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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), Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs (published June 18th, 2008), and Futurama: Volume Six (Blu-ray) (published January 1st, 2012) are also available.
The future is here!
"This is all so sudden, after 13 years."
Facts of the Case
Once again, the crew members of Planet Express find themselves caught up in a wide variety of colorful 31st Century adventures. Over the course of these thirteen episodes, Fry gets kidnapped, Bender attempts to become a folk singer, the Planet Express ship gets turned into a two-dimensional vehicle, Leela starts turning into a squid, Zoidberg finds a new lover, the entire crew is savaged by a hungry alien, and…well, suffice it to say that's only the tip of the iceberg. Welcome to Futurama: Volume 8.
It is with a mildly heavy heart that I must kinda-sorta cautiously say goodbye to Futurama. At this point, I've grown rather used to bidding farewell to Matt Groening's animated sci-fi comedy, as it has continually fought for survival over the course of nearly fifteen years. It was canceled after four seasons on Fox, but came back as a series of straight-to-DVD feature films (more hit-and-miss than the show itself, but still plenty of fun). Eventually, Comedy Central picked up the show for two 26-episode seasons (released on Blu-ray and DVD as four 13-episode volumes), but now that network has announced that it's cutting ties with the show, too. Groening and co. are still actively searching for yet another savior—Netflix? Cartoon Network? NBC?—but there's certainly a possibility that this really is the end of the series. If so, the show is going out on a surprisingly strong note.
The Comedy Central seasons of Futurama haven't exactly been bad—on the contrary, there have been several newer installments that I'd happily place on a "Top Ten Futurama Episodes" list—but it's certainly been more inconsistent than it was on Fox. The low point was Volume 6, perhaps the only volume of this series that contained more misses than hits. Things improved a bit in Volume 7, but Volume 8 offers a surprising and occasionally exhilarating return to the show's glory days. Almost every episode included in this particular set is a winner (I'll get to the one notable exception in a bit), and there are a couple of installments that are just about as strong as anything the show has ever done.
In more recent seasons, the Bender-centric episodes have generally been highlights, and that proves to be the case once again this time around. "Forty Percent Leadbelly" finds our favorite alcoholic robot attempting to become a convincing folk singer, "The Inhuman Torch" sees him taking on the unlikely role of heroic firefighter and "Assie Come Home" features Bender on a lengthy, desperate quest for the most beloved part of his shiny metal anatomy. All three are terrific showcases for the beloved character (especially "The Inhuman Torch," which is firing on all cylinders from start to finish), but the show saves its best tricks for the season's final stretch.
The set's tenth episode is "Game of Tones," a semi-sequel to the classic "Jurassic Bark" (almost certainly the show's finest half-hour; the conclusion never fails to make me a bit misty). Attempting to conjure up memories of that great episode was a risky move: if you're going to make the comparison, you'd better have something terrific up your sleeve. Thankfully, the series delivers with a clever, funny, emotionally involving installment that places the spotlight on Fry's relationship with his long-lost mother. Those moments when Futurama permits a bit of genuine feeling tend to be rather special, as the series has a habit of allowing most of its potentially touching scenes to be undercut by wickedly funny gags.
However, the absolute high point of the season—and one of the high points for the series as a whole—is the finale. In "Meanwhile," Fry finally determines that he's going to propose to Leela. Fortunately, he's also just gotten access to a device that will permit him to rewind time by ten seconds if something goes wrong. He brings it along with him, figuring that it the proposal goes poorly, he can just start over. Unfortunately, he accidentally ends up trapping himself in a loop without an easy escape route, leading to…well, I won't spoil what happens from there. The episode is an instant classic, fusing a nifty sci-fi concept with one of the show's most emotionally gripping tales. It's a strong representation of the show at its very best: smart, ambitious, entertaining and surprisingly affecting. On the one hand, it's such a good series finale that I almost don't want the show to find a way to keep going. On the other hand, it's such a great episode that I fear we might be missing out on a serious creative resurgence if the series actually ends now. Either way, it's a superb conclusion to an above-average collection.
Futurama: Volume 8 (Blu-ray) looks consistently fantastic. It's such a pleasure to have this show in hi-def, as it better enables viewers to appreciate the creative world design and countless sight gags littered throughout each episode. Colors are bright and vibrant, detail is spectacular and banding is kept to a minimum. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is strong, too, delivering an immersive, energetic mix that fares particularly well during the bigger action sequences. Supplements include cast and crew audio commentaries on every episode, two worthwhile featurettes ("Futurama University" and "Inside Futurama: The Writer's Room of Tomorrow") and a handful of deleted scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only episode of this collection that absolutely didn't work for me is "Saturday Morning Fun Pit," the show's homage to Saturday morning cartoons of yesteryear. I generally love the show's anthology episodes, but this one is arguably their laziest and least effective. Three segments find the animators offering their Futurama-themed parodies of Scooby-Doo, Strawberry Shortcake and G.I. Joe, but the parodies tend to be of the lazy, "Hey, these shows existed at one point and were super-corny!" variety. Nifty concept; poor execution.
Futurama: Volume 8 is a mighty fine batch of episodes. Here's hoping Mr. Groening finds a new home for the Planet Express crew.
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