Fox // 2001 // 506 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // August 10th, 2004
"It's Saturday night. I have no date, a two-liter bottle of Shasta, and my all-Rush mix tape. Let's rock!"
Fox Home Video continues its release of Matt Groening's animated series Futurama on DVD with this Volume Three collection, containing the complete third production season of the show. As Futurama fans know, thanks to various scheduling issues with Fox, these episodes were aired during the third (2000-01), fourth (2001-02), and fifth (2002-03) broadcast seasons of the show, despite their comprising the third full "season" of episodes. It's a long story. In any event, Futurama was a show that steadily improved with each season, and accordingly Volume Three is the strongest collection of episodes to date.
Futurama concerns the trials, tribulations, and outright catastrophes that befall Philip J. Fry (voiced by Billy West, Ren and Stimpy), an earnestly dim pizza delivery boy who is catapulted into the world of the Year 3000 due to an unfortunate accident involving a cryogenic tube. Fry and his motley crew of companions -- his jerk robot best-friend Bender (John DiMaggio), his distant descendant Professor Hubert Farnsworth (West again), fetching orphaned cyclops space captain Leela (Katey Sagal, Married With Children), rich playgirl intern Amy Wong (Lauren Tom), paragon of bureaucratic efficiency Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr), and quack lobster doctor Zoidberg (West, yet again) -- operate a struggling intergalactic package delivery service. Loosely affiliated with them are unctuous space "hero" Zapp Brannigan (West -- the man gets no rest on this show) and his broken-down green alien sidekick Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche).
Like its Volume Two predecessor, Volume Three comes on four discs packed in individual slim keep cases, each case decorated with one segment of a four-part panoramic mural. Unlike Volume Two, there are 22 episodes (vs. 19) in this production run -- among them, several considered by fans to be the best of the show's entire history. I'd call that a bargain -- the best I've ever had. At least from Fox.
"Amazon Women in the Mood"
Long, long ago -- in Volume One -- Zapp Brannigan's poor, downtrodden sidekick Kif met, and fell hopelessly in love with, Amy Wong. Kif, though, is painfully shy, and even now can barely manage to dial Amy's phone number, let alone actually speak to her. He unwisely turns to Zapp for help in wooing Amy. During the course of a very poorly planned double date, Zapp crashes a space restaurant into what turns out to be the planet Amazonia, populated by gigantic jungle females. Fry and Bender soon wind up there as well, after learning of the restaurant crash. Amazonia is ruled by Femputer (Bea Arthur, The Golden Girls), a female computer (duh) the Amazon women worship and obey. Femputer's main political/religious stance is "men bad." Hence, the men are quickly sentenced to death by "snu-snu" for their trespassing. "Snu-snu" turns out to be what we humans refer to as "the boot-knockin' nasty" -- which is downright hazardous when all the women are 20 feet tall and extremely athletic. Can Amy and Leela save Fry and Kif? (Zapp's on his own, of course.) Do they really want to be saved from non-stop snu-snu? And what is Femputer's deep, dark secret? An all-time classic episode.
Fry unwisely eats an extremely old egg salad sandwich from a truck stop vending machine. When near-fatal wounds start to heal impossibly rapidly, the Professor discovers that Fry has been infected by parasites -- tiny worms that have established a small, yet advanced, civilization in Fry's colon. A Fantastic Voyage is undertaken when the Professor sends microclones of the Planet Express crew inside of Fry to cleanse him of the parasites. But there's a catch -- the parasites are benevolent -- they're actually improving Fry from the inside out, making him better...smarter...more attractive to Leela. Plus, they really don't want to leave. Leela fights to save the parasites. But Fry worries that Leela doesn't love him for his real self; she loves him for his parasites' version of him. Hijinks ensue.
"A Tale of Two Santas"
The evil robot Santa Claus is back again! The Planet Express crew is forced to deliver letters to Robot Santa at his evil death fortress on the planet Neptune. Fry decided that Xmas needs to be happy and jolly again, and convinces everyone to end Santa's nefarious reign. With the help of the Neptunians, toymakers and practitioners of...um...alternative lifestyles, they do, freezing Santa Claus in ice. Bender takes over Santa's job, and tries to deliver toys to all the good girls and boys. However, nobody told Earth about the change in plans...Featuring Coolio as Kwanzaabot. A historical note: Fox refused to air the first "Xmas" episode (which is found on Volume Two) at 7:00 PM, the show's normal airtime, due to the whole Evil Santa Claus issue; this episode they refused to air at all. It took a year of lobbying on the part of the producers to finally get it aired, a whole Christmas after it was meant to be shown.
