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The 10 Most Touching Episodes in the Surprisingly Poignant Seven-Season Run of 'Futurama'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire August 30, 2013 at 4:35PM

Over its erratic seven-season lifetime, one that's spanned over a decade, multiple networks and a few direct-to-DVD movies, "Futurama" has presented some brilliantly strange jokes ("death by snu-snu" on the planet Amazonia), unexpectedly complicated mythology (Fry is his own grandfather, and because of that is able to save the universe from evil brains) and an animated character for the ages in the hard-drinking robot Bender Bending Rodríguez.
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'The Luck of the Fryrish'
'The Luck of the Fryrish'

Over its erratic seven-season lifetime, one that's spanned over a decade, multiple networks and a few direct-to-DVD movies, "Futurama" has presented some brilliantly strange jokes ("death by snu-snu" on the planet Amazonia), unexpectedly complicated mythology (Fry is his own grandfather, and because of that is able to save the universe from evil brains) and an animated character for the ages in the hard-drinking robot Bender Bending Rodríguez. But as the Matt Groening creation approaches a sure-to-be moving finale on September 4, its chief legacy may be its ability to insert not just emotionally resonant but sometimes downright wrenching moments into episodes about seemingly silly sci-fi pastiche storylines, the shifts in tone making them all the more effective. "Futurama" may be the only series capable of turning a half-assed "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" spoof into an ending that's an absolute tear-jerker. As we prepare to say goodbye to "Futurama" forever -- again -- here's a look at the 10 most poignant, melancholic or just plain touching episodes.

Near Death Futurama

10. Season 7, Episode 10: "Near-Death Wish"

Professor Farnsworth is not the source of much of the pathos in "Futurama" -- that's mainly reserved for Fry, either in his relationship with Leela or via his separation from his past life, which becomes increasingly weighty as the series has progressed. The haphazardly brilliant Professor is actually more consistent for laughs, but does have a nice, emotional moment in a 2012 episode about Fry looking for new relatives to hang out with after feeling neglected by his elderly great (×30) nephew. The series pays another visit to the Near-Death Star, a retirement satellite in which the residents are hooked up to machines to live out their lives, "The Matrix"-style, in a virtual Florida, and where the Professor's own aging parents turn out to still be living. The reanimated ancient couple dote on Fry and resurface old resentments in the Professor, leading him to confront his unhappy childhood -- and while the reveal is a little strange, with the Professor learning he was plagued by night terrors and institutionalized, not neglected, the resulting sequence is lovely. The Professor reprograms his parents' retirement simulation to look like their old farm, and returns them both to their younger selves, so that they can play with their child-once-again son in a way they weren't able to in the past.

9. Season 4, Episode 12: "The Sting"

Riffing on Philip K. Dick's "Ubik," "The Sting" starts up with a terrible accident involving giant space bees that apparently leaves Fry dead after attempting to protect Leela, thought the reality following his funeral is a slippery and strange one for the cyclops captain. She keeps having visions of Fry asking her to wake up, ones that seem to be born out of her own guilt and sadness, but that lead her to believe that he's somehow alive and everyone else to think she's going nuts. The truth is that Fry and Leela are both alive, and that she's been fighting her way out of a coma with Fry by her side, encouraging her. "The Sting" has an unexpectedly somber undertone for a "Futurama" episode -- usually the emotional gut-punches are saved for the end -- and one that provides a nice counter to the overall feeling in the series that everyone is indestructible due to future technology or robot toughness.  

Lethal Inspection Futurama

8. Season 6, Episode 6: "Lethal Inspection"

The flashback episodes are generally among the series' strongest when it comes to tugging at the heartstrings, and "Lethal Inspection" is no different when it looks to an unexpected relationship -- the secret history between Hermes and Bender. After learning that, thanks to a manufacturing defect, he's not able to back himself up in case of destruction of his physical body, Bender heads down to the factory from which he came in Tijuana to find and confront Inspector #5, the man who approved him for use despite his fatal flaw. Bender is helped by Hermes in navigating the Central Bureaucracy's records, attacks by Killbots and some confrontations with his own mortality -- because, it turns out, the mysterious Inspector #5 was actually Hermes himself. In the final reveal, one Bender never learns about, we see a flashback of Hermes approving a baby Bender despite his flaws, leading him to resign, as Elizabeth Mitchell sings "Little Bird, Little Bird." If the sequence were a little more consistent with characterizations of Hermes and Bender's relationship from earlier in the series, it'd be a more impactful scene, but it's still a nice moment and showcase for Hermes.

7. Season 4, Episode 3: "Love and Rocket"

Fry and Leela's slowly developing romance over the show's run is, for the most part, pleasingly unsaccharine thanks to Leela's matter-of-factness and Fry's general loserdom making for an unconventional dynamic. But "Love and Rocket," which eventually works its way into a "2001" parody, presents the pair's own unique version of a heartfelt gesture when they're literally threatened by candy hearts (along with a heartbroken ship AI that's shut down the oxygen and artificial gravity on board). Having been searching for the right candy heart message to give to an exasperated Leela throughout the episode, Fry ends up gifting her with something much greater when, noticing her air is running out, he hooks his tank up to her's instead without telling her and ends up almost dead on the floor. As she resuscitates him, he coughs up a heart that reads "U LEAVE ME BREATHLESS," and for once, she's absolutely charmed.

Philip J. Fry

6. Season 6, Episode 7: "The Late Philip J. Fry"

One of the rare all-around great later episodes of "Futurama," "The Late Philip J. Fry" actually focuses on the workings of Fry and Leela's life as a couple, as Fry, the far less responsible of the two, finds himself chronically late to dates with his one-eyed love. To make up for standing her up at her birthday lunch, Fry promises to take her out to a fancy dinner at "Cavern on the Green," only to be corralled into testing a one-way time machine (that can only go forward into the future) by the Professor and because of it missing his meal with Leela by thousands of years. "The Late Philip J. Fry" serves as a nice echo to "Time Keeps on Slippin,'" which is also on this list, in this instance having it be Fry's relationship with Leela slipping through his fingers due to time travel rather than his chance at winning her. As a parallel to the message left by Fry for Leela in that episode, in this one Leela shoots one for Fry into the ceiling of the cavern so that, over the years, stalagmites form to spell it out, demonstrating that the pair has a love that, however ungainly, spans eons.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Futurama, Comedy Central, Matt Groening






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