?Put simply: I love Futurama. Not only is it one of the funniest animated comedies I’ve ever seen — it’s one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen, period. But, for me anyway, what elevates it above the scores of other shows in the genre of adult-oriented animated comedy (a genre that has exploded in recent years) is more than its sharp, intelligent humor and marvelously nerdy references. There are lots of animated programs out there that are simply funny, but Futurama isn’t afraid to go beyond simple laughs, and engage its audience with moments of real emotion — even pathos and tragedy at times. These moments are brilliantly written, well-timed, and never resort to cheap attempts at emotional manipulation, or descend into sappiness or melancholy. They are what allow this show to rise above the droves of insipid, mass-produced animated shows (like whatever Fox is showing that Seth MacFarlane didn’t make… and The Cleveland Show).
So here are nine inspiring, heart-wrenching, and tear-jerking moments from Matt Groening and David X. Cohen’s magnificent series. NOTE: Thanks to Fox’s “no online videos allowed” policy, we can’t even link to where you can watch these episodes online. Although you can watch them all on Netflix Instant if you’re so inclined. Sorry!
9) Kif and Amy Become Parents
?Not every example of sincere emotion in Futurama will wreck your shit. In this episode, Kif Kroker, Amy Wong’s boyfriend and Zapp Brannigan’s long-suffering lieutenant is accidentally impregnated after touching Leela and absorbing her genetic material. However, since it was Kif’s love for Amy (his “Smizmar”) that made him reproductively receptive, Amy is considered the real mother. The fun-loving, free-spirited Amy gets cold feet at the prospect of motherhood, and runs out on Kif, leaving him to give birth on his home planet alone. Eventually, of course, love wins out and Amy returns… it’s a sweet moment, especially when Amy has to fight off various alien swamp creatures who attempt to eat her “babies” as they make their way to the water. A scene that could have been treacly or dull on a lesser show becomes heartwarming and innovative in the hands of Futurama‘s writers. (“Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch”)
8) Fry Sacrifices His Worms
?This is one of my overall favorite episodes: Worms from an incredibly dubious truck stop egg salad sandwich take up residence in Fry’s colon, and begin improving him. They increase his muscle mass, heal injuries, and most notably, they rewire his brain to improve his cognitive functions. The crew goes on a Fantastic Voyage-esque mission to remove the worms — not realizing that they’re beneficial — while Leela stays behind to keep him distracted… and finds herself growing more and more attracted to him as his improved mind makes him charming and romantic. When Fry realizes that Leela’s feelings are connected to what the worms have done to him, he faces them himself and forces them to leave, undoing all the improvements they’ve made. Unfortunately, wormless Fry lacks the romantic chops to woo Leela. This episode says a lot about Fry’s integrity — there are quite a few guys out there who wouldn’t want to rock the boat, if you follow — but Fry insisted on only going forward with Leela if she loved him, not what the worms made him into. it’s a pretty inspiring little scene. (“Parasites Lost”)
7) Fry Meets His Nephew
?Fry spends most of this episode having flashbacks about his older brother Yancey, who constantly copied off of him when they were kids. When Fry finds the ruins of his old house and attempts to retrieve his ultra-lucky seven-leaf clover, he finds that it has been stolen, presumably by Yancey, who apparently lived a life of fame and fortune after Fry was frozen. It appears he even stole Fry’s name — making Fry indignant beyond reason, to the point of mounting a grave-robbing expedition to retrieve the clover, which his brother was buried with. Upon finding the grave, we learn that this famously lucky second “Phillip J. Fry” wasn’t Yancey, but his son, whom Yancey named after his missing brother. The flashback where Yancey gives his newborn son the clover and his brother’s name is as emotional a scene as you’ll find on an animated show, and reminds us of something a lesser series might not have bothered with: Fry left behind a family who, for all their faults, loved him and missed him very much. (“The Luck of the Fryrish”)
6) The Birth of Bender
?One of the best episodes of the new Comedy Central run. Bender learns that he was built without a backup unit, and if his current body is destroyed or fails, he will be permanently dead. Outraged to learn that he’s mortal, Bender decides to track down his quality control inspector, Inspector #5, and demand to know how he could allow this to happen. He enlists the aid of Hermes Conrad — an interesting choice, as these are two characters that haven’t had all that much one-on-one interaction on the show. Inspector #5 never is located, but Bender eventually comes to terms with his mortality, and they go home… where Hermes burns Inspector #5’s file, revealing his picture inside of it. Turns out Hermes was the one overrode the quality control scanner, which had declared Bender “defective,” to save the “infant” Bender from the scrap heap… and then resigned from Mom’s Friendly Robot Company. All of this is shown in a silent montage set to the song “Little Bird, Little Bird” by Elizabeth Mitchell. It’s a lovely little scene, more so since it’s Hermes, who rarely gets to be anything but the anal bureaucrat/Jamaican stereotype. (“Lethal Inspection”)
5) Fry Sacrifices His Present
