Futurama's Writers Didn't Think Fry And Leela Would Ever Fall In Love

"Futurama" is a satirical comedy, an outrageous science-fiction adventure, and a love story. There's nary a more unlikely romance than Philip J. Fry (Billy West), an idiot delivery boy from 1999 stranded 1000 years in the future, and Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal), a beautiful, no-nonsense purple-haired cyclops. Fry's crush initially seems hopeless, but he wins Leela over. Still, it takes a while before she can admit her feelings to herself, much less Fry.

The relationship got more and more focus as the series went on; so far, all of the premature "Futurama" finales have focused on resolving the romance. However, according to series' showrunner David X. Cohen, he and the other writers never expected Fry and Leela to get together, much less for their romance to become the centerpiece of the series.

Fan response shapes the series

Interviewed by Red Carpet News in 2014, Cohen discussed how he and his fellow writers approach "Futurama" foremost as a comedy. As such, they didn't see Fry and Leela's relationship as anything but a stock sitcom dynamic: a loser in hopeless love with someone out of his league. As Cohen put it:

"'Oh, we'll have Fry be this idiot, and he has a crush on Leela, he wants to win Leela's love,' but we didn't take it that seriously because we just thought, 'Oh, Fry's a moron, he has no chance.'"

This changed when Cohen discovered that "Futurama" fans weren't responding to just the show's humor, but also the emotion. Thus, they started writing more earnest and heartwarming (or heartbreaking) episodes. For instance, the fan-favorite episode "Luck of the Fryrish" centered on Fry's troubled relationship with his long-dead, older brother Yancy. For much of the episode, Fry is convinced that after his disappearance, Yancy stole his identity and lucky seven-leaf clover. In the episode's closing moments, Fry discovers that the other "Philip Fry" was actually Yancy's son, his nephew, "named for his uncle to carry on his spirit," and realizes his brother did love him.

Cohen also cites infamous episode "Jurassic Bark," where Fry discovers the fossilized remains of his dog Seymour. He forgoes cloning Seymour after discovering his dog lived until 2012 and thus must have forgotten about Fry. In fact, as the episode's closing montage (set to Connie Francis' "I Will Wait For You") shows, Seymour spent the rest of his life waiting for Fry.

But when an emotional "Futurama" episode isn't centered on Fry's past, odds are it'll be focused on his relationship with Leela.

An evolving dynamic

Knowing how the writers' view of Fry and Leela evolved, it's interesting to chart their relationship across the show from beginning to end. In season 1, there isn't a romance. When Fry meets Leela in "Space Pilot 3000," he doesn't show attraction to her, but curiosity about her eye. In episode four, "Love's Labours Lost In Space," centered on Leela's love life, Fry never once hits on her. They have their share of misadventures together, such as wandering the moon in "The Series Has Landed" to rescuing Bender (John DiMaggio) from Robot Hell in "Hell is Other Robots." However, their overall dynamic is platonic on both ends.

The first hint of a romance is in the "Titanic" parody "A Flight To Remember," when Leela has Fry pretend to be her boyfriend to ward off Zapp Brannigan (Billy West). The relationship almost becomes real when they're stargazing and contemplating their mutual loneliness, but a black hole kills the mood.

Season 2 ramps things up. "XMas Story" focuses on Fry trying to find a holiday gift for Leela and they again almost kiss (this time under the mistletoe). In "A Bicyclops Built for Two," Fry gets jealous when Leela meets another cyclops named Alcazar (David Herman) and helps expose him as a shapeshifting fraud. In the second segment of "Anthology of Interest 1," Leela asks what would happen if she were more impulsive. She winds up killing Professor Farnsworth (once more, Billy West) once he names her his heir. She then kills everyone else to keep herself from being discovered — except Fry. The segment ends with them in bed together and Fry saying he really likes the new impulsive Leela. The implication is that if Leela were just a bit more impulsive, she'd be willing to date Fry.

Romantic escalation

Season 3 features Fry and Leela getting together twice ... briefly. In "Parasites Lost," symbiotic worms infest Fry, making him strong, smart, and confident enough to impress Leela. When Leela admits she only loves "what [Fry] has become," he rids his body of the worms to see if Leela will still love him for him. Predictably, she doesn't.

In "Time Keeps On Slippin'," one of the flash-forwards leads to Fry and Leela getting married for reasons they can't remember. Thus, after the next time jump, they've gotten divorced. Fry discovers at the end of the episode how he won Leela's heart — arranging stars to say "I Love You Leela" — but the message is destroyed before Leela sees it.

