a series of Futurama DVD movies, which were also broken up into a sixteen-episode fifth season of the show for Comedy Central, long after it went off the air in 2003 (which itself was awhile after it had ceased production). The success, in turn, of those DVDs, combined with the continuing fragmentation of the TV landscape, convinced Fox to produce another batch of genuine episodes for Comedy Central. Thirteen will air this year, and thirteen in 2011, with the possibility for more down the road, but let’s not get greedy.

I’m not one of those people who disavows any Simpsons episodes made after 1998 (or, even more frightening, 1995, or 1992! These people exist and they are really depressing!). However, I don’t think there’s any question that for the years Futurama aired (1999-2003), it was superior to the then-current Simpsons episodes. The sum total Futurama may not be as majestic as Seasons Three through Nine of The Simpsons, which as far as I’m concerned represents one of mankind’s more impressive achievements, but it is better than seventy-some episodes of just about anything else save maybe Seinfeld.

In celebration of the return of one of the best shows of the past decade or six, Marisa and I have been systematically watching every episode of Futurama ever produced; we’re concluding this evening with the final DVD movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder, and going straight into the two new episodes airing at 10PM on Comedy Central. This nerd download has put me in a good position to count down the top seven episodes of Futurama. There were only seventy-two episodes in the original run, and the movies are sort of a different beast, so I’m keeping it to the top ten percent (but for the record, The Beast with a Billion Backs is probably my favorite of the four DVD experiments). Into the breach, meatbags:

7. “Fear of a Bot Planet” (Season 1)
I pretty much never get tired of Futurama‘s robot jokes, a rich universe unto themselves, and this early visit to the robot separatist planet is full of great ones.

6. “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back” (Season 2)
Strangely, when a lot of my favorite Futurama characters, like Bender or Dr. Zoidberg, become the focus of a full episode, the episodes tend not to rank among my favorites. There are surely some great ones, but many of their best moments come on the side of meatier Fry or Leela or ensemble-based installments. This episode avoids the pitfall by not so much actually being about office bureaucrat Hermes but focusing on his replacement, a fastidiously neat and orderly woman who is perversely attracted to Fry’s slobbery. The gag-writing on this episode is just really strong, including a ridiculous number of great bureaucrat jokes (“You are technically correct — the best kind of correct!”).

5. “A Head in the Polls” (Season 2)
The jarred head of Richard Nixon has become a prominent character on the show, with his demented, werewolfy call of “arrooooo!” His role can be tracked back to this second-season episode, in which Nixon uses Bender’s pawned robot body to mount a campaign Bender gets his body back, but Nixon wins anyway, and remains Earth President for the rest of the series. The final scene of the episode features Nixon’s jarred head affixed atop a gigantic warrior robot body, kicking over cars and smashing into the White House hollering: “NIXON’S BACK!” Also, I’m going to go ahead and just reprint his climactic monologue, which isn’t as good as Billy West’s reading of it, but makes me laugh every damn time:

“Computers may be twice as fast as they were in 1973, but your average voter is as drunk and stupid as ever. The only one who’s changed is me. I’ve become bitter, and let’s face it, crazy over the years. And once I’m swept into office, I’ll sell our children’s organs to zoos for meat. And I’ll go into people’s houses at night and wreck up the place!” [maniacal laughter]

Please go download it here

4. “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” (Season 4)
The show’s obligatory Star Trek riff goes out, reuniting most of the original cast, poking fun at obsessive fandom, and yet still, with Fry’s previously unrevealed love of Trek, gets to the heart of why it’s an object of such immense affection, and becomes easily the best Trek tribute since Galaxy Quest.

3. “The Luck of the Fryrish” (Season 3)
There are several Futurama episodes as moving as the most heartwarming Simpsons episodes and, if anything, Futurama, perhaps better fitting its twenty-and-thirtysomething, mostly non-familial characters, tends to go a bit more bittersweet. “Jurassic Bark” is notorious for its stomach-kick of an ending, and I’ve teared up at the last few minutes of “Leela’s Homeworld.” But neither of those are quite as moving (or as simultaneously hilarious) as this episode about Fry’s older brother, which alternates between flashbacks and Fry’s 3000-era search for his lucky seven-leaf clover.

