Greatest TV Seasons: Futurama Season Four (2002-2003)

Greatest TV Seasons: Futurama Season Four (2002-2003)

What is the greatest season of your favourite TV series? And what makes it stand out from those seasons around it? Every fan will have their own opinion of what is great and what isn't and here at The Digital Fix, our team of writers are going to complete the possibly impossible task of selecting what season of their favourite shows makes the cut above all others.

Good news everyone! It’s time to take a look at Matt Groening’s follow up to his phenomenally successful show The Simpsons. The premise is deceptively simple and quite a standard sci-fi trope. Phillip J. Fry, a delivery boy, is frozen and wakes up in the year 3000, becoming the audience surrogate as he explores the future.

It’s a widely held belief in geekdom that The Simpsons peaked at about season ten and has suffered in quality since. Futurama debuted in 1999 just as season ten of The Simpsons was concluding. Coincidence? Probably. Does Futurama pick up the quality The Simpsons dropped and run with it? Definitely.

People, quite rightly at the time, wondered if Groening would be able to follow up such an absolute global phenomenon that to a lot of critics and viewers the answer was a simple no. Sure the art and animation style looked very similar but most people seemed determined not to give it a fair try. The Simpsons had after all had ten seasons to hook you in by this point. Luckily science-fiction fans are a tenacious bunch, soon taking Futurama to heart, and with good reason.

Characterisation and emotional attachment became the show’s driving forces. Incredible really when you’re dealing with an idiot, a cyclops, a foul mouthed robot and a lobster monster amongst others. Season four of Futurama is where the emotional stakes are really played up and it’s no coincidence that many of the best episodes have real heart to them as well as bringing the laughs. Fry and Leela’s “will they won’t they” relationship is fleshed out a lot more in season four and is definitely at the show's emotional core.

Season four of Futurama was originally the shows swansong. Fox had pulled the plug and as far as anybody knew, this was it. Maybe this feeling of finality brought out the best in the writing staff, maybe they just wanted to prove Fox wrong. The show had never been a massive ratings hit but had developed, and still enjoys, a loyal fanbase.

N.B. If you look at Futurama on IMDB it splits the seasons up depending on air date and creates a fifth season. I’m taking season four as how it was intended, and released on DVD in the UK. This comprises of the last eighteen episodes made in the original run.

So here in my opinion are the five best episodes that bring all the feels as well as the laughs…

4.07 Jurassic Bark

You wouldn’t think an episode where Bender the alcoholic robot gets jealous of Fry’s fossilised dog could be so heart wrenching. Well, you’d be wrong. There are several episodes of Futurama where we flashback to Fry’s life before he is frozen but none of them come close to Jurassic Bark for sheer emotional impact. Essentially we are reminded that everything and everyone Fry cared about is gone. When he discovers his dog Seymour (as in Seymour Asses) fossilised in a museum Professor Farnsworth offers him a chance to clone him. It’s no surprise that this episode was nominated for an Emmy. Never before has a dog singing Walking On Sunshine reduced grown men to tears.

4.10 The Why of Fry

The Why of Fry connects a lot of plot points and contains a lot of throwbacks to previous episodes. The show had grown a lot in four seasons and the sort of attention to detail shown here in the continuity allows it rise above the normal ranks of TV cartoons. It is revealed that Nibbler was the person who ordered the pizza for I. C. Weiner and thus led Fry to be frozen in time. This was done because the Nibblonians knew he would be vital to saving the universe. When offered a chance to go back and stop himself being frozen Fry is faced with a dilema but ultimately his love for Leela wins through. There are a lot of laughs to be had at the cuteness of the Nibblonians especially their ill fated trust in the less than impressive Scooty Puff Jr, possibly the worst spacecraft ever invented.