?Due to a temporal paradox that occurred when Fry went back in time and became his own grandfather (another episode… stay with me, this is a complicated one), he is the only living being in the universe immune to the Brainspawn, a race of evil brains attempting to first catalog, then annihilate, all knowledge in the universe. Only Fry is immune to their “stupifying” powers. Leela’s pet Nibbler –revealed to be both sentient, and a member of an ancient and powerful alien race — explains all this to Fry, and he agrees to help, until the Brainspawn reveal that it was Nibbler himself who pushed Fry into the Cryogenic chamber in 2000, causing him to wake up in the future. The Brainspawn then offer to send Fry back in time, and allow him to live out his normal life. So Fry has the opportunity to get back the life that was taken from him in the 21st century… if he’s willing to doom everyone in the 31st. Again, we see a good example of Fry’s integrity; he doesn’t even consider it, but he does go back to explain to Nibbler that he doesn’t care to be used. From here on out, Fry is no longer a clueless victim of circumstance, and his decision to freeze himself again to save the world is quite a profound gesture… even if it’s a gesture he doesn’t realize he made since Nibbler had to erase Fry’s memory after learning he can speak. (“The Why of Fry”)
4) Leela Learns the Truth
?For three seasons, Futurama told viewers that Leela was an alien orphan from an unknown planet, and presumably the last of her species. In season 4, we learned the truth. After being captured by the sewer mutants who live under New New York, Leela is surprised to find herself unaffected by a lake of mutagenic chemicals. Her confusion increases when she encounters a strange pair of hooded mutants who have built a shrine to her in their home. These mutants go to great lengths to keep their identities secret, even to the point of claiming to be the ones who killed her real parents and allowing Leela to shoot them. But Leela’s unable to bring herself to kill them, and Fry reveals them as her parents. Turns out Leela was the least mutated person ever born in the sewer–completely normal aside from her single eye — and her parents wanted her to have a better life, so they put her in a basket with a letter written in “Alienese” and left her at the Orphanarium. This episode would be emotional enough just for Leela’s reunion with her folks, but it’s capped off by an utterly adorable montage set to “Baby Love Child” by Pizzicato Five of Leela’s parents’ invisible participation in Leela’s childhood: Leaving her gifts, extending a hand from an air vent to stop baby Leela from falling down the stairs, bringing her snacks while she studied, and more. (“Leela’s Homeworld”)
3) Leela Tries to OD
?Another personal favorite episode (which was nominated for an Emmy in 2003). The crew is sent on the same mission that killed Professor Farnsworth’s previous crew: To collect space honey from a hive of giant space bees. When the stinger of an angry space bee is about to strike Leela, Fry steps between them, giving his life to save her (seemingly). After Fry’s “death”, Leela can’t stop having incredibly vivid dreams about him where he’s alive… and she nearly goes mad trying to prove this to the rest of the crew. Near the end, she becomes so despondent that she attempts to overdose on space honey, effectively killing herself, so she can be with Fry. In reality, the stinger went straight through Fry, delivering all its poison to Leela and putting her into a seven-week coma. In the hospital, Fry never left her side, and it was his attempts to awaken her that lead to her “dreams.” Katey Sagal shines in this one; Leela’s hope, terror, confusion, mania, and sorrow are palpable, and incredibly genuine. Anyone who thinks voice-over work isn’t real acting should see this episode. (“The Sting”)
2) Seymour Waits
Fry discovers that his fossilized dog, Seymour, from the year 2000 can be cloned and revived, eliciting jealousy from Bender, who attempts to thwart the cloning process. But in the end, Fry himself decides not to go through with it when he learns Seymour died at the age of 15. Fry reasoned that he probably found himself a nice family and lived a long, happy life, and that it should be left that way. Now, an average show would leave it here, and this is a perfectly acceptable ending: Lessons have been learned, the plot’s been resolved. But this is Futurama, and “acceptable” just isn’t good enough. What follows is the kind of moment actors think about when they have to cry on cue: A montage of Seymour back in the 21st century, standing in front of Panucci’s Pizza, month after month, year after year, growing old and weak as he waits loyally for Fry, before finally lying down and dying. If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go watch one of those Sarah McLaughlin Humane Society commercials and cheer up. (“Jurassic Bark”)
?Anyone who knows Futurama knew this one had to be here–matter of fact, I’ll wager a good number of you are either relieved I remembered it, or incensed that it isn’t #1. or perhaps both (this episode was also nominated for an Emmy, in 2004).
1) Fry Moves the Stars
?The crew causes time to begin skipping forward randomly when they gather chronotons for the Professor to use in rapidly aging his mutant supermen basketball team so they can play against the Harlem Globetrotters. Among other things, time skips forward to Leela and Fry’s wedding, and then their divorce, leaving Fry utterly perplexed at what he could have done to win her heart. To fix the problem, the Professor builds a “bad-ass gravity pump” that will allow them to reposition a number of stars, shifting the time skips to the empty side of the universe; afterwards, planting one of Farnsworth’s doomsday devices at the source of the disturbance should fix the problem. Fry still can’t figure out how he got Leela to love him, but he continues his usual ineffective wooing, showing off the skills he learned at running the gravity pump, although Leela is characteristically unimpressed. After the doomsday device is in place, the ship moves to a safe distance, and Fry learns what he did to win Leela — upon moving further out, it is revealed that Fry wrote out “I LOVE YOU, LEELA” with the stars themselves. A second later, the device detonates, destroying the stars and Fry’s message with them. Fry’s cry of sorrow and misery is just about the most soul-rending sound I’ve ever heard… you can literally hear his heart break into a million pieces. It’s a devastating moment, and capped off perfectly when Leela, who’d missed the whole thing, enters the cockpit. Frantically, Fry asks if she saw it, and when Leela responds with “Saw what?” Fry answers with a half-whispered, miserable “Nothing.” I’m 34-years-old, I’ve seen this episode a dozen times, and I don’t mind admitting to Topless Robot, the internet, and God that I still cry whenever I see this. (“Time Keeps on Slippin'”)