Shut up and take my list! The Top Ten Episodes from Futurama’s Resurgence
As an ardent Futurama supporter who walked around proud that the show premiered on his birthday in 1999, it was very exciting for me back in 2009 when I heard my darling would be revived on Comedy Central. Like many fans, I felt the show had more to offer before it was left to the inevitable fate of all good cable comedy shows from the ’90s: to appear in a two-hour ‘komedy block’ from 5:00-7:00 on a channel like Omni 1. Though it took four years to do so, Futurama delivered us 46 more episodes before it was announced for the umpteenth time that the show was, again, to be cancelled. This time, instead of the indignation of a rapidly-aging cartoon fan who was getting too old to look into new shows, I took the news like a proud parent: my darling’s team had not won the ballgame, but they had had their fun and now it was time for a sticky bun from IGA. In other words, the period of grieving had passed. It was time to celebrate the show’s accomplishments and suggest they try piano lessons.
New episodes of an old favourite are tricky because if you depart too far from the successful formula of prior seasons, fans get upset that the show is “not the same.” If you stay too streamlined to old episodes, it can feel like what was once groundbreaking is now mundane and time has passed it by. Futurama’s new episodes were largely ignored by the general populace, but strongly supported by the nerdy collective that called for its revival in the first place. The show found a middle ground between old and new, falling into some old formulas (Bender’s less weepy and more of a jerk / pile on the tear-jerking) while establishing some newer concepts (social media gags for the modern viewer / revisionist episodes instead of the What If Machine).
My job, as dork and host of You Guessed It! You Can’t Unguess It! Futurama Trivia – which recently ended its own run at the Gladstone Pub in Toronto (another class sci-fi trivia show cancelled before it’s time) – is to dissemble the 46 latest episodes for the more casual fans to herald those most worthy of praise. Of course, the previous sentence – for the hardened fan – translates into: “…is to create a terrible list that you will disagree with forever.” C’est la vie. I’m doing this out of duty to the show, my Futurama brethren, and my Dork Shelf overlords and superiors. You’re welcome to call my opinions into question. Just remember that the show premiered on my birthday so I’m twice the fan you are, got it? Let’s gooooo already!
10. The Butterjunk Effect (Season 7, episode 6):
One of two episodes on this list that plays with gender stereotypes and female masculinity, “The Butterjunk Effect” stands out for classic structure and ability to succeed without Bender or Fry behind the wheel. It is reminiscent of “Raging Bender” wherein Bender fights his way up the Ultimate Robot Fighting League, complete with montage and everything. The Butterfly Derby joins the likes of the actual Demolition Derby from Bender’s Game as a futuristic yokel pastime, and has as many ridiculous twists as a game of blurnsball, including a colossal electric light, Super Swatter, and even folding chairs fluttering about on little butterfly wings of their own.
The episode focuses on Leela and Amy as they become hooked on Nectar, a substance akin to steroids that buffs up their muscles and makes them extremely hostile. While the substance equals success in the derby ring and brings them closer to a championship with the adversarial Wingnuts, it pulls them farther away from Fry and Kif their proportionally gentle and wimpy lovers. Eventually, the dealer selling them Nectar runs out and Leela and Amy are going to have to win the old-fashioned way.
The Grand midwife from “Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch” makes her return during a foray to Kif’s home planet, taking on a plethora of jobs in addition to midwife. While we have seen this planet before, this time around is funnier than our previous trip as Kif does less exposition. However, the place where the episode really shines is whenever Leela and Amy are harassing innocent bystanders by yelling and flexing their muscles.
BEST MOMENT: After giving them Nectar, the locker room “trainer” makes to leave before suspiciously slinking off behind some lockers.
9. A Clockwork Origin (Season 6, episode 9):
While the show has always been intelligent, the resurgence tried harder than before to be topical or borderline controversial. Recognizing its target demographic and how they viewed the world meant such ‘controversy’ was entirely minimal by modern standards, but it made for some interesting episodes wherein the staff at Futurama clearly had something to say. “A Clockwork Origin” is one such episode, looking at the theory of evolution and being surprisingly less fiercely supportive than one might have thought.
The episode centers around Bender and the Professor arguing over the possibility of robo-evolution, which then spirals into a heated debate with Professor Banjo – an intelligent ape that disagrees with evolutionary theory. Finally, to much internet aplomb, the Professor mutters the words, “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore” and the real fun begins as he inadvertently becomes god to an entire robotic civilization.
The episode works for many reasons, starting with the fact that it is focused storytelling that gets a lot done in little. Watching a robo-society evolve is totally enjoyable and lets the crew be ‘lost on a foreign planet’ which has been a solid basis in years past. The writing is just snarky enough without sounding too critical of creationism, while running a few parallels throughout the story to keep it clever and engaging. It also introduces Dr. Banjo who appears again in episode 717 “Fry and Leela’s Big Fling.”
BEST MOMENT: Fry shouting, “This is a cool way to dieeeeeee!” as he gets carried off by a robo-pterodactyl.
8. Assie Come Home (Season 7, episode 21):
Rolling in as recently as this August, “Assie Come Home,” and others from the most recent release of episodes, have not had much time to ruminate. Gauging quality and comparison amongst new vs. old is indeed the balancing act that Futurama required of its fans in the first place, so being willing to tackle new episodes with an open mind is already a prerequisite. What “Assie” does best is the very opposite of “Clockwork Origin.” It feels like an old episode because it follows one simple storyline and introduces a unique, new part of the galaxy that avoids being “too unique.”
