Fox // 2000 // 437 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // August 4th, 2004
Bite my shiny daffodil ass!
Of all the television shows that have been treated poorly by networks, few were treated as poorly as Matt Groening's second animated series, Futurama. An intelligent show aimed primarily at post-college adults and absolutely loaded with pop culture references, it somehow wound up in the "family hour" at 7:00 on Sunday nights. Not only was the audience at this hour profoundly different from Futurama's target audience, but NFL football telecasts frequently pre-empted the show entirely in the eastern half of America. Treated as the redheaded stepchild of the Fox Sunday Night lineup, the show never truly found its audience, despite positive critical reviews. The few people who did make the effort to find the show tended to be very passionate about it. Somewhat strangely, the show managed to become hugely popular in Japan, and decently successful in Europe. And now, thanks to demand in these markets, all of us in the United States are finally getting Futurama on DVD -- albeit after the Japanese and Europeans get it...
Futurama is the continuing story of one Philip J. Fry (voiced by Billy West), a pizza delivery boy who is accidentally frozen in a cryogenic storage tube on New Year's Eve, 1999. He awakens a thousand years later to a new, strange, yet surprisingly familiar world.
This "Volume Two" set consists of all the episodes from the second production season of the series. The production season, though, doesn't coincide with the second broadcast season of the show -- due to the constant NFL interruptions and other scheduling shenanigans, the shows on these discs were actually aired over two different TV seasons.
In Season Two, Fry is now relatively settled in his future world, and is gainfully employed at Planet Express, an interstellar delivery company owned by his descendant, Professor Hubert Farnsworth (also voiced by West). Also working (well, "working" is a relative term) at Planet Express are one-eyed former orphan Leela (Katey Sagal, of Married With Children fame), Martian-Asian heiress and intern Amy Wong (Lauren Tom), the incompetent medical crustacean Dr. Zoidberg (West again -- sounding like Jackie Mason with a mouth full of marbles), zealous accountant Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr), and all-around troublemaker Bender (John DiMaggio). (Bender's a robot, by the way.)
The first season of a show is rarely its best; the tasks of creating characters, setting the stage for whatever adventures are to follow, and so on usually take up most of the season, leaving little time for the creative exploration of the premise. If the show survives, things usually pick up later in its run. Futurama is no different -- its first season, great as it was, had a lot of "establishing" episodes in it. Plus, there were only 13 episodes.
Volume Two gives us no fewer than nineteen glorious episodes, spread across four discs. Over the course of this season, the writers started to give individual characters their own moments in the spotlight, crafting episodes that really started to turn these cartoons into realistic people (or crustaceans, or robots, as the case may be). Everything that was good about the first season -- the intelligent humor, the subtle pathos, the digs at Nixon, the plethora of Star Trek references, Zapp Brannigan -- is still here, but there's also so much more. As with The Simpsons before it, entire episodes wind up being elaborately detailed parodies of well-known movies, or ferocious digs at some current political topic.
But mostly it's just flat-out funny stuff. Occasionally shoot-milk-out-your-nose funny, even. Here's the run-down of the episodes:
* "I Second That Emotion"
The gang discovers a society of mutants living in the sewers, after Bender flushes Leela's pet Nibbler down the toilet. Bender has a chip implanted in his skull that causes him to feel whatever emotion Leela feels, as punishment for being insensitive towards her. The gang helps the mutants fight off an el Chupacabra-like monster. As usual, Bender fails to learn a valuable lesson about being sensitive to other peoples' feelings.
* "Brannigan, Begin Again"
...which marks the return of everyone's favorite starship captain, Zapp Brannigan (West, yet again), who finds himself stripped of command after he kinda sorta blows up the headquarters of D.O.O.P., the futuristic equivalent of the United Federation of Planets. Guess where he and his sidekick Kif (Maurice LaMarche) wind up working? Fry and Bender like his laissez-faire management style and mutiny against Leela. Trouble ensues.
* "A Head In the Polls"
Even in the year 3000, it's never too far in the future to make fun of Richard Nixon. Bender sells his body after the price of titanium spikes, whereupon the disembodied head of Nixon buys it to stage a political comeback. Except now he's really nuts.
