Best Episode Ever # 13: ‘Futurama’
“Futurama” wrapped up this week after 140 episodes spread across nearly 14 years. Everyone says that it’s the end of the series, but I think that “Futurama” will back. It’s simply too good to be gone forever.
With Best Episode Ever writer Fred Topel off on assignment, I’ve been asked to fill in this week and single out the greatest episode of “Futurama.” The easy answer would be “Jurassic Bark.” People love that episode because Seymour the dog made them cry. The writers of “Futurama” had a knack for pulling out some real emotions and unexpectedly heartbreaking scenes. That’s one of the reasons that this show is so special.
“Jurassic Bark” is not my pick. To be sure, it’s a great episode. Yet I think the real reason that episode resonates so deeply is that we collectively have more empathy for a fictional dog in a story than we do for people or animals in the real world. Although I would love to be wrong about that.
Among the tearjerker episodes of “Futurama,” I admire “Luck of the Fryrish” for its emotional gut punch. Fry spends the entire episode angry at his brother, Yancy for stealing his life before Fry finally realizes that Yancy loved him more than he ever realized. That hits Fry so hard that he openly weeps for the family he lost when he was frozen.
Let’s remember that “Futurama” is a comedy and its primary goal is to make us laugh. “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back” was one of the funniest episodes (and the song in this episode was probably the best musical number of the entire series), the “Anthology of Interest” episodes were great, as were Robot Santa’s appearances and the sheer comedic insanity of “Roswell That Ends Well.” I could be here for hours talking about the best episodes of “Futurama.” There were a lot.
But the one that really stands out to me is “The Late Philip J. Fry,” from the first original season on Comedy Central (after the four Direct-2-DVD “Futurama” movies had been cut up into their own season). “The Late Philip J. Fry” perfectly combined the best aspects of “Futurama”: great sci-fi comedy and heart-rending emotions.
The running gag of the episode is that Fry is always late and it’s straining his romance with Leela. Some of this is Bender’s fault, especially the loud robot sex that keeps Fry from sleeping at night. But on some level, Fry really is a screw-up who hasn’t figured out how to make things work with Leela on a long term basis. His perpetual tardiness is just a symptom of that larger problem.
Fry’s idea of a grand romantic gesture for Leela’s birthday is blowing off Hedonism Bot’s party because “I can throw up on a stripper anytime. Tonight, I want to not throw up… on you.” From the way that Leela’s angry expression slowly softens, that was a wise choice by Fry. Instead of partying, he promises to take her to Cavern on the Green for dinner.
Of course the Professor has other plans, namely using himself, Fry and Bender as test subjects for his new time machine that can only go forward in time. The Professor references Fry’s inadvertent decision to sleep with his own grandmother in “Roswell That Ends Well;” which gives Fry one of the best lines of the episode: “I wouldn’t want to do that again!.”
And because it’s the Professor, things go horribly wrong and the time machine sends Fry, the Professor and Bender into the far future. But not before Fry loses the video Birthday card he was making for Leela to the time stream. Back in the year 3010, Fry never showed up for dinner and everyone assumed that the trio went to Hedonism Bot’s party… which ended with everyone but Hedonism Bot dead.
This starts a downward spiral for Leela, who can’t decide whether to be angry or sad about her loss. The years go by and Leela turns Planet Express into a thriving business before marrying the Professor’s clone, Cubert because he reminds her of Fry. Forty years down the line, we see that their marriage didn’t work out and Leela never found love again. But she did find Fry’s Birthday card message and she realizes that she wasted years of her life being angry at Fry for something that wasn’t his fault.
Rather than simply give into despair, Leela goes to the now abandoned Cavern on the Green to leave a message for Fry.