Futurama is an Emmy-winning, animated science-fiction TV show that first appeared in 1999 (and has been canceled thrice). A goofy, satirical take on space travel, intergalactic governments, and human-alien relations, the show is chocked to the brim with social commentary and circular jokes that make the viewer feel like you’re in on something special.
One of my favorite recurring jokes appears in the pilot, and is a thread throughout the show, especially in time travel episodes. Philip J. Fry delivers a pizza to a cryogenic lab, where unbeknownst to him he will soon spend the next thousand years. When he gets there, he checks the name of the recipient: I.C. Wiener.
To some degree this is simple pedantic humor: I see wiener. It’s a throwaway joke akin to Bart Simpson prank calling Moe’s Tavern asking for Seymour Butts. But on another (equally pedantic) level, the name is also a pun on icy wiener, which, if you know the premise, Fry is about to have. Sure, it’s all childish dick humor, but it’s also hilarious, complex, childish dick humor, which I’m assuming is what you’re looking for. If you wanted to be refined, then I’m befuddled about why you chose an animated show.
The real gem of Futurama, though, is Turanga Leela (voiced by Katey Sagal). At first glance, Leela is a stereotypical sexual space fantasy, which the show pokes fun at in “Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences.” Throughout the life of the show, though, she has challenged that narrative by revealing herself to be an advocate for equal rights for all people (including mutants and aliens) and an environmentalist.
Despite the constant burden of the men around her being utter jackasses, Leela achieves the impossible: piloting a ship with only one eye, keeping a failing business open, and finding the family she lost as an infant. There are definitely many episodes worth skipping, ones in which misogynist stereotypes take over the narrative, but this is a binge guide to the very best of our girl, Leela.
An important viewing note: The season and episode numbers below may not correspond to some streaming services.
“Space Pilot 3000” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Philip J. Fry’s life as a pizza Delivery Boy is going nowhere. When he is sent to a cryogenic lab on New Year’s Eve, he accidentally falls into a cryonic tube.
Leela meets Fry right after he’s defrosted in New New York in 2099, a thousand years after he originally fell asleep. She is his fate assignment officer and is responsible for installing his career chip. When she tells him that his destined career is Delivery Boy, he freaks out and runs away. Leela hunts him down and Fry meets a suicidal robot named Bender. It’s revealed that Leela is an incredible martial artist when she fights off two cops who are beating Fry.
When she finally catches Fry and Bender, instead of installing the career chip, she removes her own. They end up agreeing to serve as the ship crew for Fry’s great, great, great […] nephew, an elderly man named Professor Farnsworth. He gives them the career chips his prior crew used, pouring them out of a manila envelope labeled “Contents of space wasp’s stomach.” Fry learns his new fate and cheers when he learns he will be a Delivery Boy.
“Love’s Labours Lost in Space” (Season 1, Episode 4)
Leela has been unlucky in the love department lately. When she’s sent on a mission to rescue the animals of Vergon 6, a planet that has been so heavily mined for dark matter that it’s on the brink of collapse, she comes into conflict with the dashing Zapp Branagan, an intergalactic hero. Zapp is also a jackass. (For the record, Kif agrees with my assessment.) Luckily their short-lived romance ends up being just a red herring. Leela does meet the love of her life in this episode—it’s just not a human. She finds Nibbler, an adorable black animal with an antenna atop of which appears to be a third eye, and saves him. The two become inseparable.
This episode is fantastic because it shows us a Leela who is passionate about animals and willing to meet her needs for affection without settling for someone she’s not attracted to. The narrative plays it as if Leela is being desperate and turning into a cat lady, but the events of the story are actually pretty great.
“My Three Suns” (Season 1, Episode 7)
While on a delivery on a very hot planet, Trisol, Fry drinks a mysterious blue liquid that ends up being the emperor. He assumes the throne, and despite Leela’s thorough warning, tries to rule over the liquid people (they call him Fry the Solid). The emperor is revealed to be alive in Fry’s stomach and begs for his people to cut him free. Leela, who had returned to the ship, must fight her way back to help Fry. Fry is definitely a jackass in this episode, but Leela saves the day.
