Since its premiere in 1999, sci-fi sitcom Futurama has seen numerous ups and downs: getting cancelled and revived and finally cancelled again in 2013. But during its two runs, our lovable crew of misfits of Fry, Leela, Bender, Zoidberg and Amy led by Professor Farnsworth took us along on some incredibly funny and well-written adventures, cementing a place for themselves in the hearts of comedy fans everywhere.
Set in the year 2999, the show—created by The Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Leonard X Cohen—always lived in the shadow of its older Springfield-based sibling. But it’s got enough of a devoted following that the fans demanded a second resurrection. Hulu heard them and picked up the show, and we’re all set to get its third iteration, which premieres on 24 July.
If you’re sceptical about this latest comeback, your concerns aren’t unwarranted. There’s a strong recent trend of comeback shows that failed to lived up to hype and tainted the legacy of their previously near-perfect runs (Gilmore Girls, Arrested Development). But one always hopes that the writers can emulate the same magic that made us root for the Planet Express gang.
While we anticipate the premiere of the eighth season, we’ve put together a little refresher course for the OG fans and a starter kit for people who are looking to embark upon this intergalactic adventure.
Where No Fan Has Gone Before (Season 4, Episode 11)
Watching Star Trek is a rite of passage for any budding science-fiction geek. The show has spawned multi-million dollar franchises, video games and spinoffs, and served as inspiration for writers, directors and actors who went on to contribute to the genre—J J Abrams being just one of them. Naturally, Futurama, a show which panders to geeks with all its science fiction references and easter eggs, had to dip their toes into the pool with a Star Trek-themed episode titled Where No Fan Has Gone Before. Not only did they manage to pay a loving homage to the show, they did it with great comedy at its core. In addition to the brilliant writing, the team went the extra mile for a hefty dose of nostalgia and got almost the entire main cast of the original series— William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, George Takei and Nichelle Nichols—to join as guest voices. All of whom brought their A-game.
A quick rundown of the episode: Star Trek has been banned from the galaxy after their cult following turned into a religion that finally perished in the Star Trek Wars. The tapes of the original series are buried on a planet called Omega 3. When the crew lands there, they realise an energy being named Mellvar—a slightly mean but hilarious parody of a true blue Trekkie—has revived the entire Star Trek cast to create a never-ending fan convention. It’s up to Fry and the gang to save the day now.
War is the H-Word (Season 2, Episode 17)
General Zapp Brannigan—voiced by Billy West—is an egotistical military officer working for the Democratic Order of Planets and Earth’s Government, and possibly the show’s funniest character. His misplaced confidence and incompetence coupled with one-liners (a personal favourite being, “If we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.”) are key to his appeal. Both these qualities are on display in War Is The H-Word.
Fry and Bender come in contact with Brannigan when they enlist in the army because, get this, they want a 5% veteran’s discount on supermarket chewing gum. Given the current prices of Fusen gum, I’m not ashamed to admit that I would probably take this approach as well. However, Fry and Bender find themselves in a bit of a situation when President Richard Nixon declares war on the barren Spheron I for no good reason. Not that Nixon ever needed a good reason in the real world either.
The entire episode is a Dr. Strangelove-esque satire about the barbarity and pointlessness of war. You’ll notice Star Wars and Star Troopers references sprinkled throughout, as well as a full-fledged homage to the American black war comedy M*A*S*H.
Prisoners of Benda (Season 6, Episode 10)
I belong to a rare community of mathematics enthusiasts. So I just have to put Futurama’s only maths-based episode on the list. And when I say maths-based, I mean it. Writer Ken Keeler—who also casually holds a doctorate in mathematics—penned and proved a theorem based on group theory, and then used it to explain the plot twist in this episode to showrunner and head writer David X Cohen. “This was probably the first time that a mathematical theorem was proven in a television script, and it was probably Futurama’s proudest mathematical moment,” Cohen said in an interview with Red Carpet News.
The episode isn’t just clever with the numbers but also the writing. It all begins with Professor Farnsworth’s desire to relive his youthful days. For this, he’s invented a mind-switching device. Duh. What follows is a comedy of errors with the entire Planet Express Ship swapping places with each other. Meanwhile, Bender has his own thing going, planning a heist to steal Robo-Hungary’s Emperor Nikolai’s crown. To figure out how everyone returns to their original bodies, you can solve a complex mathematical equation. Or you can just watch the episode.