Building on the previous season, season 4 is when the budding romance becomes really prominent. As Cohen recounted:

"'People are invested in this relationship,' so we actually tried to make Fry mature a little bit and become a better person so he had a chance to genuinely win Leela over by the end."

Indeed, throughout season 4, it's only when Fry demonstrates surprising maturity or selflessness that Leela starts to take interest.

Fry's self-improvement

In the Valentine's Day episode "Love and Rocket," Fry searches for a candy heart with the perfect message for Leela. What impresses her, though, is when he secretly gives her his oxygen tank in the episode's climax. After Leela gives him CPR, Fry coughs up a candy heart with the message, "U Leave Me Breathless."

In "The Sting," Fry seemingly dies saving Leela from a space wasp and she spends the episode going mad with grief, convinced Fry is still alive. It turns out she was in a coma; Fry may have been stabbed by the space wasp's stinger, but Leela got the tip and thus, the venom. Leela's hallucinations of Fry were because he spent weeks by her bedside.

"The Farnsworth Parabox" opens with Fry trying to ask Leela out and her rejecting him for increasingly ridiculous reasons — apparently, she's rejected him so many times that she's run out of excuses. In an alternate universe where coin flips have opposite outcomes, Fry and Leela are married; apparently, Leela once flipped a coin to decide whether to date Fry. "Our" Leela thus said no, while the alternate one was won over by a "magical" first date. The episode ends with Leela flipping a coin again, but this time she decides to give Fry a chance regardless of the outcome.

In the original series finale "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings," Fry makes a deal with the (robot) devil to learn the futuristic instrument the holophoner and impress Leela. He writes an opera, "Leela: Orphan of the Stars," as a love letter. Even after Fry loses his talent, a touched Leela stays behind to hear the end, which depicts her and Fry walking off into the sunset.

A revived romance

"Futurama" was revived in 2007 for four direct-to-video movies. In the first, "Bender's Big Score," Leela begins dating a man named Lars Fillmore. Fry is naturally jealous, declaring Leela would love him too if "[he] was a bald-headed kook." Fry is initially happy when Lars breaks off the relationship, but after Leela declares Lars is the only man she could ever love, Fry decides to sacrifice his happiness for Leela's.

Unfortunately, Lars is killed by the film's villain Nudar. Upon his death, it's discovered that Lars was actually a time travel duplicate of Fry, one who spent 12 years living in the 21st century and was scarred in a fire caused by a time-traveling Bender. He broke off things with Leela because, like all duplicates, he was doomed to die and he wanted to spare her the pain. This twist confirms that a more mature Fry would be Leela's perfect partner.

However, the next two movies don't focus on the romance. Indeed, the second movie, "The Beast With A Billion Backs," shows Fry dating a different woman named Colleen (Brittany Murphy) — it doesn't work out because she's polyamorous. Fry/Leela comes back into prominence for the final movie, "Into The Wild Green Yonder." In the movie's last moment, Leela finally admits that she reciprocates Fry's feelings and they kiss.

Finally together

Seasons 6 and 7 of "Futurama" aired on Comedy Central from 2010 to 2013. This run of episodes was mostly consistent at depicting Fry and Leela as a couple, though it would give them "on again, off again" phases for the sake of jokes.

In the premiere, "Rebirth," Fry creates a robot duplicate of Leela to replace the original who fell into a coma. In "The Late Philip J. Fry," Fry accidentally gets sent thousands of years into the future alongside the Professor and Bender. The episode spotlights Fry's desperate efforts to get home and how Leela grows to old age without him. In "Prisoners of Benda," (where the main cast swaps bodies with abandon), Leela becomes convinced Fry only loves her for her looks. So, she swaps bodies with the Professor. To get back at her, Fry swaps with Dr. Zoidberg (again, Billy West). It turns out neither of their hideous new bodies are enough to kill the spark.

Both season finales, "Overclockwise," and "Meanwhile," offer resolution to Fry and Leela's relationship. In the former, Bender ascends to omniscience and offers them a glimpse of their future. It seems there will be ups and downs, but things will work out in the end. In the latter, they accidentally freeze time for everybody but themselves. With nothing else to do, they get married, travel the world, and grow old together. When the unfrozen Farnsworth offers to restore time back to when it stopped, Fry and Leela agree, deciding they "want to go around again."

"Futurama" is due for yet another revival at Hulu in 2023 ("It just won't stay dead!"). It's unknown if Fry and Leela will be on again or off again, but fans should still expect the romance to play a role. After all, their love is what has carried the series so far.