When I was a little girl, I went to a private Christian school. There were no official uniforms, but provocative clothing like tank tops was not allowed. Dancing was not allowed on the property. Our science textbook was titled God’s Great World. Questionable children’s literature was censored with black Sharpie.
In a notably stifling environment, I experimented safely with imagination, drawing and selling pictures of unicorns on the playground for a nickel, until the sixth grade, that is. Two months after I turned twelve, my family began watching and, as we did with all television worth viewing, recording Futurama. It was the proverbial apple in my complacent Garden, a new animated world of strange creatures, weird language, and a gorgeous purple-haired role model. Suddenly, I was hiding TV Guide articles about the show in the back of my school binder, tracing over and coloring in every print ad I could find, and explaining to my best friend the circumstances in which I thought Leela and Fry should fall in love and get married while we played on the teeter-toter. I’d never experienced anything like it before.
I’ve now been watching the show for half of my life, and my adoration remains as strong as ever. Futurama is indelibly a part of my existence. I started writing awful fanfiction almost as soon as the show began, cried when the program was canceled, watched re-runs in bed with my first girlfriend, lined up to buy the movies as soon as they were released and did a victory dance with my sister the day they announced new episodes would be produced. Over the course of the past twelve years, I’ve watched and re-watched each episode countless times, and found it to be one of the most moving and entertaining pieces of art- yes, art- I’ve ever seen. And because we live in an age in which our opinions don’t count unless they’re posted on the internet, here are the top five episodes I’ve loved the best.
five. “Rebirth” – season six, episode one
“My love is stronger than a vast majority of explosions!”
I am one of those people, the ones who are mildly obsessed with the relationship between Fry and Leela, and after her confession of love during Into the Wild Green Yonder, I was practically pissing myself with excitement to see where their story would go in season six. It turns out, a very different place than originally intended, at least according to David X. Cohen. Despite my love of the show and the fact that I took a class on science fiction literature, I’ve never been a huge sci-fi fan. I can recognize the very Philip K. Dick-esque examination into robotic feelings though, a theme the series has often visited in Bender’s journey throughout the series. The question of humanity inherent in androids came up earlier in “I Dated A Robot.” I find both episodes sad in some respects. Both reflect Fry’s ultimate romantic loneliness, and his desperation is mirrored in the robots’ desire for humanity. The writers manage to balance these serious thoughts with gross-out visuals and gleeful abandon, making this fittingly representative of the series’ run.
four. “I Second That Emotion” – season two, episode one
“You think you’re so hot! The only reason you get all the guys is because you dress like a tramp!”
There are a lot of Bender-heavy episodes in the series, but this is the clearest example of his experiences crossing with Leela. The writers don’t often seem to pair them up, and while this episode arguably belongs to him, the literal connection between them is part of the charm. I love that, although the episode focuses on Bender’s lack of empathy, we never doubt his emotions. He’s very much a child, a selfish, attention whore of a child, one who does feel what emotions he has to their extremes. When he’s gleeful, he’s giggling on the couch. When he’s lonely, he’s wishing for a cute cape and party hat. And when he’s angry, he flushes Nibbler down the toilet. On a basic level, poised on the brink of adolescence on my first viewing, I could relate to Bender’s mood swings and the totality of his emotions, even when I thought he was being an asshole. I understood his thoughts. The episode is also fascinating when taking into account what we know about the other characters as the show progresses. Nibbler fluctuates between being an eating, pooping house pet and an incredibly intelligent interplanetary agent, though his love for Leela never changes. We also get a glimpse at Leela’s parents in the sewers. I remember when the episode first aired and my homepage, a long lost Futurama site, featured a screencap of them as its main feature. As fans, we were obsessed with them long before we learned about their affection for their daughter or their Tequila-influenced parenting skills.
three. “The Mutants Are Revolting!” – season six, episode twelve
“Let’s say we go get some sewer coffee, sewer cake, and Safeway ice cream?”