"The Luck of the Fryrish"
At long last, we finally start to learn something about Fry's personal history. Beset by some bad luck, Fry attempts to find his old lucky charm, a four-leaf clover he had hidden in the sleeve of the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club. He finds the ruins of his house, and the album -- but no clover. He also discovers a large statue of his brother Yancy, but labeled "Philip J. Fry: The First Man on Mars." Yancy's statue has a four-leaf clover carved on its lapel. Fry becomes convinced that his brother, who always stole stuff from him, had purloined his clover and used it to steal the luck that was rightfully Fry's. After some flashbacks, some research, and a little bit of grave robbing, Fry discovers how wrong he really was about his brother. The first in a series of overtly sentimental episodes during the final two seasons of the show.
"The Birdbot of Ice-catraz"
Planet Express is contracted to tow a barge full of an oil-like substance over a route that runs dangerously close to a penguin preserve on the planet Pluto. Leela thinks this is stupid, and joins a protest group (Penguins Unlimited) that's picketing the transport. Bender, who takes over as captain, crashes the barge into Pluto (of course). To hide from the cops, he disguises himself as a penguin and blends in with the locals. After a killer whale attack, a malfunction causes him to actually go into "penguin mode." Hijinks ensue.
Bender starts to bend things in his sleep, including the professor. Turns out he's subconsciously frustrated at his bending-free lifestyle, since that's what he was born to do. He goes out and gets a job as a scab bender at a plant being picketed by the union. He falls in love with a top-heavy fembot co-worker named Anglelyne (Jan Hooks, Saturday Night Live), who just happens to be the ex-wife of...Flexo, Bender's identical twin (except for an evil goatee). Flexo is also the scab foreman at the plant. Bender gets paranoid, and pretends to be Flexo in an attempt to prove that Anglelyne isn't over the relationship. Along the way, he annoys the Robot Mafia. Things eventually unbend themselves, sort of.
"The Day the Earth Stood Stupid"
Has nothing to do with the Robert Wise sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Instead, it's the first entry in a long-term story arc concerning Nibbler, Leela's pet. Leela enters Nibbler in a pet show, and wins an award -- for the dumbest pet in the show. (The winner of Best in Show? The Hypno-toad. All hail the Hypno-toad!) Soon, everyone has bigger problems, as giant brains invade the Earth and make everyone really, really stupid. Nibbler runs off and retrieves his spaceship (!), and brings Leela to his home planet of Eternium, where the Nibblonians -- a super-powerful and super-adorable race -- have been monitoring the invasion of Earth by their arch-enemies, the Giant Brains. The Nibblonians tell Leela that there is only one person who can save Earth. The one person who is already so dumb that he's immune to the brains' intelligence-sapping effect. Philip J. Fry.
Exhibit #1 for why Futurama never struck it big. This episode, believe it or not, is a rough retelling of the story of silent movie star Harold Lloyd, whose popularity was probably second only to Charlie Chaplin during the silent film era. Lloyd's career completely disappeared with the advent of "talkies"; much later in life, he attempted an unsuccessful comeback at the behest of director Preston Sturges. Maybe .0000001% of the country would pick up on this when watching the episode. (I sure didn't, until I read about it elsewhere.) Lloyd becomes Harold Zoid, the washed-up entertainer uncle of Dr. Zoidberg. Zoidberg flies to LA to solicit his advice after failing in his attempt to be a stand-up comic. Zoid convinces Zoidberg to invest all his money in a comeback film. Unfortunately, they're a little short in fundage. About a million dollars short. Enter Bender, who arranges for his new best friend Calculon, star of the robot soap opera "All My Circuits," to chip in a million in funds. Just two things, though -- Calculon has to have a starring role, and Bender kinda promised Calculon that he'd win an Oscar(tm), guaranteed. Unfortunately, the movie is awful. Hijinks ensue.
"The Cyber House Rules"
At a reunion for her orphanage, Leela reunites with a cute boy on whom she had a crush. He's now a doctor, and offers to add a second prosthetic eye to her face via plastic surgery. Leela jumps at the chance to finally look "normal," notwithstanding Fry's insistence that she looks just fine when she's abnormal. Meanwhile, Bender jumps at the chance to adopt as many orphans as he can, since the government cuts a $100 weekly check for each one. None of this ends well.
"Where The Buggalo Roam"
Amy takes Kif home to Mars to meet her parents, Leo and Inez Wong, who own half the planet. (The good half.) Her parents, of course, think he's a wimp. Kif has a chance to prove himself to them when the Wong herd of buggalo (buffalo-sized bugs) are rustled out from under them during a dust storm. Kif's journey of pseudo-Western adventure brings him in contact with the real Martians, who sold their interest in the planet to the Wongs for one bead long ago. The Martians kidnap Amy, leading the Wongs to hire a rescuer -- Zapp Brannigan, of course. Can Kif rescue Amy before Zapp screws up the whole planet?
