Futurama is as unabashedly nerdy of a show as there has ever been on television. From its glorious tributes to sci-fi of the past, to its well-documented usage of math and science, Futurama has always waved the geek flag proudly. Today, we’re paying tribute that part of the show’s spirit. That’s right, it’s the five nerdiest Futurama episodes ever made!
5. “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” – Original Air Date: April 21, 2002
I’ll say from the top that this is a bit of outlier compared to the other episodes you’ll see on this list. Those episodes have far more focus on math and science than this one does, but still, a ranking of the nerdiest Futurama episodes could hardly exclude the greatest Star Trek homage ever done. We get Leela and Captain Kirk doing battle (“We’re just pawns in Melvar’s diabolical game of checkers.”), the legendary Fan Dance, and Melvar’s gloriously terrible fanfic (“Alas, my ship, whom I love like a woman is…disabled.”) And let’s be honest, if you’re reading this list, you’ve probably got more than a little Melvar in you.
4. “Time Keeps On Slippin'” – Original Air Date: May 6, 2001
This episode aired towards the end of the third season, and was one of Futurama‘s earliest forays into the realm of science geekery (as you’ll see later in this list, it was far more common during the Comedy Central years). The story centers around the Professor’s quest to create a basketball team of atomic superman to defeat the Harlem Globetrotters. But the chronitons he collects in order to accelerate their growth end up causing the universe to skip forward in time. Naturally, it’s up the Professor and the Globetrotters to set things right. This one is known for its terribly sad ending, but it was also one of the first times Futurama truly embraced the science aspect of science fiction.
3. “Naturama” – Original Air Date: August 29, 2012
This episode is about as unabashedly educational as any sitcom episode has ever been. Essentially, it’s a nature show, but with the Futurama characters acting as the animals in each story. A bold experiment like this could have failed miserably, but it succeeds mainly by playing into the characters personalities so well. Bender as a dominating Beachmaster walrus who keeps all the girls for himself just makes sense, as does Fry The Salmon’s quest to swim up stream and steal Leela away from Zapp. Finally, the Professor as a Tortoise who spends his life trying to win Mom back works as well, especially because of his traveling companions (“I’m not Fry, I’m his great-great-great-great grandson, Fry.”). By using familiar plotlines and emotions, the writers were impressively able to make a nature show feel exactly like a Futurama episode.
2. “Benderama” – Original Air Date: June 23, 2011
This episode presents a deeply frightening universe in which clones of Bender are roaming the galaxy. The initial effect of this is that the world’s supply of alcohol is drained due to the Benders need to drink all the time. This is eventually reversed when they turn all of the world’s water supply into alcohol. But what makes this episode a nerd’s dream come true is its usage of math to drive the plot. The Benders are such a problem because they can replicate endlessly. Why? Because the equation that represents their growth is (gasp) non-convergent! The equation is given as 2^1+2^2+2^3+2^4+2^5+2^6+2^7+2^8+2^9+2^10=2046, with the original Bender acting as 2^0. Eventually, the Benders are destroyed, but not before they eliminate a pizza-faced alien played by Patton Oswalt. This episode gives us the fun of billions of Benders, while also acting as a tribute to the writers’ love of math.
1. “The Prisoner Of Benda” – Original Airdate: August 19, 2010
This was the only logical choice to top this list. Sure, plenty of Futurama episodes have had geeky themes, but this one had its own mathematical theorem! The Futurama theorem states that no matter how many body switches have taken place (and this episode features many, many body switches), they can all be reverted back to normal using only two extra bodies. It is, to date, the only theorem created simply for an entertainment program, and according to writer Ken Keeler, who holds a PhD in mathematics, the episode was intended to create more interest in math among young people. As a mediocre math student who has always loved Futurama, I can happily say it was quite effective.