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Good news, everybody! Futurama is coming back again, again, again. The bad news? It’s possible that not every member of the Planet Express crew will return.
John DiMaggio, the veteran voice actor who played the robot Bender, one of the show’s three leads, is currently not on board to return to the revived show due to contract disputes. DiMaggio, who has the support of several high-profile voice actors, is making the argument that he (and his fellow cast members) deserve more than they’re being offered to return. DiMaggio’s sticking to his guns, and for now, it appears that the revival, which will air on Hulu, will recast Bender. This bites (my shiny metal ***).
But, while we wait for Bendergate to arrive at whatever conclusion it might, at least we can take solace in DiMaggio’s past work as Bender. All seven seasons of Futurama are currently available to stream on Hulu, so we don’t need a What If machine to see some of DiMaggio’s best work as Bender. Here are the five best Bender episodes of Futurama.
5. “I, Roommate” (Season 1, Episode 3)
It can be weird to go back and watch the early episodes of a long-running series, especially an animated comedy like Futurama. The pieces are typically all there, but something’s off or uncanny. Characters don’t sound exactly right, or maybe they haven’t settled into the personalities they would keep for the rest of the series. Futurama is not immune from these early awkward episodes, but it does a remarkably good job, as can be seen in the third-ever episode of the series — and the first Bender-focused one — “I, Roommate.”
In “I, Roommate,” we see Fry (Billy West) and Bender’s relationship deepen as Fry continues to adjust to life in the year 3,000 by finding a place to live. Bender is happy to have Fry as a roommate, but it turns out that his apartment, which is built for robot inhabitants and is only “two cubic meters” in size, is not nearly big enough for the both of them. But Bender agrees to find a new place with Fry. Eventually, he’s driven to cut off his antenna after it interfered with the TV reception at their new pad — If that’s what it takes to be able to live with his best friend, Bender’s willing to do it. The episode has a happy ending, and the reveal that the “closet” in Bender’s original apartment is a killer gag, but more than that “I, Roommate” is a great early showcase for Bender. He’s an evil bastard, but he’s an evil bastard with a soft spot for Fry and a tendency to overreact even when he means well.
“I, Roommate” is also the first time we hear Bender’s “kill all humans” catchphrase, which seems important (if slightly worrisome) to note.
4. “The Honking” (Season 2, Episode 18)
"The Honking", a parody of The Howling with aspects of The Haunting and a dash of Christine, is Futurama’s fun take on the horror genre as well as a fantastic Bender showcase. When Bender’s Uncle Vladimir dies (the exact mechanics of Bender’s family have never been especially clear on Futurama, which is a delightful bit of absurdity), Bender inherits his castle provided he spends one night there. While there, with the Planet Express crew, Bender is attacked by a car — and it wasn’t “a normal hover-car. It crept along the ground on round, rubber feet, like a wolf!”
After kicking things off with great scenes of Bender being greedy and cowardly, two of his best traits, the rest of the episode gives him an excuse to be evil but feel mostly bad about it, and for him and Fry to get in a tiff when it seems like Fry isn’t Bender’s best friend. Because, if he was Bender’s best friend, Were-Bender would be trying to kill him.
The reveal that Calculon is a werecar, and his subsequent reveal that the original werecar was “Project Satan,” a car built from “the evil parts of the most evil cars in all the world,” is top-notch Futurama silliness.
3. “A Pharaoh to Remember” (Season 3, Episode 17)
Bender is a great character in that he’s objectively a pretty horrible character and yet, as viewers, we can’t help but love him. A great example of this comes in the Season 3 episode “A Pharaoh to Remember,” which has the Planet Express crew make a delivery to an Ancient Egypt planet — that ol’ sci-fi trope. Bender, who is worried about his legacy and being forgotten (aren’t we all, man) is enamored with the giant monuments the planets pharaohs make, nevermind that they’re made via slave labor or that Bender and his friends are the ones doing the work.
And yet, you can’t help but feel sorry, just a little bit, when Bender looks at the crumbling wreckage of his once-great (if unsubtle) monument, one-billion cubits tall. He’s an insecure egomaniac, but he’s our insecure egomaniac.
2. “Bender Gets Made” (Season 2, Episode 17)
Bender’s dreams of being a chef, despite being unable to taste and being objectively very bad at cooking, is one of the quirkier parts of his personality, along with his dream of becoming a folk musician. (He fulfills that dream in “Bendin’ in the Wind,” an episode guest-starring Beck that almost made the cut for this list.) Less surprising is his desire to dabble in organized crime, and “Bender Gets Made” starts with Bender disrupting a taping of celebrity chef Elzar’s cooking show and ends with him having to foil a hit on his own friends.
In addition to showing multiple sides of Bender (and giving DiMaggio a fun chance to beat himself up), this episode also introduces the Robot Mafia, and Futurama is a better show with Donbot, Joey, and Clamps.
Sure “Bender Gets Made” ends with Bender announcing he’s “quitting organized crime" and "From now on I'll stick to the regular kind,” but it’s still an essential Bender episode.
1. “Godfellas” (Season 3, Episode 20)
Unlike the previous entry and despite the punny title, there’s no organized crime in this episode of Futurama (well, except for the miniature organized crime that springs up among Bender’s faithful.) After he’s launched into the vastness of space with no hope of recovery, Bender becomes the host of a small species of aliens who think he’s a god.
First, Bender exploits them, then tries to help them, then he ignores them. Eventually, they destroy each other in a tiny nuclear war. Distraught despite himself, Bender then encounters the “real” God (or possibly a space probe that collided with God). The pair discuss the meaning of religion before Bender miraculously gets sent home. The entire journey is funny and sad and quietly beautiful.
“Godfellas” is not just a great Bender episode — it’s one of the greatest episodes of the series. It ends with Bender deciding to go save the monks that his friends had trapped because “you can't count on God for jack. He pretty much told me so himself. Now come on. If we don't save those monks, no one will!” It’s a pretty incredible ending, made more incredible because it’s Bender, one of the more morally dubious characters on the show, who understands, albeit somewhat unknowingly, God’s subtle message about doing good. When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.