You learn a lot on a twelve-hour train trip. Firstly, the human body can consume more cups of tea than you would think possible. Secondly, that the latter seasons of Futurama were actually really good.
While many recall the show’s halcyon days in its original four-season run, few remember some of the excellent episodes in seasons six and seven. Indeed, in the UK, the first four seasons were often rerun countless times – due to being uproariously hilarious – when they were aired by Sky TV, making it difficult for even a diehard fan like myself to catch up on the latest episodes until they were distributed on DVD. And, perhaps due to Comedy Central committing the cardinal sin of airing the shows out of their production order, viewer numbers did dwindle over the show’s second half.
However, I doubt I was the only fan elated at the discovery there would be more seasons of my favourite space-faring crew after their initial cancellation, and I am sure some viewers felt that the show had many more (inter)stellar stories to tell, which it turns out they certainly did. Furthermore, given the unfortunate decline of the once-venerated The Simpsons, many Groening groupies needed something to cleanse their sullied palate, and it would be difficult for Futurama not to improve on that.
Therefore, given my recent marathon and fondness for Futurama, I have taken it upon myself to remind of the standout stories from the show’s superb second half.
Please note that I have not ranked these episodes in any particular order, as I believe they are all deserving of merit in their own ways. I have also not counted season five as it technically constitutes a four-movie story arc, and so has plots that unfold over longer than the show’s average twenty-two-minute episode.
1. Proposition Infinity (Season 6, Episode 4)
This was the first episode where I felt Futurama had returned to form.
Taking a bitingly satirical view of the Proposition Eight debate in California, we see how the unlikely romantic pairing of Amy and Bender affects the views of not only the public but also their friends, drawing a range of emotions from anger to loving support.
The razor-sharp skewering of the anti-proposition infinity camp’s arguments, which largely reflected those of the real-life proposition eight group, is the episode’s best feature. From the hilarious parody of their laughable ad campaign, to the admission from Professor Farnsworth that he only hated “robosexual” marriage as his former robotic paramour cheated on him, this episode hits all the right notes.
– The entire anti-proposition infinity advert, which perfectly parodies that of the real life anti-proposition eight campaign.
– Amy (after watching the advert): “We can’t compete against THAT much stock footage of clouds! We’re boned!”
– While gay conversion therapy camps are no laughing matter, the writers definitely identify the dark side and deep hypocrisy of these centres, with Preacher-Bot letting slip his sinful desires.
– Transformer Vending Machine: “Nah, I’m a pre-ops Transformer”
2. Neutopia (Season 6, Episode 20)
Futurama always presents superb social commentary on a range of issues, and the subject of this episode – gender disparity and inequality – is no different.
Opening, once again, with the imminent foreclosure of Planet Express, the male colleagues all champion the moneymaking idea of a pin-up calendar featuring their female teammates. From here the plot veers wildly, including the comical conversion of Planet Express to an intergalactic airline, but the jokes come thick and fast. Throughout, the episode never loses sight of its message: men and women may be different, but their differences are strengths, not weaknesses.
– Apparently a certain ABC show continued well-on into the future – Big Rock Alien: “Name any twelve of the Desperate Housewives.”
– Fan favourites like Petunia, Hattie McDougall and Dr Cahill appear to stand up for their gender and show-it to the ungrateful men.
-The heated exchanges between the men and women after crashing the ship provide some hilarity while highlighting that both genders are great in their own ways.
3. The Bots and the Bees (Season 7, Episode 1)
Perhaps the reason I love this episode is that it lends emotional depth to Bender’s character that, while having been provided at previous points in the series, is always welcomed. Here, we see Bender – mostly – succeed at being a single father raising his young son. Which he conceived with an emotionally unstable vending machine named Bev, voiced by Wanda Sykes.
Ok, so maybe there are two reasons I love this episode.
Bender’s initial reluctance to look after his son, and attempts to reconcile his lewd lifestyle with raising a child provide plenty of laughs, but the ending features Futurama’s familiar bittersweet tone that had been established in earlier classics such as Luck of the Fryrish.
– The opening Avengers Assemble-style sequence. Never had the Professor’s “Good News Everyone!” been so eagerly awaited.
– The floozy-bots certainly provide many cheap gags, but that does not make them any less fun.
– When Bender’s son asks Bev if he will see Bender again, Bev says: “No, he died yesterday. Rust monsters ate his face. Sweet dreams!”
4. A Farewell to Arms (Season 7, Episode 2)
Remember the great Mayan doomsday prophecy of 2012? Maybe not. However, you will remember Futurama’s hilarious send-up of it in this episode.
Converting the date to 3012, and Mayan to Martian, this instalment sees the Planet Express crew stumble upon the doomsday prophecy made by the indigenous people of Mars. Featuring the same superb tongue-in-cheek parodying of the general hysteria and stupidity exhibited by certain sections of society in the run-up to the – supposed – end of the world, the writers create some memorable moments.
At the same time, we witness a clever subversion to the traditional apocalypse scenario in the final act, which could be seen as a not-so-subtle criticism of the entire practice of doomsday prophesying.
