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A title screen from Futurama in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
The title screen from “Bender’s Big Score” shows that Futurama is here to stay. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

Not many adult cartoons have had as rocky a road to success as “Futurama.” Despite garnering critical acclaim and spawning a fervent fanbase, the show struggled to find its niche with FOX, leading its writers to pen multiple potential finale episodes before its original cancellation after its fourth season. Once it departed from FOX, “Futurama” found a new home with Comedy Central, which aired the series until its second cancellation after the seventh season.

Since its second cancellation, fans have devoured every scrap of “Futurama” content they could get their hands on, including an audio-only episode released as an installment of “The Nerdist Podcast” in 2017. The series found a streaming home first on Netflix, then on Hulu, the latter of which has revived the series for a third time. A new season of “Futurama” premieres on Hulu on July 24.

There’s a lot crammed into the existing seasons: episodes that make you cry, think, and laugh so hard you get Poppler crumbs all over the remote for your favorite streaming device. Whether you’re a longtime “Futurama” fan looking for a stroll down memory lane (or to argue with strangers on the internet about what the best episode of “Futurama” is) or a newcomer who has casually watched a couple of episodes and is wondering what all the fuss is about, take a look at some essential viewing in preparation for the next season.

*Author’s note: All episode numbers are as they appear on Hulu.* 

‘Space Pilot 3000’ — S1, E1

Fry in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Fry’s (Billy West) last moment in 1999 before spending 1,000 years frozen. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

As cliche as it seems to put the first episode on this list, it’s important to remember these characters’ humble beginnings. As the series progresses, it’s fun to look back at Fry’s (Billy West) fateful cryogenic trip to the future. Keep an eye out for the shadow on the wall behind Fry when he falls into the cryogenic chamber and the ship that destroys the city while Fry is frozen — you’ll enjoy the “a-ha!’ moments.

‘Fry and the Slurm Factory’ — S2, E4

Slurms McKenzie in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Slurms McKenzie (David Herman), partying with a cooler full of Slurm. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

Slurm, the popular soft drink in the “Futurama” universe, has a gross point of origin, but that isn’t where this episode shines. Slurms McKenzie (David Herman), the marketing mascot for Slurm, steals the show (and adds a fun Bud Light marketing homage) in this “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” spoof.

‘The Problem With Popplers’ — S2, E18

The crew of the Planet Express crowded around a plate of Popplers in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Popplers are everyone’s (but Leela’s) favorite. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

While we’re talking about food and drink of dubious origin, we’d be remiss in ignoring Popplers. Discovering the true nature of this highly addictive snack food leads Leela (Katey Sagal) to activism against eating Popplers, but nobody listens until the Omicronians show up.

‘War Is the H-Word’ — S3, E2

Zapp Brannigan, Richard Nixon, and Bender in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Zapp Brannigan (Billy West) and Richard Nixon (also Billy West) give Bender (John DiMaggio) a mission in “War Is the H-World.” (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

We get a lot of “Futurama” side-character staples in this episode, where Fry and Bender (John DiMaggio) enlist in the Earth Army for a 5 percent discount on chewing gum: Zapp Brannigan (Billy West), Kif (Maurice LaMarche), and both Richard Nixon’s (Billy West) and Henry Kissinger’s heads. Throughout the episode, Bender is promoted to an officer for nefarious purposes (and we find out his least-used word is “antiquing”), Fry and Leela kick Zapp Brannigan’s ass, and the Brain Balls surrender.

‘Amazonian Women in the Mood’ — S3, E5

The crew with Amazonian women in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
The Amazonian women leading the Planet Express crew to the Femputer, which rules the planet. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

This Emmy-nominated episode is a cautionary tale about what could happen when you use one of Zapp Brannigan’s pick-up lines. After crash-landing on the planet Amazonia, Fry, Bender, and Zapp make a handful of derisive comments that lead to their being sentenced to “death by snu-snu,” meeting a supercomputer voiced by Bea Arthur, and a “Wizard of Oz” moment that lets Bender save the day in the most Bender way possible.