* "Xmas Story"
The Futurama version of a holiday special is the touching story of Leela's loneliness at Xmas ("Christmas" is an archaic term by then), given that she's an orphan and the only member of her species. Oh, and there's an evil robotic Santa Claus (John Goodman) that kills people. (Unsurprisingly, Fox refused to air this episode at 7:00.) Special guest: Bongo, as himself.
* "Why Must I Be A Crustacean in Love?"
A tribute to the classic "Mr. Spock in Heat" episode of Star Trek. (Okay, I actually do know that the show is entitled "Amok Time." I like the Trek, what can I say?) Dr. Zoidberg becomes filled with male jelly (ick!) and must return to his homeworld to find a mate. Fry plays Cyrano in helping Zoidberg's attempt to woo a beautiful...um...lobster-thingy, but manages to get himself into a love triangle. It's fight-to-the-death time!!!
* "The Lesser of Two Evils"
We meet Bender's identical twin Flexo, who looks just like Bender, except he has an evil-looking goatee. Fry doesn't trust him -- because one twin is always the evil one, right? When a super-atomic tiara that the crew is delivering to the Miss Universe pageant (which now really is Miss Universe) goes missing, Fry immediately suspects Flexo. Guest starring Bob Barker as Bob Barker's Head.
* "Put Your Head On My Shoulder"
This Valentine's Day episode sees Fry finally getting some action. And not just any action, either -- he's gettin' it on with Amy! However, Fry quickly loses interest when Amy starts getting too "into" the relationship. He breaks up with her during a semi-romantic drive across the surface of Mercury (great for convertibles) when Dr. Zoidberg crashes the car. Fry is mangled beyond repair -- but in a flash of inspiration, Zoidberg manages to attach Fry's head to Amy's body. Awk-ward! Amy continues her active social life, which bothers Fry -- but at least neither will be alone for Valentine's Day.
* "Raging Bender"
Bender beats up the reigning Ultimate Robot Fighting League champion during a fight at a movie theater, leading to a lucrative career as a professional robot wrestler. He's enormously popular -- the Metallic Rock, if you will -- until the URFL leadership decides to turn him heel. Suddenly, he's "The Gender Bender," and is being forced to take a dive to the new flavor of the month. Leela helps him plan his revenge...
* "A Bicyclops Built For Two"
Leela finally discovers another member of her species on the internet (which is pretty much the same in 3000, including pop-up ads, except it's all in virtual reality) -- and a male one, too. And he's cute. There's just one problem -- he's a total jerk, and treats her like a servant. Of course Leela doesn't find this out until after she's agreed to marry him. It's up to Fry to convince her to back out of the wedding. Watch for the overt Married With Children parody!
* "A Clone of My Own"
This episode finds the Professor confronting the issue of his own mortality. Fry is very hopeful that he'll be named the successor-in-interest to the Professor's scientific studies, even though he's a complete idiot. However, the Prof has his own idea, in the form of his self-made clone Cubert. Unfortunately, Cubert has a mind of his own, and isn't interested in his dad/self's plans for him.
* "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back"
Hermes, a man dedicated to bureaucracy, finds himself in a heap of trouble after failing his annual inspection. He's demoted one grade and sentenced to a vacation. His replacement, Morgan Proctor (Nora Dunn), is even more of a cold, heartless bureaucrat than Hermes -- except for her raging passion for Fry. His utter disorganization really turns her on. Meanwhile, the "spa" where Hermes is vacationing turns out to be a slave camp. Hermes, ever the bureaucrat, reorganizes the place into a more efficient slave camp, and gets his titular groove back. Ends with a big calypso musical number!
* "The Deep South"
An odd amalgam of Gone With the Wind and Splash. While deep-sea fishing, Bender snags a colossal-mouthed bass, which drags the entire ship and crew to the bottom of the ocean. There they find the lost city of Atlanta, populated by genteel Southern merpeople. Fry becomes besotted with Umbriel (Parker Posey) (hey, astronomers will get the joke...), the daughter of The Colonel, but sadly discovers that her good parts are...well, they're in the fish department of her anatomy, so they're, shall we say, fishy. Ick. Featuring '60s folk singer Donovan doing a parody of his own song "Atlantis."
