The warm, electric, animated space blanket called Futurama can be so comforting that some of us would love to wrap ourselves up in it all day, every day, and just stay in the strange, crazy world of the show indefinitely. This isn’t realistic, but neither is half of what happens in the series, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week.
Why is the show such a treat to watch? It’s not just the Douglas Adams-esque approach to the future that creator Matt Groening uses (where everything is just slightly off and rather crazy) that engages you. It’s not just the incredible performances of the cast, either, though without them the show wouldn’t be what it is. What really tends to reward the viewer with long stretches of watching the series (which I may or may not have done multiple times, sue me) is the running gags and phrases.
Many comedies do this. Catchphrases are nothing new, and many comedies have perfected the art of recurring gags, callbacks, or ongoing bits. There may be a whole season in between a joke coming back, and sometimes it’s in every episode. You never really know what to expect (even when you’ve seen it already), and few shows are as good at the ongoing runners as Futurama is.
It’s almost unfair to try to rank the top 10 best recurring jokes and lines from the show, as Futurama offers a serious embarrassment of riches to choose from. Still, some things must be done in order to be fun on a bun.
"Sweet (blank) of (blank)!"
The wonderful Phil LaMarr plays Hermes Conrad, who has the unfortunate task of being the accountant for Planet Express. He's dealing (mostly) with a bunch of morons and sociopaths, so he has plenty of moments to voice either frustration or surprise.
He tends to do this with the line, "Sweet _______ of ________!" with the thing that is sweet and where it can be found constantly changing. There are so many fantastic variations of it, and as the show progresses the writers get more inventive (and stranger) with his subjects and rhyming. For me, nothing beats "Sweet Guinea pig of Winnipeg!" It shouldn't rhyme, but it does when performed by LaMarr. It's also complete nonsense, which only makes me love it more.
"Bite my shiny metal a**!"
John DiMaggio's Bender is a classic character when it comes to barely functioning alcoholic psychos in animation (that's a thing, I guess), and his fixation with his own behind is only a small part of his brilliance. Whenever he references it, it is glorious.
It first comes out as "Bite my shiny metal a**," but over the seasons Bender has found many (many, many) variations on the line. They almost always involve the biting of his backside, but occasionally there's a "lick" thrown in there. The descriptions change too, and then everything goes to the next level when Bender is actually fearful that something horrible might befall the bottom that he adores so much. The weirdest part of it all is that Bender just has legs that come out of his torso — there isn't much "a**" to bite.
This is one of many lines from this show that I find myself saying (or just thinking) in real life.
"Woop woop woop woop woop woop..."
The surreally incompetent Dr. Zoidberg (Billy West) gets almost everything wrong, but when he's really in over his head, he pulls this classic escape. Instead of dealing with the problem at hand (which is usually his fault), he literally crab-walks away with his claws in the air, and gives us an old-timey "woop woop woop woop woop!"
Zoidberg is an idiot, but this is a brilliant way to get out of sticky situations. No one else could pull it off, either — I've tried it in real life, and it's gotten me nowhere.
Zapp and Leela
The cocky, brash, stupid, and self-obsessed Zapp Brannigan (Billy West again) is always a welcome recurring character. His toxic masculinity makes James T. Kirk look progressive, and this is never clearer than when he's dealing with Leela (Katey Segal).
Zapp's obsession with Leela is gross, yet hysterical. The show really shouldn't get away with it, but for some reason, it works. His lust for her, his fumbled attempts at seduction, his hyperbole about what may (or may not) have happened between them is always hilarious, as he's the one who comes off as the butt of the joke no matter how high he's trying to build himself up.
All Zapp really has to do to get a laugh out of me is walk in the room and say, "Leela..." which he does quite often. It's embarrassing/gross for her, embarrassing/cringe-worthy for him, and cringe-worthy/hilarious for us.
"Shut up and take my money!"
I admit that this one isn't really fair — this is not a running joke, as it only happens once. It feels like a running joke, however, as it is one of the most popular and enduring memes on the internet, and people post it, say it, write it, scream it, etc., almost every day.
The "hero" of the show, Philip J. Fry (Billy West, yet again, how is that possible?), utters this line when he's being sold a piece of technology that he doesn't really need. "Shut up and take my money" has been used ever since by people in real life (and certainly on the internet), whether it's in response to a new movie trailer, a perfect bit of casting, or pretty much anything else.
It's not a running gag, so again, this isn't fair. I don't care. Shut up and take my entry!
The sighs of Kif
Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche) is one of the saddest characters on the show, as he is the right-hand alien of Zapp Brannigan. He actually has a working brain in his head and has to constantly deal with Zapp's idiocy. Because of this, Kif constantly utters low, depressing sighs. What else can you do when your boss is as dumb and cocky as Zapp?
Kif's sighs are legendary, but thankfully the show eventually gives him some happiness. Amy Wong (Lauren Tom) eventually reciprocates Kif's crush on her, so things aren't all bad for the intergalactic master of the sigh.
Bender's neat photography
Another ongoing bit from Bender, and one that he chooses to deploy in the most inappropriate moments. That's why I love it, because if it was even slightly appropriate, why would it be funny?
Whether it's following a natural disaster, something being destroyed, someone being humiliated, or a host of other things, Bender has a penchant for whipping a camera out of nowhere, snapping a photo, and saying, "Neat!"
It's usually deployed as a button on jokes that are already good, and functions as a pretty neat cherry on top. It's also fun because DiMaggio doesn't play Bender's "neat" as sarcasm — he genuinely seems to mean it.
Any and all appearances of Hedonismbot
Hello, handsome! Another performance from the amazing Maurice LaMarche, and another character that steals any and all episodes that he appears in. There's no particular line or joke here — Hedonismbot is a robot straight out of the most decadent period of Ancient Rome, and wants nothing more than orgies, butter slathering, and watching animals do... things... to each other.
The combination of LaMarche's performance, the writing, and the animation combined forces to create genius. From "I trust the orgy pit has been scraped and buttered?" to "I'll be upstairs... putting batteries in things", every line out of this character is a winner. The character himself is the running joke here, and that's that. I apologize for nothing!
Zoidberg is always one step behind
Another recurring Zoidberg bit is the fact that he is always one step behind everyone else. It's not that he's one second behind — he only pipes up once the moment is completely over.
A great example of this is when Bender is calling dibs on a dead person's things. Bender clearly calls dibs, and the moment is over. Zoidberg then calls dibs as if nobody said anything, only realizing at the end of his sentence that he'd been beaten. He's so confident in these moments, and the way that West plays the inevitable deflation is magical.
He has a similar moment with wanting to be a Maid of Honor, and he is completely beaten to the punch by Amy. Once again, his confidence sliding right down into utter defeat is masterful.
"Good news, everyone!"
How could anything else take the top spot? This line is probably in every episode and might be the most repeated line in the show. Trust me, I could have made a case for Hedonismbot getting bumped up, but it didn't feel right.
Professor Farnsworth (Billy West again, good lord above, what talent) often utters this line towards the beginning of episodes, and it's not so much the line itself that is funny, it's the fact that the news that he delivers right after it is almost never close to being good. If you hear Farnsworth say this line, you'd better get ready for bad news. At the very least, get ready to do a job that you really don't want to do.
No matter how awful or mundane the news that he's announcing is, West's cheerful delivery of the phrase can't be beat. It's iconic, it's the line from this show that I thought of first, and as I've already said, it's practically in every episode.
Good news, everyone! This list is over.