The hundredth episode of the show pleasantly surprised me. I feel like the sixth season has thus far been rather hit-or-miss, but this story really grew on me. Leela is probably my favorite character and it’s always entertaining to see storylines that feature the sewer mutants. In Bender’s Big Score, Fry remarks, “I know she thinks I’m immature, but someday I won’t be.” There’s so much made throughout the series of how much Fry needs to grow before he’s worthy of Leela, but I’d argue that she has some maturing to do as well. At this point, I feel like Fry’s demonstrated his relative adult-ness. This episode feels to me, though, like Leela’s growing up. Although she’s been politically active before, this is the first time she takes up a social cause so completely and competently, and one that affects her on a highly personal level. She, and Fry, become real liberators, and if David X. Cohen’s commentary is to be believed, change the trajectory of the show in terms of mutant rights. On a personal level, our two protagonists feel so well-matched in this episode without it becoming a schmaltzy mess, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I also have to give the producers props for the excellent choice of music. Devo’s guest appearance was a really nice surprise, and the closing scene featuring Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich was well-edited. According to the DVD commentary, Matt Groening recommended the song during the writing process and later, at a tableread, Billy West suggested it as well. The show has such a retro quality and 1960s music always feels perfectly timed. I’ve been mildly obsessed with Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich for a while, and there are several songs I’d fanvid the heck out of if I had any editing skills. “My Woman’s Man,” especially feels so close to Fry’s story in Bender’s Big Score.
+ devo- beautiful world
+ dave dee, dozy, beaky, mick and tich- bend it
+ dave dee, dozy, beaky, mick and tich- nose for trouble
+ dave dee, dozy, beaky, mick and tich- my woman's man
two. “Space Pilot 3000” – season one, episode one
“No one makes fun of my nose.”
I know it’s kind of expected to put the pilot on a best-of list, or even kind of lame because it’s often full of character discrepancies that reveal themselves later in the series’ run, but I honestly believe Futurama’s pilot stands the test of time, partially because it’s so obvious that Matt Groening and David X. Cohen put so much effort into laying out the mythology of the show before they ever animated the pilot, from Nibbler’s shadow in the cryogenics lab to the alien destroyers to Leela’s origins. It’s an episode that deserves to be re-watched after the big reveals as the series progresses. It also manages to be both emotional and irreverently hilarious. Our first glimpses of the year 2999 are pretty fantastic for the uniqueness of the writers’ vision of the future. It both references earlier kitschy imagery and reinvents it. The future is not, as Cohen says, a utopia or a dystopia. It’s a society that can feel at times a little too close to our own, while still feeling foreign. Fry’s exploration of the world mirrors our own, particularly in his remarks about how technology resembles that seen on Star Trek. The future is so entrenched in our own society that it steals from twentieth-century television. Fry’s emotional journey is also really moving- perhaps more so in “The Series Has Landed”- as we watch his changing reactions to the world around him and he is hit by realization about his situation. Overgrown boy that he is, we see that he has some level of ambition, acknowledging that his previous job as a delivery boy was unsatisfactory and he does not want to return. It’s easy to relate to the down-and-out characters in fiction. I love the beginnings of his relationship with Leela here, how he brings out the compassion in her. For the first time, we sense, her beliefs have been challenged by someone, and we see her kinder nature prevail. The moment in which she removes her own career chip is honestly one of the most beautiful of the show, both emotionally and artistically.
one. “The Sting” – season four, episode twelve
“Leela, no! Listen to me! You don’t wanna lie in bed like a vegetable and do nothing the rest of your life. I’ve tried it. Bedsores hurt!”
This episode is probably the hardest for me to write about, if only because I think it’s one of the most complex of the series. It’s beautiful and tragic and surreal, and we read it two ways, through the basic narrative outline of Leela’s strange, emotional dreams, and also through the mostly-hidden story of Fry, watching over her while she sleeps. I’d argue that it features similar themes as in “Rebirth” in the inability of one character to exist without the other, and thus conjuring up a replacement, the way Leela imagines Fry in a second layer of dreaming. She makes it overt in this episode just how much she relies on his presence, going so far as to attempt to effectively commit suicide rather than live without him. It’s definitely a darker episode, even if it does have a happy ending. It’s also a reminder of how noble Fry really is. Okay, foolhardy, yes, but he has a great heart. He’s sacrificed himself multiple times for Leela- by my count, three, maybe more- and he dedicates himself to bringing her out of a coma even the doctors say is probably permanent. I think Fry obviously is a very caring individual, in general, but he’s got such a soft spot for Leela. No one could question his devotion to her after this episode (although, later in the run, Leela does reject him for ditching her for Colleen so quickly). It’s really beautiful, and sappy, to see the way his tenderness for her has grown, from the pilot in which he saves her from being frozen a thousand years, to his efforts at the Infosphere, his fidelity here and beyond. It’s such an emotional episode, this story of Fry and Leela reaching each other beyond planes of consciousness, but the writers also manage to work in some great jokes. I’ll never cease to be amused by Bender communicating as the bees or that musical number. Not to mention, as the producers note in the commentary, the sweet ending with a joke about showering tacked on.
And you, gentle reader, thoughts? Things I’ve missed?