* "Mother's Day"
Ah, Mother's Day -- the day when all robots give presents to their "mother," Mom of Mom's Friendly Robot Company. Despite her matronly outward appearance, Mom is actually a shrill, domineering harpy intent on world domination. You see, she secretly put a chip in all her robots that enables her to command them with her Universal Robot Controller. Her new robot army begins to wreak her vengeance upon the world, and it's all because of the man who long ago broke her heart: Hubert Farnsworth. The only way to save humanity is for the Professor to...um...take one for the team, if you catch my drift.
* "The Problem With Popplers"
A fan favorite. While flying back from a mission, the crew gets a bad case of the munchies. They land on a distant planet looking for food, and find pits full of small Chicken McNugget-like things that turn out to be delicious. (As Fry says, "They're like sex, except I'm having them.") They call them "popplers." A big-time fast food baron, Fishy Joe, hires Planet Express to provide him with as many popplers as they can haul after his customers go crazy for them. Trouble brews when a do-gooder organization, M.E.A.T., argues that the popplers are living creatures who should be protected. The Planet Express gang ignores them, until Leela hears a poppler talk. Uh oh. Turns out the protesters are right -- the popplers are the young of a very large and very angry alien race. They arrive on Earth demanding to eat humans. All that stands between humanity and certain doom is crack D.O.O.P. negotiator Zapp Brannigan. Uh oh.
* "Anthology of Interest I"
As the title suggests, this episode is an anthology of three short mini-stories, much like the "Treehouse of Horror" episodes of The Simpsons. The Professor invents the "What If" machine: you ask it a "what if" question, and it shows you what would happen. Bender asks what would happen if he were 500 feet tall. It turns out what would happen is strikingly like the plot of The Iron Giant. Leela asks "what if I were more impulsive"? Well, Leela, you'd wind up going on a killing spree. Finally, Fry asks what if he had never been frozen on that night in 1999? Oddly, it would have caused a rip in the space-time continuum; one that can only be fixed by the teaming-up of Fry and Al Gore's Vice Presidential Action Rangers (Gore, Stephen Hawking, Gary Gygax, and Nichelle Nichols -- all doing their own voices). Needless to say, the universe implodes on itself. But everyone gets to play D&D!
* "War is the H-Word"
In order to obtain a discount on gum, Fry and Bender join the army. War immediately breaks out with the evil Brain Balls. Fry and Bender are sent off to fight the Balls under the command of Earth's greatest leader: Zapp Brannigan. Zapp finds himself strangely attracted to a last-minute addition to the troops, a willowy lad who appears to have only one eye...References to Starship Troopers, M*A*S*H, and Patton abound.
* "The Honking"
Bender's Uncle Vladimir dies, and leaves him a castle, on one condition: he must spend one night in it. It's a very spooky place, and Bender is haunted by ghosts and run over by a haunted car. When the gang gets back to New New York, strange things start happening with Bender -- he wakes up in places he can't remember visiting, and a series of hit-and-run accidents are terrorizing the city. Could it be...a werecar on the loose? Bender consults an old gypsy woman to find out. Yep, it's a werecar, and it's him. Bender has to hunt down the original werecar, Project Satan, built out of parts from the cars of the most evil people in history.
* "The Cryonic Woman"
Bender and Fry manage to destroy the Planet Express building with their tomfoolery, and are fired. Leela is fired as well, because she left the keys in the spaceship, enabling said tomfoolery. They all decide to re-implant their career chips and get the jobs they were originally assigned. Except there's a mixup, and Fry winds up a cryogenics counselor. Who should wind up defrosted on his watch but his ex-girlfriend from the 20th Century, Michelle. Suddenly they're a couple again -- but Michelle really doesn't like it in the future. And she's quite the nag. But Fry is smitten with her (again). He decides that they should re-freeze themselves for another thousand years and hope things get better. They defrost in a strange, Mad Max-like world where tribes of pre-teen children rule, Lord of the Flies-style. Michelle nags Fry to challenge the leader for domination, because the chief's woman is totally lording it over her. Hijinks ensue. Featuring Pauly Shore as himself, buuuuu-dy.