"Insane in the Mainframe"
Fry and Bender run into Roberto, an old robot friend of Bender's, at the bank. He's robbing it. Bender and Fry accidentally help him, and are arrested. Fry's all set to rat out Roberto in court when Roberto corners him outside the courtroom and threatens him. Fry and Bender wind up pleading insanity, and both are sentenced to a robot insane asylum. (The human asylum was full.) Over time, Fry comes to believe he actually is a robot, and acts accordingly. Lots of references to One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
"The Route of All Evil"
The Professor's clone Cubert (Tress MacNeille, The Simpsons) and Hermes' son Dwight (Bumper Robinson, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) are forced to get jobs by their fathers. They start a paper route. Normally, fathers are proud when their sons are successful in business -- but here, it turns into a competition. Cubert and Dwight, via some maneuvering that would make Gordon Gecko proud, wind up taking over Planet Express itself. It all comes crashing down on them, Enron-style, in the end. But everyone learns a valuable lesson about not being a bully. Bender also gives birth to some pretty good beer.
"Bendin' in the Wind"
After a freak accident involving a can opener, Bender is paralyzed. In the hospital, he meets the head of Beck (voiced by some guy named Beck Hansen), who inspires Bender to find his inner loser and play that funky music with a pair of robotic arms. He joins Beck's tour as a washboard player, playing his own washboard abs. Fry, Leela, Amy, and Zoidberg, having discovered the functioning remains of a VW microbus, follow the tour. Bender is moved by the sight of broken robots being melted down, and organizes a benefit concert for broken robots -- Bend Aid. Enthused by his new purpose in life, Bender suddenly regains the use of his arms and legs. But he can't tell anyone, because he's got a pretty sweet deal going on. So he tries to fake his way through the benefit concert. Things don't end well, and Bender doesn't get to keep the Official Oversize Check.
"Time Keeps On Slipping"
The Harlem Globetrotters arrive from the Globetrotter homeworld to announce that Earth isn't jive enough to take them on. The Professor rises to the challenge of the 'Trotters, and creates a team of mutants to defend the honor of our planet. Unfortunately, they're all infants. To rapidly age the mutants, he needs a bunch of chronotons: little particles of time itself. Fry, Leela, and Bender go off to fetch some chronotons, and accidentally create the proverbial rip in space-time. Time does indeed start slipping, slipping, into the future; leaping ahead randomly. Jump-cut gags abound. The Professor and the Globetrotters join forces to stop the time/space disturbance before it consumes the universe. Along the way, Fry and Leela somehow wind up married, then divorced. But Fry can't remember why Leela agreed to marry him in the first place. Bender fruitlessly tries to become a Globetrotter, and everything turns out relatively fine in the end. We all still have Zoidberg, but we all are jive turkeys.
"I Dated a Robot"
Fry decides to do all the things he wanted to do in the past but couldn't -- destroy a planet, ride a dinosaur, visit the edge of the Universe. You know -- tourist stuff. And have a romance with a celebrity. For that, he goes to Nappster.com, where you can download celebrities and imprint them on blank robots. Fry asks for someone like Lucy Liu, but it turns out they don't have anyone like that. They do, however, have Lucy Liu (as voiced by Lucy Liu). Fry embarks on a relationship with his new robot pal, unaware of the dark taboo associated with human/robot love. Plus, the real head of Lucy Liu is upset at the illegal downloading going on. Popcorn ultimately is involved in the story, and Fry, as usual, winds up alone.
"A Leela of Her Own"
The Planet Express crew befriend their new neighbors, a family of immigrant aliens who own and operate a pizza parlor. They're not completely familiar with the concepts of "pizza" and "toppings" -- but they're very enthusiastic about fitting in. Hence, the gang introduces them to the national pastime, blernsball. It's sort of like baseball, except for...well, everything. But the uniforms are the same. Leela takes the mound as pitcher, but can't manage to get a ball over the plate. She does manage to hit every single batter she faces. One thing leads to another, and she's hired by the woeful New New York Mets for publicity purposes, becoming the first professional female blernsball player ever. Leela thinks she's a role model for young female players everywhere, but it turns out she's just a laughingstock, helping to keep the really talented female blernsballers out of the league. Will Leela go down in history as the worst blernsball player ever? Probably. But the alien immigrants quickly learn the American Way and sell out to Fishy Joe (from the Futurama: Volume Two episode "The Problem with Popplers.")