“When Aliens Attack” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Back in 1999, a TV program called Single Female Lawyer is cut off when Fry spills his beer on the station’s controls. A thousand light-years away, Lrr, ruler of Omicron Persei 8, loses the signal. This development is so upsetting that Lrrr comes to Earth demanding to know how the episode ends. Leela and Fry pull together a weak conclusion, but Leela and Lrrr go on to have a special friendship.
“I Second That Emotion” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Bender gets jealous and flushes Nibbler down the toilet. Leela’s grief is so deep she just wishes Bender could understand her pain and feel remorse. Professor Farnsworth has a solution and installs an empathy chip that causes Bender to feel whatever Leela feels. His remorse causes him to search the sewers for Nibbler. The team encounters the hostile Mutants and Leela and Bender are forced to fight through their sadness and fear.
Before I had a dog, I thought Leela’s reaction was hyperbolic. But, if someone even gave my dog a dirty look, I would lose my damn mind, so I really find this episode relatable.
“Raging Bender” (Season 2, Episode 8)
The main storyline of this episode is about Bender’s brief professional wrestling career. There is an, if not problematic, at least inelegant joke about gender fluidity tied to Bender’s wrestling persona, so be forewarned.
A great side story, though, is how Leela overcame sexism in her childhood to become a fantastic martial artist with moderate-to-extreme anger issues. When Bender needs to learn how to actually fight to win an upcoming match, he goes to Leela for training. His opponent’s trainer is her former martial arts instructor and Leela finds an opportunity to prove his sexist notions wrong.
“The Problem with Popplers” (Season 2, Episode 15)
The Planet Express ship crew runs out of food after helping “the moochers.” They land on a planet where a plentiful and delicious life form grows. The crew begins harvesting the food, which they call popplers, for mass consumption on Earth. When an uneaten poppler is left out for too long, Leela picks it up to throw it away and it calls her, “Mama.” This sends Leela on a mission to protect the little beings which are later revealed to be Omicron Persei 8 infants that had been on a nursery planet. The Omicronians are furious and demand the head of the first person who ate a poppler: Leela.
If you watch no other episode of Futurama, “The Problem with Popplers” is a must-see. The narrative is tight, the jokes are spot on, and we see Leela examine herself and her convictions in the face of death. Plus, popplers are really, really cute.
“War is the H-Word” (Season 2, Episode 17)
Due to Zapp’s sexual harassment, women are no longer allowed to serve in the military, so Leela assumes a male persona in order to protect her friends during a time of war. And, what do you know? She saves the day.
“The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Leela commits to environmentalism when the Planet Express ship is contracted to haul an oil tanker past the penguin reserve on Pluto. Bender assumes the captainship, but it doesn’t go very well. This episode shows how desperately the team needs Leela.
“The Route of All Evil” (Season 3, Episode 12)
Leela and Fry brew beer in Bender’s body. Bender’s belly swells and he begins acting very much like a pregnant person. It’s a cute, fun secondary storyline.
“Time Keeps On Slippin’” (Season 3, Episode 14)
The Planet Express crew has torn several holes in the space-time continuum. Time jumps forward at random intervals and the crew members find themselves living huge swaths of their lives in moments. Leela and Fry get married in one flash, divorced in the next, and struggle to reconnect. It’s a bittersweet representation of their on again, off again relationship.
“Leela’s Homeworld” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Leela receives an award for being a notable alumnus of the orphanage where she grew up. Returning reminds her of all she’s never had and how much she missed out on having a family. When the crew is captured by the mutants, they find a Leela shrine of all the best things she once flushed down the toilet. Leela chases down the owners of the shrine and finds that they’re not creepy voyeurs, but rather, her mother, a brilliant exolinguist, and her father, a world-class sewer surfer. The episode ends in a beautiful montage of all the ways Leela’s parents were present in her childhood without her ever knowing. It’s an adorable episode that sends Leela down an entirely new path with whole new depths.
“Less Than Hero” (Season 4, Episode 4)
Leela and Fry use a miracle muscle rub to relieve their aching muscles. The cream temporarily endows them with superpowers and together with Bender, they become a crime-fighting trio. Leela’s dual identity puts her parents’ first surface trip in danger and she has to fight to balance crime fighting and family.
