Monday 9 September 2013

Futurama, A Top Ten

Just a few days ago, Futurama last episode ever was broadcast on Comedy Central (check out the final mini-review here). This seems like the perfect moment to look back and pick the best episodes of the sci-fi show throughout its entire run(s).
Before we begin, I want to clarify a few things. First, like every top ten list, this one will be subjective and some of your favourite episodes may not appear in it. But Futurama has produced 140 episodes over its on-and-off 14 year run, so choosing only 10 episodes from those was not an easy task. But I'll try to explain each choice and I'll even mention the great ones that didn't make the cut. Of course, feel free to discuss my list and share your own in the comments.
Warning: There will be spoilers for episodes that aired in 2012 and before. For the series that aired this year, I'll stay evasive on the plot.
From number 10 to the best, let's roll!

10. SPACE PILOT 3000

The episode that started it all. Fry gets frozen and wakes up in the year 3000 in New New York, and that's when the fun begins. Looking at the pilot now, it's amazing to see how it holds up. The writing is great, the voices didn't change too much, and the characters are already pretty well defined - when you compare it to The Simpsons, where the design of the main characters evolved a lot in a few years, Futurama has remained pretty consistent since 1999. Space Pilot 3000 sets up what was yet to come in such a great way that it deserves, in my opinion, a spot in this top ten.
Similar and also considered but not as good: Rebirth was the Comedy Central premiere. It was a fun way to have the show come back to life, but the Fox premiere was superior.


"A clever storyline with a moving ending". Words that can describe a lot of good Futurama episodes, and quite a few in this top ten. This is the first one. What is so great about The Sting is that you can watch it once and appreciate it - because it's moving and full of trippy twists - but then you watch it again and you appreciate it on another level - because you notice that when Leela pictures an imaginary Fry during her coma, the words spoken by the delivery boy are those of the real Fry sitting by Leela's hospital bed.
Similar and also considered but not as good: Game of Tones. It also features dreams, and has a moving ending - maybe even more moving than that of The Sting. but the whole episode isn't as flawless or original. That being said, if this was a top eleven list, Game of Tones would probably feature in it.


One of the segmented episodes, where each act tells a different story. And the best one in my opinion. Each story is animated in a different style: black-and-white cartoon, 8-Bit video game and anime. It's full of visual references, and each parody is spot on. It's not one that will move you or get you involved in what's happening plot-wise, but it's a lot of fun from beginning to end. My favourite segment is the last one, Action Delivery Force, where the laughs never stop. Futurama tried to produce a Reincarnation-like episode this year with Saturday Morning Fun Pit and three other styles of animation, but it was sadly not very funny.
Similar and also considered but not as good: Anthologies of Interest II. It also has three funny stories, each one more hilarious than the last, and has the famous line from the narrator "You watched it, you can't un-watch it!" But it doesn't reach the level of Reincarnation for me.


The episode famous for being the one that spawned the Futurama theorem. In the story, the Professor invents a mind-switching machine, and characters begin to exchange bodies. The problem is once two bodies have swapped minds, they can't change back. The theorem proves that everything can go back to normal by using two extra people. That's already something, but that's not where the interest of The Prisoner of Benda resides. This episode is one of the funniest of Futurama and puts its heroes in original and crazy situations. The pace is very fast, which gives a chance for a lot of characters to shine, even Scruffy and his wash-bucket.
Similar and also considered but not as good: Time Keeps on Slippin'. Another one with a funny-crazy concept where a problem is solved with the help of the Globetrotters. It doesn't have the same vibe as The Prisoner of Benda though, as it questions the Fry and Leela relationship and ends on a heart-breaking moment, where the theorem episode focus exclusively on the fun moments.


Another one with a sci-fi concept turned hilarious by the Futurama writers. In this one, a box is the gateway to a parallel universe. So the Planet Express characters meet other versions of themselves, and the climax of the episode is as inventive and funny as Futurama gets. It involves two Planet Express crews chasing the Zoidbergs and the Universe they stole, a hippie Farnsworth and giant bobble heads.
Similar and also considered but not as good: The Direct-to-DVD film Bender's Game, where everyone is reinvented as The Lord of the Rings characters in an alternate reality.


