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by Alison Willmore
August 30, 2013 4:35 PM
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The 10 Most Touching Episodes in the Surprisingly Poignant Seven-Season Run of 'Futurama'

'Leela's Homeworld'

5. Season 4, Episode 2: "Leela's Homeworld"

For the first few seasons of the series, Leela believes herself to be alien in search of her home planet, having grown up in the Cookieville Minimum Security Orphanarium after being abandoned there as an infant. But "Leela's Homeworld" reveals that she actually came from the sewers as "the least mutated mutant ever born," her parents, both alive, deciding to give her a chance at life in the world above by passing her off as an alien in a curiously affective variation on an immigrant tale of sacrifice. Unlike Fry, Leela at least has access to her parents in future episodes, even if they were for a long time confined underground due to their mutant status. The moment she figures out who they are -- "You must despise us," they cry, until she embraces them and sobs "This is the happiest moment of my life!" -- gives way to one of the montages "Futurama" wields like a weapon, a wonderful look at how Leela's parents kept watch on her as she grew up set to Pizzicato Five's "Baby Love Child."

4. Season 7, Episode 23: "Game of Tones"

The Comedy Central seasons of "Futurama" have not been the show's strongest, and "Game of Tones," which aired earlier this month, feels fairly lazy in its primary plot. An alien ship booming a series of loud musical tones, a la a certain Steven Spielberg film, is making its deafening way toward Earth. The melody is familiar to Fry, leading the crew to hook him up to a machine that will allow him to explore his last day in 1999 and hopefully uncover the memory linked to the sound and stop the ship from destroying Earth with noise. Despite the half-heartedness of the "disaster," which turns out to be a character searching for where he parked his spaceship, the episode turns around to manage a devastating sequence with Fry's mom, who's mainly been characterized in series flashbacks as a manic sports fan and not much else. Looking for a moment to talk to his mother, even in dream form, to tell her all the things he's wanted to since he was separated from her forever, he's granted a chance by Nibbler to visit her in one of his own dreams, getting to offer a sweet, wordless goodbye. 

3. Season 3, Episode 14: "Time Keeps On Slippin'"

Fry and Leela's long courtship and up-and-down relationship has remained tolerable over the years of the show's run in part because it's only periodically been given a place in the spotlight. Fry's (for a while, at least) hopeless pursuit of the more competent cyclops is primarily played for laughs, which only makes the moments in which it's treated seriously more powerful. And it's never more hopeless and poetic than in "Time Keeps On Slippin'," in which space-time becomes destabilized, leaping forward first minutes, then longer periods at a time and leaving the characters to try to figure out what happened in the missing chronology. Fry manages, somehow, to get Leela to agree to marry him after a time skip (though they immediately get divorced in the next one), and only realizes what he did to win her over when it's too late -- he wrote "I LOVE YOU, LEELA" using the stars, a message that gets destroyed in the implosion that sets the timeline right before anyone else can see it, a futile but beautiful effort.

2. Season 3, Episode 4: "The Luck of the Fryrish"

"Breakfast Club" standard "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds becomes a peculiarly moving music queue in this episode in which Fry discovers what happened to the brother, Yancy, he felt was always trying to steal his thunder. Fry's search for the seven-leaf clover that brought him luck at breakdancing and basketball back in the 20th century takes him to Orbiting Meadows National Cemetery, where he believes his sibling was interred after stealing Fry's name and clover and going on to lead a heroic life involving becoming the first man on Mars. But some timely moss removal on the grave brings us to the flashback reveal that it wasn't Yancy who did those things, but his son, "named for his uncle, to carry on his spirit" and in tribute to the family member Yancy misses. It's a moment well worth a Judd Nelson fist-pump and some tissues.

1. Season 5, Episode 7: "Jurassic Bark"

"Not the episode with the dead dog," the title caption to this week's episode read. Said "dead dog" episode is one of the show's finest, and one capable of reducing even the most hard-hearted and animation-averse to instant tears. It's the ending that does it. After a main story revolving around Bender's jealously when Fry seeks to have his old pet and "best friend" Seymour cloned and restored to life from a fossil, the show finds the pair making up and Fry deciding that, after learning the dog went on to live for over a decade after his master was frozen, the animal had to have led a full life without him and it was better to leave him that way. Simple enough -- except that we then cut to a montage of Seymour faithfully obeying Fry's last command to wait for him in front of Panucci's Pizza, "I Will Wait for You" from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" playing as the seasons change, people pass by and Seymour, Mr. Panucci and the pizza place age, Seymour finally lying down to close his eyes. Devastating and unforgettable.

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13 Comments

  • Nicolas | October 17, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    Such a fine series... as an indoor person, i've read many sad books, played many heart-breaking video games, and watched many tear jerker movies and shows, to the point where they no longer had effect on me, until i saw futurama... it does more than reducing me to tears, this show (particularly The luck of the Fryish, jurassic bark) creates a void of bitersweet sadness in the bottom of my heart... i'm really sad about it ending but, hey, maybe another season in 7 years?

  • Lars | September 2, 2013 12:56 PMReply

    Just reading about "Jurassic Bark" puts me to tears, 'nuf said.

  • Alex | September 1, 2013 4:59 PMReply

    I was so surprised how moving this show could be when I began to watch it. It's one thing I really love about it.

  • Jack P | September 1, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    No "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings"? I agree with all the others, but I do think that one's worth a mentioning too, simply because for the first time we see Leela being affectionate towards Fry, and, in general, it's just a better overall episode than some of the others.

    The fact that is was at one point thought to be the last ever episode helps it's case, as well.

  • Alex | August 31, 2013 5:03 PMReply

    I hate the episode with the dead dog. It's so dull , I generally don't enjoy the episodes that go back to the past much aside from the Game of Tones.

  • Brent | August 31, 2013 4:36 PMReply

    What? The Sting was not included!? Does this episode make anyone else cry like a baby, or just me?

  • Brent | August 31, 2013 4:38 PM

    Derp...... I suck.

  • Brian Boyle | August 31, 2013 2:57 PMReply

    One minor correction to "Game of Tones." Nibbler didn't give Fry access to his own dreams to say good-bye..., he gave Fry access to his mother's dreams. That's what makes the sequence all the more devastating; we learn that -- despite her outer air of disconnected wackiness -- inside, Fry's mom was grieving for her lost son.

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  • Esther | August 30, 2013 10:15 PMReply

    That must be the best list of what makes this show great. I can watch any one of these episodes and feel a little moved. I hope that netflixs or some other channel pics it up again.

  • Chris | August 30, 2013 8:41 PMReply

    This list is spot on. I watched Jarrasic Bark once... Every time I've caught it on TV after that I've changed channel immediately. I can't watch the end again.

  • Chris | August 30, 2013 8:43 PM

    *Jurassic

  • JasonRey | August 30, 2013 5:59 PMReply

    Damn. I was holding it together until #1, but then I had to excuse myself and wipe away the tears. Just so freaking sad. Shows like this, that can combine the laughs with the tears, are my absolute favorite. Don't get me wrong - I love ridiculous shows that are pure humor (It's Always Sunny) and serious shows that are VERY dramatic (Breaking Bad). But those that find a balance will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for this list.