In one week, Futurama will end its current run on Comedy Central and will be canceled for the foreseeable future. As a longtime fan who snuck episodes of the show when he was not quite old enough for references to Bender’s posterior, the news of the series finale fills me with some foreboding and perhaps more than a little nostalgia. Because of this and a sense of gratitude for all the years of superior sci-fi comedy, here are four must-watch episodes before the show concludes on September 4th.
SPACE PILOT 3000 (Series Pilot)
Time-travel has always been Futurama’s biggest staple for weaving together hilarious scenarios, and the aptly titled “Space Pilot 3000” is no exception. Utilizing perhaps one of the funniest montages ever, we’re introduced to protagonist Philip J. Fry; a lovably dim-witted 20th century pizza delivery boy who stumbles into a cryogenic chamber and awakens a thousand years in the future. Ironically becoming a delivery boy at the “Planet Express,” Fry begins work and adventure under his borderline senile descendant Professor Farnsworth.
It’s a pilot that starts things off with a bang, and the introductions to all of the now household main characters (particularly the run-in with Bender in a suicide booth) are absolutely priceless. The sight gags are gut-busting, the voice acting is top notch, and much like Fry, we are left with the sense that great things are on the horizon. And with the series ending soon, it’s only appropriate to go full circle and revisit the beginning.
ANTHOLOGY OF INTEREST II (SEASON 3, EPISODE 18)
The Simpsons have their “Treehouse of Horror” series, so why shouldn’t Futurama have its own anthologies? It started with Season Two’s “Anthology of Interest” episode before blossoming into a series of episodes that satirized everything from saturday morning cartoons to nature documentaries. The best by far is Season Three’s “Anthology of Interest II,” which revives the What-If machine from its predecessor in order to demonstrate more fantastical scenarios springing from the Planet Express crew.
Unlike the other Futurama anthologies, all of the stories balance each other well, and keep the laughs consistent throughout. Between the lovingly subverted rendition of The Wizard of Oz in “Wizzin,” the lighter video game story “Raiders of the Lost Arcade,” and the darkly off-kilter “I, Meatbag,” it’s an unforgettable 22 minute experience, and one well-worth revisiting.
WHERE NO FAN HAS GONE BEFORE (Season 4, Episode 11)
Proudly showcasing the writers’ love for Star Trek, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” reunites most of the living Original Series actors within perhaps Futurama’s funniest episode. Stranded on a distant planet and forced to reenact a Star Trek convention for a god-like alien fanboy, the Planet Express crew and Trek cast must utilize their fandom and cooperation in order to find some means of escape. It provides a wonderful balance between satirizing and homaging Original Star Trek, and the scene where the cast must act out terribly written fan fiction is nothing short of hysterical. It’s hilarious to both initiated and non-initiated Trekkies, and speaks volumes of the show’s ability to rib the things it truly admires.
THE LATE PHILIP J. FRY (Season 6, Episode 7)
At its most inspiring, Futurama can mold a truly fantastic scenario in such a way that tickles our heart strings as much as our funny bones. If there is one episode that epitomizes that, the time-travel story “The Late Philip J. Fry” stands unrivaled at the top of the heap. Stuck in the future with a time machine that can only move forward, Fry, the Professor, and Bender find themselves progressing through human history (to a hilarious parody of “In the Year 2525”) in order to make it back to their present time. This is a juxtaposed against the lives of the remaining Planet Express crew members, as we see their standings change and Leela forced to carry on a solitary life without Fry.
It’s touching, humorous, and beautifully animated the entire way through, and a particular scene involving a final “goodbye” between Fry and Leela always leaves me with more than a few tears. It was a sign that the show had returned to its former glory after its hiatus between 2003 and 2008, and it still stands in my opinion as one of the greatest and funniest time travel stories ever told.
So go out and watch some Futurama, and celebrate it before its gone. And until then, all hail Hypnotoad.