"A Pharaoh To Remember"
The crew makes a delivery to the planet Osiris 4, and wind up as slaves under the tyrannical rule of the local pharaoh. Bender exploits the pharaoh's semi-timely death, as well as some quickie hieroglyphics, to establish himself as the One Whom Prophecy Deemed Would Appear From Space To Be The Next Pharaoh. And let me tell you -- Bender isn't a very good boss. After forcing the slaves to build a gigantic statue -- which almost reaches orbit, it's so tall -- in his honor, Bender decides that it isn't big enough, and that they should all try again. The slaves declare that oops, Pharaoh Bender "accidentally" died, and seal him up inside his own statue. Can Fry and Leela save him? Do they even want to? Will fruit really stay fresher if you keep it under a statue of Bender?
"Anthology of Interest II"
Another three-part collection of mini-stories along the lines of The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" episodes. The Professor fixes up his old "What If" machine, and gives the crew another crack at asking it appropriate questions. Bender asks "what if I were human?" Well, he'd have a great time, but would lack any semblance of self-control, leading to his ultimate messy fate. (Contains one of the greatest "sound effects" ever. If you've seen the episode, you know what I mean.) Fry asks "what if life were more like a video game"? The machine shows him an alternative timeline where he, Fry, is called upon by Colonel Colin Pacman (wacka wacka) to fight -- you guessed it -- Space Invaders from the planet Nintendu 64 ("Tremble in fear at our three different kinds of ships!!!"). Guest starring Q-bert as himself (itself?). Finally, Leela asks "what if I found my true home?" The machine hits her on the head, and she wakes up in a strange land. One might even call it, oh, Oz-like...yes, a Wizard of Oz parody. (I think these are now mandatory for any sitcom, animated or flesh-and-blood.) Unlike the original, in this version Dorothy is a bit more interested in the dark side of Oz...
"Roswell That Ends Well"
Anyone remember that old Ray Stevens song "I Am My Own Grandpa"? The writers of Futurama sure do. 'Nuff said. I don't think Ray's song involved the harmful effects of attempting to cook Jiffy-Pop popcorn in the microwave, though. A surprisingly well-constructed time travel episode (nary a glaring logical inconsistency in sight) that won the 2002 Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. (Side note: an episode from the final production run of the show, "Jurassic Bark," was nominated for an Emmy in 2003. It's one of the finest sitcom episodes ever made, let alone animated show episodes -- a show that had an ending so moving that I literally broke down in tears when I first watched it. It lost to the The Simpsons' "Three Gays of the Condo" episode, thereby proving conclusively that Satan does, in fact, exist; and his hellish, dark schemes and contrivances apparently control the Emmy voting. But I digress.)
Bender is sleeping on the job as usual, but this time it bites him in his shiny metal ass. Because he's sleeping in a torpedo tube (who knew the ship had torpedoes?), and the ship's just been attacked by pirates. Bender is accidentally fired at the pirates, and winds up careening off into space at an incredible speed. While zooming through the cosmos, he collides with a tiny chunk of an asteroid that -- wonder of wonders -- contains a teeny, tiny functioning society of teeny, tiny little anthropomorphic creatures. They go about their merry lives and worship their new robot God. Bender, however, discovers that being God isn't all good times and butterflies; you have to do nasty stuff like answer prayers and decide who lives and dies. He botches the job royally, but learns a lesson from a mysterious being who may actually be the real God him/her/itself.
Fry attends a cryogenic support group and meets up with a Gordon Gecko-like fellow who was frozen back in the 20th Century. One thing leads to another, and That Guy (as he is called) winds up taking over Planet Express thanks to some shareholder conflict. That Guy, now ensconced as CEO, decides to take on Mom's Delivery Company, the market leader. Fry functions as his brown-nosing toady. (He's got a really neat chair, too.) But wait -- deviously That Guy secretly intends to sell out to Mom, thereby enriching himself and putting everyone out of work. More stockholder shenanigans ensue, and the gang is ultimately saved thanks to the heartbreak of boneitis. (Special appearance by a robot Bar Mitzvah, complete with "Today I Am A Robot" spelled out in Hebrew. Attention to detail!!!!)