An important piece of the Futurama mythology. It reveals why Fry was frozen and who is behind it. Basically, Fry's supreme idiocy is the reason he was sent to the year 3000 by the Nibblonians. Nibbler's people have foreseen the Brain Spawn would destroy the Universe, and only Fry can save it. It's not only a crucial moment in Futurama's big story, it's also a massively funny episode, and one that focuses on Fry's life: is he happy in the 31st century, or would he rather be living in the 21st? That question is answered in a perfect manner here.
Similar and also considered but not as good: I will mention two episodes here. First, The Day the Earth Stood Stupid, because it also features the Brain Spawn and it's equally funny to see Fry save the Earth as the Universe - but it didn't have the same impact on me. Then, Leela's Homeworld also has a big reveal that was planned since the beginning, but the episode itself isn't as great as The Why of Fry.


The series finale which aired very recently is in my opinion one of Futurama's finest episodes. It succeeds as a finale, which is harder to do than for just a regular episode. Then again, the writer of this episode, Ken Keeler, already had a lot of experience on the matter, having already penned the three previous Futurama finales. I won't explain why this episode is so good as I refuse to tell you what happens in it, but you can still read my mostly spoiler-free review.
Similar and also considered but not as good: The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings. The finale of the Fox era. A great one, but the Comedy Central finale is, I believe, superior.


We've now reached the perfect episodes of the list. Zoidberg is the Roswell alien, Bender is buried in the ground for over a thousand years but enjoys it, and Fry does "the nasty in the pasty", therefore becoming his own grandfather. An explosive episode (quite literally), hilarious and filled with superb ideas. The Futurama show-runners originally wanted to stay away from time-travel stories, but it would have been a shame if they stayed true to their word, as some of the more memorable episodes include time-travel. And Roswell That Ends Well, although being one of the best in this category, is not even the top-seeded on this list.
Similar and also considered but not as good: All the President's Heads. Also includes time-travel with hilarious consequences. Roswell That Ends Well is just on a whole other level.


Another time-travel episode and quite easily the best from the Comedy Central run. The Professor invents a time-machine that can only go forward. So he, Fry and Bender have a go and end up by accident in the year 10,000. They continue to travel forward in time until someone invents the backwards time-machine, meeting in their journey a wild variety of civilizations. But when they arrive in the year 1 billion, they realize all hope is lost, as life on Earth has ended. That's when they decide to go to the end of time. This episode is clever, funny, but also has a very moving moment. Oh, and the Professor shoots Eleanor Roosevelt. And there is a hilarious song in it. It would be difficult to top that, and yet The Late Philip J. Fry is only second on this list.
Similar and also considered but not as good: Godfellas has another apparently insolvable solution, with an almost metaphysical resolution. But the ending is a bit easy for me, that's why it falls short of this top ten.


This story is much more simple than the crazy plots of seeds 2 and 3 of this list, but what a moving one it is! Told with 21st century flashbacks, this episode explores the relationship between Fry and his older brother, Yancy. And the ending is so powerful - the most powerful in the history of Futurama - that I'll admit I can't watch The Luck of the Fryrish without a tear in my eye. That's mainly why this episode is my favourite ever of the show, and why I think it deserves the number 1 spot on this list.
Similar and also considered but not as good: Shockingly, the recently voted best Futurama episode by the fans, Jurassic Bark, is not even on my top ten list. Don't get me wrong: I think it's a great episode. But I had to make a choice and it doesn't do for me what a lot of other episodes of Futurama tend to do. A lot are funnier and some of them are featured here; and a few are more moving. A few, but enough to keep Jurassick Bark off this top ten. I'm certainly in the minority here, but I find The Luck of the Fryrish much more satisfying, and was more affected by the ending of Game of Tones. Maybe it's because they are about human relationships, as opposed to a human/dog relationship.

So that's it for me. What is your top ten?


  1. Great list, Damien! I'm not nearly a big enough Futurama fan to figure out which episodes I've seen and which are my favourites, but I agree with a good proportion of your picks!

    Nonetheless, here's my top ten - no particular order:

    Space Pilot 3000
    The Farnsworth Parabox
    Roswell That Ends Well
    The Late Phillip J. Fry
    The Luck of the Fryrish
    Jurassic Bark
    How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back
    Where No Fan Has Gone Before
    Parasites Lost

  2. All very good episodes. That's the thing with Futurama. So many great episodes that it's hard to pick just ten favourites.

  3. It's always the way with great shows. Ten different people can make ten different top ten lists, and there won't be the same episodes on any list.

  4. I haven't seen much of the Comedy Central episodes, but Reincarnation was a great one. I'm also of the mind that Jurassic Bark is a great episode, but it's one that I don't want to re-watch at all because of the ending.