2. “Time Keeps On Slippin'” (Season 3)
One of the best things about Futurama is that while it is hilarious and jokey and fine with bending its sci-fi rules to fit its story and/or jokes, the writers have also come up with some delightful sci-fi comedy conceits, perhaps none more so than the disrupted “cronotons” in a far-off nebula that cause pockets of the universe to skip forward in time. The Futurama writers are particularly sharp when they happen upon gag variations that they particularly love (see also: the neutral planet!) and the speed and invention of these time-skip gags make this episode almost dizzying in its brilliance. Also, it has the Harlem Globetrotters in a featured role.

1. “Futurestock” (Season 3)
This isn’t the sweetest or most moving or the most mind-bending episode of Futurama, but I think it might well be the funniest. It is essentially the show’s version of the classic Simpsons episode “Last Exit to Springfield” (in case you aren’t up on your title nerdery: “DENTAL PLAN/Lisa needs braces”). The story of Planet Express getting new leadership in the form of an unfrozen “eighties guy,” like the story of the Springfield Power Planet’s labor dispute, doesn’t sound particularly exciting on paper, but winds up winning on pure, insane, joke-for-joke success rate. Fry, Bender, Zoidberg, Farnsworth, and Leela all get choice moments; I’m particularly fond of Zoidberg’s trade of his shares of Planet Express for a sandwich which does not, in fact, appreciate in value (especially not after he eats it: “I’m ruined!”).

Comments, questions, disagreements? Comment below. But more importantly, watch Futurama tonight on Comedy Central, and every Thursday for a bunch more weeks, and revel in your good fortune.

6 Comments

  • 1. Marisa  |  June 24th, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I have pretty much no disagreements with what’s up there. But I also have much affection for:

    –The one where they tour the Slurm factory.
    –Any episode with the Robot Devil (i guess the original-last-episode is the best one for that).
    –Mars University (Robot House!), which I might like even better that Fear of a Bot Planet.

    But it’s not fair, because they’re all so good.

  • 2. Maggie  |  June 24th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I haven’t watched the old episodes in years, but I just wanted to put in a word for Zap Brannigan, the pantsless lech. I don’t know if I have a favorite Brannigan episode, but he can usually be counted on for some good moments in his constant Unearned Confidence of the Very Very Dumb.

  • 3. Craig  |  June 24th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    This list is hard to argue with, but I think Roswell that Ends Well needs to be in there somewhere. I’d probably dump Luck of the Fryish in its favor, even though that’s an excellent episode and “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to feel ways about stuff” is one of my favorite Futurama lines.

  • 4. jesse  |  June 24th, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    You are all correct. I definitely had a list of almosts that included “Roswell That Ends Well,” “Mars University,” the original series finale, and “War is the H-Word,” which includes much Brannigan goodness (his love of velour alone is amazing), among others.

  • 5. The Andy Griffith Show (S&hellip  |  June 25th, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    […] The Bes&#116&#32&#70uturama Episodes Ever (So Far!) | TiFaux […]

  • 6. Rayme  |  June 26th, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    I love that you started with “Good news, everyone!” You’ve got a good list there, Jesse. I’m not a big fan of the Nixon head, so any episode that’s Nixon-heavy goes toward the bottom of my list, though.

    Why only 7? I would make a Top 10… (in no particular order)…
    -Roswell That Ends Well
    -Parasites Lost
    -The Farnsworth Parabox
    -Time Keeps on Slippin
    -Futurestock
    -Love and Rocket
    -How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back
    -Fry and the Slurm Factory
    -The Problem with Popplers
    -The Honking

    Honorable Mention
    -War is the H-Word
    -Three Hundred Big Boys
    -A Pharaoh to Remember
    -Both Anthologies of Interest
    (I’m gonna stop with this list now because I’m approaching a Top 20!)


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