The afternoon before this episode aired, I was talking about the current season of "Futurama" with one of my friends. We agreed that we were enjoying it, but it seemed like the writers had just completely put aside the Fry/Leela relationship, while also forgetting that they were writing for a show set 1,000 years in the future (meaning they could do just about anything).
Then, a few hours later, they aired an episode that took care of both of my concerns and was easily my favorite of the season.
The opening of the episode (with Bender having sex with a Lady Bot, keeping Fry up all night) was pretty stupid, which seems to have been a constant this season. But once they got into the story, things moved quickly. Fry showed up late for Leela's birthday lunch, which pissed her off, as expected. He set up a dinner date with her and promised he wouldn't miss it, but got stuck testing the Professor's "forward time machine". They intended to only go 1 minute into the future, but of course, the Professor's hand slipped and they ended up in the year 10,000.
From here, the gang kept going forward in time, hoping to end up in a time in which human kind (mostly wiped out in the year 10,000) had invented a "backwards time machine" and kept landing in scenes that referenced other time travel stories ("Planet of the Apes", "Terminator", "The Time Machine"). There was even a montage set to a parody of "In the Year 2525", which had me rolling -- the time ruled by Giraffes who'd enslaved humans was just the right touch of stupidity.
This would have made for a good episode if that had been the only plot, but they mixed in a secondary plot that showed what happened in the "regular" timeline after Fry, the Professor and Bender disappeared (and were believed to have died in an explosion at Hedonism-bot's bachelor party). Leela turned Planet Express into a successful business, but was unhappy personally, eventually marrying Cubert because of his resemblance to Fry. They divorced and Leela was unhappy in the year 3050, when Fry's video card (which had flown out of the time machine) landed on her face and she realized what had happened. From there, she went to Cavern on the Green (where she'd been stood up on her birthday dinner the night Fry disappeared) and left a message for him to find in the future.
And find it, he did... in the year 1,000,000,000, after all other life on Earth had died off. At that point, the gang, realizing the hopelessness of the situation, hop in the time machine, split a six pack and watch the universe end... which would have been a fucking depressing ass ending, except, in true "Futurama" fashion, the big bang happened again, and the universe restarted and it was EXACTLY THE SAME. On any other show, this would have been a cop out, but on "Futurama", it totally worked. And what made it great is the fact that they missed their landing in 3010 the first time around, and had to go through the entire history of the universe a second time.
There were so many things that worked about this episode, but the thing I loved were the references to past "Futurama" episodes -- remembering that Fry is his own grandfather (which is why the professor didn't invent a backwards time machine) or dealing with the time travel paradox. They also got the destruction, re-birth, re-destruction and re-rebirth of New York accurate to what they'd shown in the past (when Fry was in his cryogenic tube), and had a nice montage of Planet Express scenes from past episodes when they were about to land in 3010 (the first time). Even Leela's message to Fry was reminiscent of Fry's love note in the stars in "Time Keeps on Slipping".
The one-liners weren't as plentiful in this episode, but there were still enough to fill out my top five:
Bender: Guys! Hedonism-bot is finally gonna settle down and marry a nice house in the suburbs. But tonight, he's having the girls-gone-wildest bachelor party of all-time.
Fry: WOOOO-HOOOOO-HOOOO...[sees Leela looking at him angrily]... cares? I'm having dinner with Leela.
Professor: Relax Fry, everyone we ever knew died thousands of years ago.
Bender: Everyone we ever knew?! Eh, I never liked those guys.
Leela: Fry stood me up then died? I'm so angry! I mean, I'm so sad. But I'm still pretty angry. But also sad. Can I be both?
Hermes: It's what he'd want.
Professor: Yoo-hoo! Boys! What's this era in human history like?
Future human marine: The machines. We built them to make our lives easier but they rebelled. They won't stop until every human is dead!
Bender: This seems like a nice future. Let's just stay here. We can settle down on that mountain of skulls.
Professor: The stars are receding! Oh, the vast emptiness!
[Shakes empty beer can in Bender's face]
Bender: Yeah, yeah, I can take a hint.