As poorly as Fox treated the show when it was broadcast, they've done an absolutely fantastic job with the DVD releases, right down to the packaging. The four discs come in slim keep cases held in a cardboard sleeve, with a windowed slipcover on top. All the packaging material features new Groening artwork done specifically for the DVDs; as with Volume 1, the four slipcases combine to form a continuous mural that references each episode in some way. The on-screen menus are original and creative, and there's a distinctive menu for each disc. If you look very closely, you'll see that the Fox logo on the spines of the keep cases is actually the faux "30th Century Fox" logo used in the show itself. Attention to detail is always appreciated in these packages!
Picture and sound quality are outstanding as well. Futurama has a very distinct visual style thanks to its combination of traditional cel animation and computer-generated paint-and-ink work, with a bit of 3D graphics thrown in as well. Colors are vibrant and the picture is very crisp, as one should expect from a digital format. There is almost no color bleeding; what little bleeding exists is mainly an unavoidable animation issue (and is explained in full by producer David X. Cohen in the commentary where applicable). The soundtrack is provided in Dolby 2.0 surround, but that's just fine -- 5.1 would be overkill on an animated show like this. Spanish and French speakers get the same love we English speakers get; audio is provided in both languages. Spanish and English subtitles are provided as well.
Speaking of commentary, there is a commentary track provided for each episode. (Take note, Family Guy -- we're disappointed in you.) The specific speakers vary from commentary to commentary, but Cohen and Groening are constants throughout. The comments lean more towards the "buddies chatting and having fun" variety on Volume Two, whereas the commentaries on Volume One were more focused on the techniques used to make the show and the struggles with Fox getting it on the air. But that's not bad thing at all.
Why? Because Billy West and John DiMaggio are two of the most entertaining DVD commentators ever. After a while, I started to actually feel intense disappointment if one or the other weren't going to be on the next commentary. DiMaggio especially. His quick wit and absolutely infectious laugh are almost as entertaining as the show itself. Both occasionally do commentary in character, which can be off-the-charts funny. Fans of the show will truly enjoy the commentary tracks as a stand-alone piece of entertainment, not just as additional features of the episodes.
For die-hards, there is an animatic for "Why Must I Be A Crustacean In Love?" included in the package, and the storyboards for "A Bicyclops Built For Two." Nice to have, but interesting only if you're curious about how animated features are made in today's world.
Futurama is the thinking man's Simpsons -- sort of. It doesn't have the range of comedy that The Simpsons brings to the table, but it's deeper and more thoughtful in many ways. It's not surprising that fans of the show are so loyal -- it never once pandered to its audience, and constantly challenges you to keep up with its stream of references and parodies. Sadly, like Family Guy, it's a show that was jerked around on the schedule so often that many viewers simply weren't exposed to its really great episodes. Now, they're all just a rental away.
In my experience, one's enjoyment of Futurama is in direct proportion to one's ability to pick up on the many, many cinematic, literary, and television references thrown into the typical episode. Some people are perfectly intelligent and perfectly nice, but do not have the kind of memory that files away obscure details about Star Trek or who created Dungeons and Dragons or other frivolous things like that. Those people generally don't enjoy this show -- because the plot is heavily driven by these pop-culture references; without them, the show often has little else to offer the viewer. You should know whether or not you fall into that category. Consider yourself warned. I think the show is still worth watching for these people -- you may pick up on the humor without understanding the references -- but don't be surprised if you don't enjoy it as much as your friends.
Also, Simpsons fans should note that Futurama's tone is closer to the early (Seasons 1-4) era of The Simpsons, as opposed to the slapstick-farcical tone that prevails on the show today. Don't watch it expecting Homer-like buffoonery. Fry is dumb, but he's not an idiot.
Zapp Brannigan: "One day a man has everything. The next day he blows up a $400 billion space station, and the next day he has nothing. It makes you think."
Kif: "No it doesn't."
I'll let Zapp handle this one.
"It was almost the perfect crime...but you forgot one thing. Rock crushes scissors! But...paper covers rock...and scissors cuts paper! Kif, we have a conundrum. Search them for paper. And bring me a rock."
Review content copyright © 2004 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 437 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Tracks
* Deleted Scenes
* Concept Art Gallery
* Alien Alphabet Guide
* International Clips
* Sponsor Clips
* Can't Get Enough Futurama
* The Empty Zoid of Space
* Review of Volume One