“The Farnsworth Parabox”
Season four, episode 15
The Professor creates a box with a parallel universe, where everyone has a slightly different looking doppelgänger, and everything is the same except the outcome of coin flips. But after the Zoidbergs steal the box containing the universe we know, the two groups have to go universe hopping to get it back. The episode is loaded with laugh out loud moments (especially from the Professor, at his meanest here), and this episode exemplifies how artfully the show handled classic sci-fi tropes.
“The Late Philip J. Fry”
Season six, episode seven
Not many shows can say they made watching the ending of the entire universe one of the most sentimental and beautiful moments in its history, but Futurama can. The Professor’s forward only time machine leads to the show’s continued exploration on the themes of love and loss, as well as insightful commentary on the very nature of existence and the universe. And it did all of that in a 22-minute episode of an animated sci-fi comedy.
“Where No Fan Has Gone Before”
Season four, episode 11
For a show set in the 31st century, Futurama was loaded with pop culture references from today, and none better capture that than this episode, starring cast members from the original Star Trek. (Not to mention it is a parody of a Star Trek episode itself.) It’s also a spot-on commentary on the zealousness of modern fandom and how some people can go a little too far with their love for old shows. Signed, a guy who spent a lot of time writing about this old show
“The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”
Season four, episode 18
With apologies to Robot Santa and Hedonismbot, the greatest secondary character in show history is the Robot Devil, and this episode is his Citizen Kane. After an evil deal with Fry goes wrong (that giant wheel is one of the best gags they ever did), the two switch hands, and Fry is able to use his new Robot Devil hands to play the holophonor beautifully. That helps him show Leela how much he loves her. Of course the Robot Devil forces him to give them up, but the episode still ends on a touching, beautiful note. (PUN INTENDED.)
“Roswell That Ends Well”
Season three, episode 19
Remember how creepy it was to watch Marty McFly’s mother try to have sex with him? Well Futurama took it another step–then actually took that step–here, where Fry goes back in time, gets his grandfather killed, and has sex with his own grandmother, making him his own grandfather. It’s a hilarious episode on its own, but what makes it even better was how it contributed to other great episodes and the larger story of the show.
“The Day The Earth Stood Stupid”
Season three, episode seven
Most heroes are smart and brave, but Fry wasn’t most heroes. This episode features the first appearance of the evil Brainspawn, and the revelation that Nibbler isn’t a dumb little animal, but one of the oldest beings in the universe sworn to protect it. The final sequence, when Fry (and his bad-spelling) defeats the Big Brain is easily one of the funniest in show’s history, and shows that heroes come in all shapes and IQs.
“The Why of Fry”
Season four, episode ten
This followup to “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid” explains Fry was able to defeat the Brainspawn because he lacks the Delta brainwave, as a result of being his own grandfather. But then he learns that he didn’t accidentally fall into the cryogenic tube on at midnight on New Year’s Eve in the year 2000, Nibbler pushed him in because he was the only person who could save the universe. Fry first decides he doesn’t care about that and stops Nibbler, before realizing that means Leela won’t be saved either. It’s everything you’d want in an episode of the show, tying in multiple major story lines, the inherent sadness of Fry’s existence, and how his love for Leela seems to be what keeps the universe going.
“Three Hundred Big Boys”
Season four, episode 16
Futurama was also a very precisely written show and this episode, where everyone on Earth got a tax rebate for $300, shows how. All of the independent character strands come together perfectly in a final sequence that pays off one of the best gags in show history, as Fry’s decision to drink 100 cups of coffee ends up saving the day. (Bonus: this might also be the funniest we ever saw Zoidberg, which is really saying something.)
Season four, episode seven
The entire premise of Futurama is inherently sad, as Fry got sent 1,000 years into the future, leaving behind his friends and family who never got any explanation about what happened to him. Despite being an animated comedy, the show never shied from exploring the forlorn implications of Fry’s time travel. And oh man, is this episode depressing, after Fry found the fossilized body of his beloved dog Seymour. This episode, which deftly explores loss, nostalgia, moving on, and of course loyalty, ends with one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in television history. It’s the best parody of The Odyssey ever, and also the saddest.
“The Luck of the Fryrish”
Season three, episode four
In “Jurassic Bark” Fry walked away believing Seymour moved on without him and lived a happy life, but this episode, where he becomes obsessed with the idea his jealous brother stole his identity and his dreams, doesn’t let him have his blissful ignorance. He realizes he was missed because he was loved, and it is devastating. Good luck not crying at the end of this episode.
“Time Keeps on Slippin'”
Season three, episode 14
If one episode captures everything about this show–the references, the humor, the science, the sincerity, and the sadness of Fry’s struggles–it is this one. It involves the Harlem Globetrotters, time skips, lots of sci-fi elements, and Fry desperately trying to understand how he finally made Leela love him. The ending is beautiful and bittersweet, which is when the show was always at its best.
But we can already hear you guys yelling at us for leaving off other episodes you think are just as essential, so tell us in the comments below which ones we should have included. Did “Fry and the Slurm Factory” deserve recognition, or “The Prisoner of Benda?” What about the pilot, or “Leela’s Homeworld?” Let’s discuss all our favorites while we get ready for an all new one this week
Images: Fox/Comedy Central