– Hattie McDoogal gets another one of her rare moments to shine: the line “Oh no! The kajigger of Gibraltar!” never fails to make me laugh out loud.
– The return of Martian Chief Singing Wind, whose sagely yet deadpan delivery of pivotal plot points always brings a chortle.
– Professor Farnsworth expresses his love and appreciation for our planet: “So long Earth, thanks for nothing!”
5. Law and Oracle (Season 6, Episode 16)
Some of Futurama’s best episodes revolve around Fry, his close friendship with Bender, and the writers’ ability to pastiche different works of science fiction. This episode is an excellent example of all of these.
As Fry decides to join the police force, he rises to the rank of detective in the future crimes division, à la Minority Report. This sees him work alongside the ever-hilarious robocop URL, featuring a myriad of popular culture references from Tron to Police Academy with something for everyone. The high-speed chase sequence perfectly amalgamates popular culture with real science: who would have thought learning could be so much fun?
Perhaps what really elevates this episode: the return of Hedonism Bot. His double-entendres, while filthy and smutty, always land perfectly and elicit a hearty snigger from the audience.
– All of Hedonism Bot’s lines, for example: “I’ll be upstairs putting batteries in things…”
– The clever Schrodinger’s Cat sequence.
– Bender: “Neat. So where are we goin’?” Farnsworth: “Pandora. Leela: “That dangerous 3D planet? Can’t we just send our avatars?” Farnsworth: “No! It’s cheaper just to have you die.”
6. Game of Tones (Season 7, Episode 23)
As we’ve established, Futurama knows how to perfectly balance eliciting laughs while tugging at the heartstrings. Like Jurassic Bark, this episode digs into Fry’s psyche, demonstrating he has greater emotional depth than it may seem. Furthermore, it does a fantastic job of expanding upon his relationship with his mother, who up until this point was just a caricature.
Featuring a Close Encounters-style plot, we see Fry and the gang journey into his memories so that he can identify the source of these mysterious musical notes before earth is destroyed. Here is where the show shines, referencing previous characters such as Fry’s adorable dog Seymour and featuring an appearance from the always-hilarious Nixon as he becomes embroiled in our heroes’ desperate attempt to save earth.
However, I defy anyone not to shed a tear in the closing minutes, as we see Fry baring a basic, emotional need for comfort and love from the mother that he will never see again.
– The happy return of Seymour, especially given the emotional scarring from Jurassic Bark.
– Fry’s dad: “Good God, it’s Richard Nixon, our greatest President!” Nixon: “That’s right daddy-o, and I need to take your hippie son on a far-out musical quest.” Fry’s dad: “Get out of my house, you commie.”
– Nixon: “The world outside the dream is cracking apart. Like a delicious frozen Charleston Chew!”
7. All the Presidents’ Heads (Season 6, Episode 23)
This is probably my second-favourite Futurama time-travel episode: only the sublime Roswell That Ends Well can top it, and that is saying something.
Here we learn about the magical time-travelling qualities of the water used in head jars, get a hilarious retelling of the founding of the United States, and witness the darkest timeline – depending on your perspective – whereby America never gained independence from Britain. Think The Man in the High Castle, only scarier.
The final act of this episode is particularly amusing as we see our beloved characters showcasing their best cockney accents and British mannerisms while trying to find their way back to the true timeline. Indeed, the only thing better than Zoidberg is cockney Zoidberg.
– Leela: “I know we’re ladies-in-waiting, but what are we waiting for?”
– The comic rendition of various historical figures, including Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere.
– Benjamin Franklin’s unknown inventions, namely The Franklinator.
8. Prisoner of Benda (Season 6, Episode 10)
This episode is Futurama firing on all cylinders. There is no emotional sucker-punch like that witnessed in Jurassic Bark, no high stakes such as those in Game of Tones, just good ol’ fashioned cartoon hijinks.
The Professor invents another far-fetched contraption – not some sort of death clock – that allows two people to switch minds, but not switch them back. Despite the simplicity of the plot, the writers run with it and create one of the most deliciously absurd episodes throughout the show’s run. Each character gets a chance to act out their defining characteristics, except in the body of another, and we see several amusing pairings interact.
This is the one episode I will watch when I need a pick-me-up, and it never fails to put a smile on my face, I cannot recommend it enough. It is so funny that Eric Rogers, one of the show’s writers, considered it the best episode of season six, and that is saying something. If you want to induct someone into the world of Futurama, this episode is a good place to start.
– The entire Scruffy and Wash-bucket romance sub-plot is so over-the-top, yet it actually works. I defy you not to shed a tear at their forbidden romance.
– Despite the goofiness of the plot, the mathematics used by The Harlem Globetrotters in the closing minutes to resolve the puzzle actually checks out, as writer Ken Keeler used his Ph.D in mathematics to solve it.
– Leela: “At least you get the senior discount at the movies. I hate paying $14 to see Nicolas Cage solve things.” Leela (later, in Farnsworth’s body, on the telephone): “But then Nicolas Cage realised that the real treasure was his family. Yes, I’ll hold.”