With a writers room containing three PhDs, seven master's degrees, and over 50 cumulative years at Harvard, it's no surprise that there are some smart jokes on Futurama. In fact, some are smarter than we are! Thankfully, over the show's 14-year run, it never failed to remain accessible.
One of the great things about Futurama is that it works on so many levels. Whether you're a fan of complex mathematical theorems and references, or you just want to watch Bender drink and steal things, there's always something to enjoy.
But for the really esoteric stuff, it definitely helps if you have a doctorate in physics or mathematics. Not to mention a lightning fast pause button! This list will help explain those jokes, and save you some serious student loan debt, so keep reading to see some of Futurama's smartest jokes.
A Sneaky Vonnegut Reference
This joke is so fast, you can be forgiven for missing it. Seen in the episode "War is the H-Word," a quick establishing shot of a 7-11 establishes that it's open for 28 hours a day, the poverty of the cashier, and most interestingly offers a promotion for a free bag of Ice-9 with the purchase of a six-pack.
Ice-nine is a literary reference to Kurt Vonnegut's fourth novel Cat's Cradle. In the book, ice-nine is a crystalline substance capable of changing all the water in the world to an non-potable ice-like material. The fact that such a devastating material would be available for free at a convenience store showcases Futurama's absurdity at its finest.
Futurama Invents A Mathematical Theorem
Ken Keeler invented a real mathematical theorem in order to explain the body switching featured in "The Prisoner of Benda." Keeler, in addition to writing for Futurama, holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics. Apparently, he included the joke to help popularize mathematics among young fans of the show.
The Quantum Finish
Officials use an electron microscope to determine the winner of a horse race in "The Luck of the Fryrish." The officials declare the race a "quantum finish," and Professor Farnsworth complains, “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!” This refers to the observer effect, a phenomenon in physics that observing quantum particles can change their position. Which means all Futurama episodes might be different if they were played in an empty room. Food for thought.
Mind The (Keeler) Gap
Featured in the TV movie (or Episode 4 of Season 6, as it was styled after the show was picked up again) "Into The Wild Green Yonder," this quick sight gag tests viewers knowledge of astronomy.
A sign on the rings of Saturn reads "Mind The Keeler Gap," a reference both to the famous "Mind The Gap" warning of the London tube system and the real-life Keeler Gap, a 42-kilometer wide gap in the A Ring of Saturn named in honor of James Edward Keeler.