The Farnsworth Parabox (Season 4, Episode 15)
“Multiverse” is a word that’s being flung around a lot lately. But this trope existed way before Marvel and DC. A galaxy full of universes just slightly different from one another is one of the cornerstones of science fiction. What Futurama does brilliantly is take these tried and tested cliches and puts their own spin on them, resulting in a wholesome 20-minute sitcom episode. This is exemplified in The Farnsworth Parabox.
Written by Bill Odenkirk (yes, Bob Odenkirk’s brother), the episode showcases our titular characters in alternate universes—Universe A and Universe 1. How did all this start? Because they opened up a “parallel universe box”. But in this classic sci-fi situation, you don’t get to see evil versions of the characters, as we’ve been trained by years of movies and books to expect. The difference is much simpler: coin flips have different outcomes in both universes. But, like the butterfly effect, this small change has some very major ramifications. We aren’t going to dish out spoilers. All we’ll say is that this episode is going to tug at your heartstrings by the end.
The Sting (Season 4, Episode 12)
This one gets a little dark. In a bid to prove their mettle as a remarkable crew to Professor Farnsworth, Leela signs the team up for the deadly task of extracting honey from space bees. It’s a mission so deadly that it cost the professor his previous colleagues’ lives. Things are going well, but Bender can’t resist hurling one insult at the hive’s queen. Before you know it, they’re under attack. When one bee goes straight for Leela, Fry jumps in the way, getting fatally impaled on a giant stinger. Leela survives with just a minor injury. But what follows is a nightmarish and complicated stretch of consciousness where she can no longer discern between her waking and sleeping hours. The boundary between the living and the dead blurs beyond all hope of recognition.
This is a brilliant example of how good the writers of the show truly are. The suspense of whether the beloved Fry has actually passed—and if yes, how are they going to bring him back—keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. And then suddenly we’re hit by a shocker of a twist which comes clean out of left field.
Jurassic Bark (Season 4, Episode 7)
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve gone through an entire box of tissues ugly-crying as I watched this episode. After I’m done telling you what the episode is all about, you’re not going to be able to hold back either (unless you’re made of stone). When Fry visits the Natural History Museum he’s surprised to find the partially fossilised remains of his pet dog Seymour Assess (yes, that’s the name). He’s even more delighted when Professor Farnsworth reveals that he can not only clone his furry little friend but restore his consciousness exactly how it was in the twentieth century. But at the last minute, Fry calls off the procedure after Farnsworth reveals that Seymour lived till he was 15, thinking that the dog had already lived a full life after his disappearance.
Where’s the sad part? Well, we’re treated to a final flashback in which Seymour sits in front of Panucci’s Pizza—where he last saw Fry—as the song I Will Wait for You by Connie Francis plays. He grows old and the seasons change around him. But still, he waits just as he was told. The episode ends twelve years later as Seymour lies down on the concrete and closes his eyes. Reminds you of Hachiko, doesn’t it?
The episode tugs brutally at the heartstrings, in a way that we’re not used to seeing on television. Episodes like this are what make this show as great as it is, with the ending still held up as one of the most iconic and heartbreaking television moments ever. If anyone ever doubts the power of Futurama, show them this episode.
Roswell That Ends Well (Season 3, Episode 19)
Roswell That Ends Well earned Futurama its first Emmy win for Best Animated Program. It’s a well-earned accolade given the episode’s twisted but hilarious storyline.
Let’s get this one thing out of the way first. The elevator pitch for this episode is: Fry sleeps with his own grandmother. To be fair, she isn’t his grandmother at the time but no amount of technical wiggle-room can hide our protagonist’s breaking of a major temporal taboo. Why would he do something like that? Well, once again, it’s Fry’s hollow melon which lands him in this dilemma. He’s trying to microwave some popcorn while passing by a supernova and bam—there’s some kind of emission that hurls them back in time to 1947 New Mexico. One thing leads to another, and suddenly Fry is his own grandfather.
The episode’s subversive commentary on the time travel genre truly makes it stand out in a particularly stellar season.