‘The Day the Earth Stood Stupid’ — S3, E7

Leela temporarily mourning Fry in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Leela (Katey Sagal) mourning Fry — temporarily — in “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid.” (Image:20th Century Fox Television)

This is one of those “Futurama” episodes that flips a lot on its head. We find out that Nibbler (Frank Welker) is much more than meets the eye, just like Fry’s stupidity. We won’t find out the source of Fry’s missing Delta brainwave, which renders him immune to the Brainspawn attack, until later in the third season, but ultimately Fry saves the day by trapping his adversary in a crummy world of plot holes and spelling errors and causing the giant brain to leave Earth “for no raisin,” as it states.

This is also the first episode where we see Hypnotoad. All glory to the Hypnotoad.

‘Roswell That Ends Well’ — S4, E1

Fry in bed with a woman in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
The Planet Express crew is about to deliver some important information to Fry. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

In this episode, we find out the source of Fry’s missing Delta brainwave and that Bender shares an alarming structural similarity to a traditional flying saucer, among other, more “Back to the Future”–style happenings relating to Fry’s ancestry. “Roswell That Ends Well” was the first “Futurama” episode to win an Emmy: It won in the Outstanding Animated Program category in 2002.

‘Godfellas’ — S4, E8

Bender in space in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Bender (John DiMaggio) converses with a cosmic entity. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

“Godfellas” is another in a long line of award-winning “Futurama” episodes. This one won the Writer’s Guild of America Award for animation in 2003. Using Bender as an avenue to ask questions about the greater nature of spirituality, divinity, and God serves up some hilarious moments, which mainly serve as a reminder that you’re watching a cartoon and not meditating on the greater intricacies of questions involving the divine and the universe. Or are you…?

‘The Why of Fry’ — S5, E8

The Nibblonians and Fry in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
The Nibblonians explain to Fry why missing the Delta brainwave is so important. (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

Remember when I told you to pay attention to the shadow behind Fry in “Space Pilot 3000?” In this episode, you find out why, as well as how so many seemingly innocuous moments have been tied together the entire time. This is one of those episodes that makes you applaud the ambition of the team behind the show, wrapped up in lines like “So I really am important? How I feel when I’m drunk is correct?”

‘Bender’s Big Score’ — S6, E0,1-4

Torgo’s Executive Powder in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Torgo’s Executive Powder: made with the remains of five highly-paid television network executives! (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

“Bender’s Big Score” was originally released as a straight-to-DVD feature-length film after “Futurama” was canceled the first time, and it would later air on Comedy Central as part of the show’s sixth season. We find out the hilarious details revolving around the destruction of New York we see while Fry is frozen in “Space Pilot 3000,” and we’re introduced to Torgo’s Executive Powder, which is made up of television network executives and serves as a thinly veiled middle-finger to FOX for canceling the show.

‘Lethal Inspection’ — S7, E6

A young Hermes and Bender in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
A young Hermes (Phil LaMarr) and Bender (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

Many fans decry the later seasons as lacking in quality compared to the first four, but there are still great episodes to be found in the Comedy Central originals. In “Lethal Inspection,” Hermes’ bureaucratic obsessions are finally made personable, and we get to see Bender as a baby.

‘Meanwhile’ — S10, E13

Older Fry and Leela in this image from 20th Century Fox Television
Fry and Leela after living an entire lifetime together in frozen time (Image: 20th Century Fox Television)

We can’t have a list of essential episodes and ignore the finale, especially not one as heartfelt as “Meanwhile.” This episode is centered around Fry and Leela’s love story like many of the more sentimental episodes, and watching the pair grow old together only to decide to do it all over again makes me feel like someone was trying to make a statement about reruns. Still, I’m not sure what it was because I got lost in the love story. Call me a sap.

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