Never, ever take Judge David Ryan up on his request to bite his shiny metal ass. We learned the hard way.
Our reviews of Futurama: Volume One (published April 28th, 2003), 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.
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…
Facts of the Case
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"
• "Brannigan, Begin Again"
• "A Head In the Polls"
• "Xmas Story"
• "Why Must I Be A Crustacean in Love?"
• "The Lesser of Two Evils"
• "Put Your Head On My Shoulder"
• "Raging Bender"
• "A Bicyclops Built For Two"
• "A Clone of My Own"
• "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back"
• "The Deep South"
• "Mother's Day"
• "The Problem With Popplers"
• "Anthology of Interest I"
• "War is the H-Word"
• "The Honking"
• "The Cryonic Woman"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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."
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