"The 30% Iron Chef"
Star Wars meets The Karate Kid meets The Food Network. Bender, the ship's chef, is absolutely horrible at cooking, due mainly to his lack of taste buds. When he overhears the crew complaining about his latest atrocious meal, he runs away. Winding up at a hobo camp (Bumbase Alpha), he meets Helmut Spargel, who once was the most famous chef in the world -- until his pupil, celebrity chef Elzar (think Emeril with extra arms -- BAM!), usurped his culinary throne. Spargel agrees to train Bender in the ways of the Force...er, I mean, in the ways of cooking. Bender passes his test, but Spargel's stomach explodes in the process. Before death, Spargel gives bender a vial of the Essence of Pure Flavor. Bender vows to avenge Spargel by taking on Elzar -- on the popular show "Iron Cook." The mystery ingredient? Soylent green. There's also a somewhat silly and unnecessary subplot involving Zoidberg and a ship-in-a-bottle. Don't ask. (Fun fact: "spargel" is German for "asparagus.")
The extras package in Volume Three is essentially the same as that for Volume Two: an animatic (for "Anthology of Interest II"), a set of storyboards (for "Parasites Lost"), assorted clips, and -- of course -- commentary for every episode. There's also a still-frame gallery of "how to draw characters" that gives budding animators or cartoonists a quickie guide to drafting the main characters from the show, and a set of clips showcasing the 3D animated models generated by the animators for use in the show.
The best, and most worthwhile, of these extras is the set of commentary tracks. The number of different speakers used here is greater than in the previous sets, allowing the listener to hear a broader range of stories and opinions. Producer David X. Cohen is the one constant through all the commentaries; Matt Groening participates in most as well. The commentary for a given episode usually has the writer or director of the episode on the track -- often both. The tag team of Billy West and John DiMaggio return, and some of the other voice actors pop up from time to time as well. (Still no Katey Sagal, though.) Through it all, one thing comes through loud and clear: all these people truly loved this show, and working on it. (Especially interesting are the stories about the year-long fight with Fox over "A Tale of Two Santas.")
Picture and sound are both as outstanding as the prior volumes -- in fact, the picture may be a bit better in Volume Three, since by this time the animators and editors were getting much better at handling the show's blend of hand-drawn and computer animation. Audio tracks (Dolby Digital Surround 2.0) are provided in English, Spanish, and French; captions in English and Spanish.
On a much smaller note, the menus on the DVDs have been improved from Volumes One and Two. They now feature voiceovers from various characters (one or two characters per disc). The comments they make are, to a certain extent, randomized as well -- wait a while, and you'll eventually hear something different. Some of the comments are downright hilarious. You can never get enough Bender in your life.
Futurama: Volume Three is, on the whole, the best of the four Futurama production seasons. Volume One was the initial season -- short, and mainly devoted to introducing characters. Volume Two is admittedly more consistent in quality than Volume Three -- some of the Volume Three shows are relatively weak. The best shows of Volume Two, though, don't quite match the quality of the best of Volume Three. Volume Four (as yet unreleased in the US), while containing some outstanding episodes (including the aforementioned "Jurassic Bark"), contains many that were obviously written under the cloud of the show's imminent cancellation; there's a feeling that the writers were trying to tell the show's full story in what little time was left, leading to some awkwardly rushed storytelling. Volume Three has several of the all-time best episodes of the show, which more than make up for the few clunkers along the way -- and even a "bad" Futurama show is better than most TV. If you're looking for the best the show had to offer, Futurama: Volume Three is for you.
As I said in my last review -- Futurama probably isn't for everyone. It demands a lot of background knowledge from its viewers, about all sorts of pop culture icons, history, films, TV shows, and other trivia. If you aren't well-versed in the kinds of cultural touchstones the show's creators and writers are, you probably won't get a lot of the humor. The show lacks any "kid" characters to whom kids can relate and identify (e.g. Bart and Lisa Simpson); most kids are just too young to get the references anyhow. (How many 8-year-olds, for example, would catch the Space 1999 reference in "Bumbase Alpha"?) Again, this doesn't mean that kids or people not well versed in pop trivia won't enjoy the show -- they just might not enjoy it as much as people who are.
Futurama tried to be different, and succeeded. It tried to be smart, and succeeded. It tried to be funny, and succeeded. It tried to be popular -- and failed. That, in a nutshell, is the life story of many of the fans of this show, which may help to explain their devotion to it. It doesn't hurt that the show is a well-written, well-acted, colorful, funny, intelligent, and even occasionally poignant half hour. If you missed it on its first go-round (and based on average ratings numbers, about 290,000,000 of you did), and you think you might fit the profile, by all means give it a chance. You might wind up a devoted fan yourself.
Futurama, and anyone connected with it, are sentenced to death -- by snu-snu! Femputer has spoken!
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 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 506 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Tracks
* Deleted Scenes
* International Clip
* 3-D Models
* How To Draw Characters
* Still Gallery
* Can't Get Enough Futurama
* The Empty Zoid of Space
* Review of Volume One
* Review of Volume Two