“Teenage Mutant Leela’s Hurdles” (Season 4, Episode 9)
The entire crew accidentally regresses to younger versions of themselves. Leela decides to forego the cure for a chance to grow up in her parents’ home. When the crew desperately needs her help, she must choose between a normal-ish childhood and the friends she’s grown to love.
“The Sting” (Season 4, Episode 12)
The Planet Express crew is sent on a deadly mission to harvest giant space bee honey. (This is the last mission the prior crew ever went on, you’ll recall from “Space Pilot 3000.”) Leela is too proud to admit they are not up to the challenge and puts the entire crew at risk. When Fry is killed, she is wracked with guilt. Auditory hallucinations haunt her as Fry begs her to wake up, but she isn’t asleep. Or is she?
“The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” (Season 4, Episode 18)
Fry has been desperately trying to learn the holophoner, an incredibly difficult instrument that emits images that match the music—when you do it right. He’s always struggled with words and wants to show Leela how much he cares for her. In a “Gift of the Magi” inspired twist, Leela finds herself making a deal with the Robot Devil so she can hear Fry’s music which he has also made a deal with the Robot Devil to make.
“Into the Wild Green Yonder” (Season 5, Episodes 13-16)
Season 5 is different than the other seasons because it’s actually four films cut into four episodes each.
The “Into the Wild Green Yonder” episodes take Leela further into her environmentalist passions when she battles against the development of Mars and other planets. She even saves an ugly muck leech that won’t stop feeding off of her. She ends up protesting and then founding a guerrilla feminist environmental group, the Feministas. Meanwhile, Fry gains the ability to hear others’ thoughts and sidles up to the developers. Despite their feuding sides, the two try to trust each other and Bender wheels and deals.
“Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences” (Season 6, Episode 11)
Remember Lrrr, ruler of Omicron Persei 8? Well, he decides to invade Earth again and lands in the middle of the Intergalactic Comi Con costume contest. He receives polite applause and is ushered off the stage. He proceeds to have a mid-life crisis after which Leela helps him reconcile with his wife, Ndnd.
“The Mutants are Revolting” (Season 6, Episode 12)
A rich woman accuses the mutants of “breeding like rats,” and Leela storms off. Fry apologizes, trying to explain that she’s sensitive because she’s a mutant. The police arrive and force her to live in the sewer. After all, it’s illegal for mutants to come to the surface. She doesn’t waste her time, though, and organizes the mutants to resist. Oh, and Fry was turned into a mutant.
“Mobius Dick” (Season 6, Episode 15)
Leela’s obsession with a space whale consumes her, sending her on an epic, vengeful journey through space worthy of Ishmael himself.
“Yo Leela Leela” (Season 6, Episode 21)
Leela returns to the orphanage where she volunteers to tell stories to the children. They are underwhelmed by her performance, but Leela is determined to impress them. She finds a quiet planet to think and the muse finds her. The story she creates is so beloved she gets a TV show. But, where does she get all these great ideas?!
“Fun on a Bun” (Season 7, Episode 8)
When Fry is killed in a sausage maker at Oktoberfest, Leela pulls an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It turns out Fry is alive, though, but has amnesia from hitting his head. He is cared for by a group of Neanderthals who have been trapped under a glacier (but, like, there’s a pocket where they can live. The physics of the cartoon universe are…flexible). He leads them in revolt against the topside. Leela and Fry, still strangers to one another, fight on the Planet Express ship before they stop and kiss.
“Fry and Leela’s Big Fling” (Season 7, Episode 17)
Fry and Leela are finally dating, but they keep getting interrupted just when things start to heat up. They decide to take a vacation to a resort planet that only hosts two people at a time. The two are elated until Leela’s ex-boyfriend shows up with his wife and Fry is a jackass.
“Meanwhile” (Season 7, Episode 26)
The professor invents a time skipping device. The button gets stuck and time freezes for everyone except Fry and Leela. They marry and then gallivant around the planet living out their wildest hopes and dreams, finally growing old together. The professor figures out how to reset time back to the initial moment when the button broke and Fry and Leela look at one another and decide to "go around again."
It’s a beautiful ending to the show and their romance that crested and fell over seven seasons and 13 years.