A small clone of Judge Clark Douglas wrote the bulk of this review.
Our reviews of Futurama: Volume One (published April 28th, 2003), Futurama: Volume Two (published August 4th, 2004), Futurama: Volume Three (published August 10th, 2004), Futurama: Volume Four (published October 13th, 2004), Futurama: Bender's Big Score (published December 7th, 2007), Futurama: Bender's Game (published December 4th, 2008), Futurama: Bender's Game (Blu-Ray) (published November 4th, 2008), Futurama: Monster Robot Maniac Fun Collection (published August 22nd, 2005), and Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs (published June 18th, 2008) are also available.
"The future is here!"
"I watch TV. It's the next best thing to being alive."
Facts of the Case
The employees of Planet Express are back for another round of intergalactic adventures! Over the course of the thirteen episodes offered up by Futurama: Volume Six, you'll witness Fry's stint as a police officer, Bender's attempt to flee violent mafia thugs, Professor Farnsworth's mysterious journey back in time to key moments in American history, Leela's encounter with a killer space whale in the Bermuda Tetrahedron, Zoidberg's yeti-enhanced origin story and many other wildly improbable sagas.
For the most part, I've been a defender of Futurama in recent years. No, the movies weren't quite up to the standard set by the show's original run, but they were quite entertaining on their own terms. Futurama: Volume Five was even better, as it offered a string of above-par episodes and one instant classic (that would be "The Late Philip J. Fry," 22 fantastic minutes of television that ranks among the very best episodes the show has produced). However, there's a slightly alarming dip in quality between the previous volume and this collection. For the first time, I'm getting a little worried about the show's creative future.
Futurama: Volume Six isn't bad, exactly. It's just that a surprisingly large number of the thirteen episodes included feel awfully lazy. Approximately half of the episodes feel very much like modern-era The Simpsons: moderately entertaining yet disappointingly hollow stories that rely a bit too much on undercooked pop culture references. There's too little solid nuts-and-bolts storytelling in this volume of Futurama, as several episodes included in this collection feel like little more than an excuse for the writers to riff on their pop culture object of choice. To be fair, that sort of thing can be tremendously entertaining if the jokes are solid, but there are quite a few gags that feel as if they were generated by the script-o-matic.
The episodes have been shuffled around a bit, and are presented out of broadcast order. That's a poor decision, because it means that we get the underwhelming mob-themed episode "The Silence of the Clamps" as a season opener instead of the considerably more entertaining "Neutopia." On the other hand, "The Silence of the Clamps" is an appropriate opener for this volume, as it encapsulates many of the problems Futurama is currently struggling with. The actual plot (Bender pisses off the mob and is forced to go on the run) is a thin one designed as a springboard for jokes, but many of the jokes feel similarly thin. Sure, there are amusing little throwaway moments scattered throughout (such as Professor Farnsworth's amusing spin on his own catchphrase: "Who likes good news? Everyone? Then good news, everyone!"), but the central storyline and the Godfather-inspired silliness that accompanies it just feels routine. The Simpsons has been this way for a long time: for the most part, the meandering first acts and throwaway gags that slip between the cracks are the reasons to watch the show. The central storylines feel phoned in.
The weakest episode of this volume is probably the clunky "Law & Oracle," which manages to provide extended parodies of Minority Report, Avatar, Tron and Police Academy without scoring any legitimate points against any of them. Avatar is a movie ripe for satire, but Futurama blows its opportunity by spending several minutes making fun of the fact that Pandora is in 3-D. That's all you've got? You're better than that, Futurama. Elsewhere, you're served some lazy jokes about the British in "All the President's Heads," some underwhelming gender-switching gags in "Benderama" and a frustratingly mishandled episode with a lot of potential in "Mobius Dick."
If it sounds like I'm being a little harsh on the show, it's only because I know what the series is capable of. In truth, all of the weak episodes I've mentioned contain some genuine laughs (pretty much all of URL's lines in "Law & Oracle" are hilarious). Even at its worst, Futurama is still a perfectly pleasant way to kill time. Still, the fact of the matter is that the series is so much more than a time-killer when it's on its game, and there are a few episodes scattered throughout this set that remind us of how much fun the show can be.
The highlight of this volume is unquestionably the "non-canon" episode "Reincarnation," which offers three wildly entertaining segments presented in three different animation styles: a black-and-white Steamboat Willie-style cartoon, 8-bit video game animation and anime. All three are stuffed to the brim with witty dialogue, killer sight gags and a sense of unhinged inventiveness. Even if Futurama doesn't produce a classic story this time around, at least it's still capable of producing 22 minutes of concentrated joy built on a host of wonderful jokes. Other highlights include "Fry Am the Egg Man" (an episode that fuses Futurama's savagery and buried sweetness in effective fashion), "Yo Leela Leela" (which offers some very entertaining commentary on children's television programming), "Ghost in the Machines" (in which the world is quickly consumed by microscopic Benders—yes, it's as much fun as it sounds) and the surprisingly tender "Cold Warriors" (the show uses genuine emotion so sparingly that it generally has a large impact whenever it's employed). These are solid episodes, but up until recently the show was able to produce material of this quality on a much more consistent basis. This volume's better moments are plentiful enough to justify a purchase, but sparse enough to justify a sense of lingering disappointment.
Futurama: Volume Six (Blu-ray) has received an exceptional 1.78:1/1080p high definition transfer on par with the previous Blu-ray releases of the show. Colors are bright and vibrant, detail is consistently strong (though there are a few moments in which the show looks a little bit cheaper than it used to) and blacks are impressively deep. There are no banding or color bleeding issues to complain about. It's a consistently good-looking show, and this HD version allows viewers to better appreciate the countless visual references the show stuffs into these episodes. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is also consistently solid, though there's nothing that is really going to give your system a workout. The mixes are energetic, clear and simple; less immersive than one might hope a sci-fi show to be but still worthy. As usual with Matt Groening's animated programs, extras include an audio commentary on every single episode. The quality varies, but these are generally entertaining tracks that offer a nice blend of the technical and the trivial. You also get three featurettes (the Professor Farnsworth-hosted "Science of a Scene," the brief but engaging "Reincarnation Explained!" and a straightforward "Futurama F.A.Q.") and some deleted scenes. The whole package is housed in the same disappointingly flimsy, cheap cardboard case the previous release received. Would it have been so hard to put this two-disc set in a sturdy, standard Blu-ray case?
Futurama is still an entertaining show, but it's showing signs of exhaustion in this somewhat disappointing volume. Here's hoping that the weaker installments in this collection represent a creative hiccup rather than the start of an ongoing trend.
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