4.12 The Sting

Another tearjerker of an episode as Fry is killed on a routine mission  to collect space honey from some giant bees. Things however are not as they seem when Leela keeps dreaming of Fry and he keep imploring her to wake up. Some excellent and inventive writing make this a standout episode. Nothing is quite what it seems as the story builds to an incredibly emotional and worthwhile climax. The fact that Fry died saving Leela's life adds another emotional beat to their relationship. In a nice touch Fry's funeral is full of characters from past seasons including Santa's elves, the Amazon women (snu snu!) and the Space Pope.

4.16 Three Hundred Big Boys

Possibly my favourite episode of Futurama ever. Lacking the emotional intensity of some of the others, Three Hundred Big Boys makes up for it by weaving several storylines together until they all collide in a massively satisfying ending. When Zapp Brannigan conquers and loots an alien world, President Nixon issues a three hundred dollar tax refund to everyone on Earth. The Express Delivery crew all have very different ideas on how to spend theirs. Leela decides to swim with a whale, Kif uses his money to woo Amy (who blows hers on a talking tattoo) and Professor Farnsworth buys stem cells to make himself look young again. Fry, in his infinite wisdom, decides to buy three hundred cups of coffee which results in him spending the entire episode getting more and more wired.

All the different story threads weave cleverly in and out until everyone comes together at a reception for the heroic Zapp. It is at this point that Fry hits the magic three hundred cups of coffee and enters a zen like state. In a scene reminiscent to Neo realising he is the one in The Matrix Fry becomes one with the universe and serenely rescues his friends from certain disaster. TV writing doesn't get much better than this, animated or otherwise.

4.18 The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings

If this truly had been Futurama's last ever episode, as was originally intended, then at least it would have gone out on a high. The basis of The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings is a throwback to the episode Parasites Lost when Fry had the parasitic worms in his stomach that made him smart. They also allowed him to play the holophoner which impressed Leela. Deciding this is the way to finally win Leela's heart Fry makes a deal with the Robot Devil (played by Homer himself, Dan Castellaneta) and gets robot hands in order for him to master the holophoner. The opera that Fry creates for the finale is brilliantly written and performed. It's right up there with some of the greatest songs from The Simpsons. Castellanetta's wonderful turn as the Robot Devil really enriches the episode and the final moments as Fry and Leela walk off hand in hand are perfect.

Futurama would go on to be resurrected as a series of TV movies and then again as new episodes which are all good in their own way but never quite reach the heights of season four. You'll be pleased to note that in a later episode the writers finally give closure to Seymour the dog as an alternate Fry goes back in time and they live out a long life together.

No, you're crying.

Season Four’s Greatest Moments

Bender: Fry, I'm sorry. I should have understood how someone can love an inferior creature... because I love you... not in the way of the ancient Greeks, but the way a robot loves a human, and a human loves a dog, and, occasionally, a gorilla loves a kitty. (Jurassic Bark)

Crowd: What do we want? Fry: Fry's dog! Crowd: When do we want it? Fry: Fry's dog! (Jurassic Bark)

Fry: But I know you in the future. I cleaned your poop. Nibbler: Quite possible. We live long and are celebrated poopers. (The Why of Fry)

Walter Koenig: When we woke up, we had these bodies. Fry: Say it in Russian! Walter Koenig: [sigh] Ven ve voke up, ve had zese wodies. Fry: Eeeee! Now say "nuclear wessels"! Walter Koenig: No! (Where No Fan Has Gone Before)

Bender: All those times I said "Kill all humans," I'd always whisper "except one". Fry was that one. [sobbing] And I never told him so! (The Sting)

Fry: Why am I sticky and naked? Did I miss something fun? (The Sting)

Leela: I'd like a pass to swim with Mushu. Whale Biologist: Well, you asked the right guy. I'm the whale biologist. Though personally I hate whales. Especially Mushu. (Three Hundred Big Boys)

Robot Devil: This opera's as lousy as it is brilliant! Your lyrics lack subtlety! You can't just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry! (The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings)

What are your thoughts on Futurama season four? Do you prefer the TV movies or the latter seasons? What are your choices? Let us know in the comments below...

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