Again getting more topical than early Futurama, the episode begins with a take on street violence when Fry and Leela are sent to deliver guns to warring gangs. Upon trying to leave the planet, they find Bender’s been bot-jacked and his parts have been sold across the galaxy. Tracking each one down, they eventually must locate the final missing piece – his ass – bringing them to an interstellar lighthouse amid a foggy asteroid belt.
The opening gags with the mixed up gang colours and safety-conscious thugs make for big laughs, and the ensuing journey to collect Bender’s missing body is a fun transition. What I appreciate most about the second half is how simple and small it feels. So many of the newer Futurama episodes were hurt by trying too hard to be special episodes or convoluted science fiction. “Assie Come Home,” despite the ludicrous premise of an episode focused on Bender’s ass, feels quaint and streamlined – a careful episode that works well while avoiding pitfalls.
BEST MOMENT: The gang members all shoot themselves with lasers after one side offers guns as a peace offering. Leela: “Let’s just agree that gang violence is an important issue with no easy answers.”
7. Viva Mars Vegas (Season 7, episode 12):
“Viva Mars Vegas” runs a classic Oceans 11 set-up, a plot that – surprisingly, with Bender’s love of burglary – has yet to play out in the Futurama universe. While the storyline is nothing new, the execution of this episode is spot on as it combines numerous heist cliches with established elements of the Futurama universe – particularly meshing well with both episode 310 “Where the Buggalo Roam” with its introduction of the native Martians, and Into the Wild Green Yonder with the megalomaniac construction of Leo Wong. As proven by episodes like “Why Must I be a Crustacean in Love?” from season two, Dr. Zoidberg is a character who is simply too strong to remain in his previous role: being used sparingly but to great effect. While he still excels at this, he can anchor a new episode on his own – and no resurgence episode demonstrates this more than “Viva Mars Vegas.”
The story begins with the Robot Mafia stashing cash from their latest heist in Zoidberg’s dumpster while at the same time Amy takes the crew to tour her parents’ new casino. Being a poor bum, Zoidberg is not invited – but when he finds the cash, he promptly uses it to live like a king for a day in Mars Vegas before, naturally, losing it all. The Robot Mafia does not approve. Amy then devises a casino heist to retrieve the squandered money and return the casino to its rightful owners.
This episode has lots to like, starting with the always-great Robot Mafia robbing (Jar Jar) Binks security and ending with the ironic pleasure of the native Martians and the casino’s best guard “Blind Joe.” The show maintains its sci-fi quotient with the invisible ink that is spilled all over Zoidberg, adding some memorable visual gags to the mix. The ending is clever and ties things together much like a major heist movie – but even better are the series of jokes in the newly discovered Planet Express Chart Room. Much like the Angry Dome from “Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch,” the room never existed before this episode – but without a formal layout, no one can say it hasn’t been there all along. In the end, the episode puts humour first and simplifies the storyline from some other resurgence episodes that are too convoluted for their own good.
BEST MOMENT: After unintentionally beating up an invisible Dr. Zoidberg, Joey Mousepad adds: “Come on, Clamps. Let’s go. And watch out, there’s some kind of smelly air pocket over there.” Also: the Chart Room.
6. Meanwhile (Season 7, episode 26):
The latest of the final-episodes-ever, “Meanwhile” has to compete with “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” – which did a great job of finishing Futurama in the first place – and does a more than respectable job of providing fan closure. In addition to offering an emotional punch – something not done to the same level in resurgence episodes due to the well being dry – our final episode is an exceptionally fun science fiction set-up, with clever, careful writing and great use of time (pun intended). If there’s one thing Futurama does well, and has always done well, it’s key in on a specific science fiction trait and craft an episode around it. The invention of an object that can send the user back in time ten seconds, including the time-proof shelter, make this episode a keeper even before Leela and Fry “walk off into the sunset.”
The episode revolves around a near-death experience prompting Fry to finally propose to Leela – an eventuality that has been brewing since the show’s return. The Professor, meanwhile, has invented a time button that creates a time sphere that sends the user 10 seconds backwards in time. Fry steals the device, intending on using it when Leela meets him to confirm or reject his proposal, at 6:30 at the top of the Vampire State Building (definitely an overdue pun with New New York being so central to the show since 1999). However, when Leela doesn’t show, Fry takes matters into his own hands and something wondrous happens.
Science fiction gives writers the ability to create artificial closure, which is actually something pretty amazing. As fans, the ending lets you enjoy what you hope would happen without letting it actually happen, per se. This proves to be a strong tool and gives leeway for writers to keep the episode from becoming mush. Bender, for example, still has time to be an ass. Zoidberg still has time to be a loser. The fact that they fit in references to both the first, second, and third episodes from season one should prove to any skeptics that this is a keeper that will only get better with age. AVENGE US…
BEST MOMENT: Leela: “He sure has a lot of blood for a skinny guy.”
Honourable mention: five episodes were close to making my list, but fell just short. They are: Silence of the Clamps, Overclockwise, The Thief of Baghead, T.: the Terrestrial, and 2-D Blacktop.
Stay tuned for Part 2!