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Monday, April 22, 2013

MAKIN' LISTS MONDAY: Top 10 Futurama Episodes

I originally intended for this week’s Top 10 list to be my All Time Favorite Animated Feature Films, a quasi sequel to my first Top 10 list.  However, after today’s announcement that Futurama has been cancelled…again, I decided to switch it up and cover my Top 10 favorite episodes of Matt Groening’s vastly superior** but far less appreciated creation.  Oddly enough, I didn’t care much for Futurama when it first aired, despite growing up a total sci-fi nerd.  The show failed to click with me until I started watching it on [adult swim] in college.  Maybe my tastes matured or something.  Since then, however, Futurama has become one of my favorite television shows of all time and tonight we look at my favorite episodes of this modern classic.

I will openly admit that I have a soft spot for the emotional episodes of Futurama, not just because I’m a big softy (which I am), but because the creators do such a great job of balancing heartbreaking moments with completely absurd humor.  One of the better examples of this was “Luck of the Fryish,” which follows Fry’s hunt for his lucky seven-leaf clover.  Along the way we learn about Fry’s relationship with his older brother (which, in true Fry fashion, he misunderstands) and the fate of his namesake nephew.  The episode builds to a great twist as Fry grows angrier and angrier until the rug is pulled out from under him and he realizes just how wrong he was.  It hits like a punch to the gut and makes this episode unforgettable.

While I am partial to those emotional episodes, I do love me some insane silliness, which is exactly what “Bend Her” is all about.  Bender disguises himself as woman to dominate the world of female robot athletics, going so far as to have an actual sex change—which might be irreversible.  Hijinks ensue as Bender’s life as  a woman is far more glamorous than he anticipated.  The highlight for me though might just be Bender singing the national anthem of his “home planet”—Hail, Hail Robonia, a planet I didn’t make up.

Zoidberg is, by far, my favorite Futurama character but sadly, only a few episodes center on his crazy antics.  Of the five or so episodes I can think of off the top of my head, “Why Must I be a Crustacean in Love?” is my easy favorite.  Zoidberg returns to his home planet for his species mating ritual, where he is seen as even more of a failure than he is on Earth.  What follows is a messed up intergalactic version of Cyrano, all leading up to a fight to the death between Fry and Zoidberg over the love of a lobster woman.  It’s pretty damn rad.

Futurama is filled with references to the Star Trek franchise, with the most visible being the fanboy-jabbing “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” which reveals that Fry is a hardcore Trekker, though perhaps not as hardcore as a mysterious alien that abducts both the original cast of Star Trek and the Planet Express crew.  Featuring a Who’s Who of guest stars, this episode is as much a homage as it is a tongue-in-cheek attack on sci-fi nerds everywhere.  Plus, you get William Shatner showing just how much he really is like Captain Kirk by seducing Leela.

When a surplus of government funds means every citizen of Earth gets $300 “Tricky Dick Funbucks” from President Nixon, the baffling financial choices of Planet Express crew makes for one hell of an episode.  This is one of the few episodes that gives equal airtime to nearly every character, with all of their individual absurdities covered in how they choose to spend their $300.  Between Bender trying to steal the world’s greatest cigar to Zoidberg “living the good life,” this episode is filled with unforgettable moments.

“The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” was the original ‘final episode’ of Futurama before it was relaunched several times—each with their own take on the finale.  This is the best of the group (though we’ll see what the true final episode (for now) brings later this year).  In this episode, Fry makes a deal with the Robot Devil that could finally mean winning Leela’s heart, only to set off a chain reaction that ruins his plans in the most unexpected ways.  Filled with surprise twists and bizarre musical performances, this episode capped off the series nicely…even if it was only temporary.

Hermes is only employee of Planet Express that actually does any work, even if it is mostly bureaucratic nonsense.  When all of that work earns him a vacation, his replacement (played by guest star Nora Dunn) turns life upside down for the gang and nearly costs Bender his in-your-face personality (though Fry does get lucky, so it’s not a total wash).  This one is solid from start to finish, culminating in a calypso number that will get stuck in your head for days.

In my opinion, “Roswell that Ends Well” is probably the funniest episode in the entire run of Futurama.  When a microwaving mishap sends the crew back in time to the 1950s, the group is tasked with saving one of their own without disrupting the timeline.  As expected, they do the complete opposite, leading to the formation of Area 51 and a disturbing revelation about Fry’s ancestry.  I’ve probably watched this episode more than any other and even after dozens of viewings it still cracks me up every single time.

“Lethal Inspection” is the lone episode of the Comedy Central-era of Futurama to make the list.  I’ve enjoyed the new episodes, but none of them (save this one) have lived up to the originals.  Still though, even if the entire new run was unwatchable drivel, it would be worth it as long as we got this episode, which follows Bender on a hunt for the inspector that allowed him to be shipped despite having a rather serious flaw.  The ensuing “team up” between Hermes and Bender is a lot of fun, but the emotional final moments are perhaps the most heartwarming in the entire series.  If you don’t tear up a little bit at the end, I fear that you may not be capable of human emotions. 

Ah, yes, the infamous “Jurassic Bark”—you are as hated as you are beloved, and all for the same reason.  This episode is not only one of the most emotional complex and simply effective episodes of Futurama, but I’d say it is one of the most heartbreaking episodes in the history of television.  When the remains of the pizza parlor where he worked in the year 2000 is unearthed, Fry is faced with the dilemma of whether or not he should clone his dog Seymour, who was perfectly preserved in the rubble.  The episode itself is surprisingly poignant, but it is the final scene that makes it so memorable.  Though I’m really not sure that “memorable” is the right word; “haunting” might be more fitting.  If you only ever watch one episode of Futurama, I demand that it be this one—but don’t say I didn’t warn you when you are bawling like an idiot by the end.

What are your favorites?

**Okay, I’m probably going to take a lot of shit for saying that Futurama is vastly superior to The Simpsons.  I understand and appreciate the rabid fandom that The Simpson has developed over the last 20+ years, but in my opinion, the show should’ve ended after about ten.  While there have been some classic episodes in the later seasons, the fact is that the show has hit a rather large creative wall that is tarnishing its own legacy.  How many times do we need to see a new spin on how Homer and Marge met?  Or another episode where Bart falls for a trouble-maker guest star? Or where Moe tries to be more civilized but ultimate fails? Or anything Sideshow Bob?  The show has been repeating stories for years.  It seems like 9 out of 10 episodes draw from the same stock plot pile.  Some are more successful than others, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve watched it all before, whereas I feel like Futurama has been fairly fresh throughout its entire run.  I read somewhere that Futurama will end with 140 episodes.  I dare you to find 140 episodes in all 20+ seasons of The Simpsons that are cumulatively better than Futurama’s run.  Even that seems impossible and that actually allows you to cut out nearly 400 episodes.  Simply put, for my money, Futurama is far better than The Simpsons and part of me is glad that the show will be put to rest before it can become a hollow shell of itself just as its predecessor did.

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