Judge Eric Profancik is going to be a relative of Professor Farnsworth one day; he's definitely just as cranky.
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: 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.
Good news, everyone!
Sorry, Professor, but things aren't quite so good; for in May 2002, the inevitable happened: Fox officially cancelled Futurama. In perhaps one of the oddest timelines in television history, though, it was August 10, 2003, before the final episode of the subversively funny show aired. Who ever heard of a network canceling one of its shows but then letting it air, off and on, for the next sixteen months?
In this site's previous reviews, the hideous treatment of this show has already been documented. If that history is unknown to you, please check out one of those other reviews. In this one, I'm just going to give a sad farewell to a show that deserved better, for it was consistently funny and widely entertaining. To the workers at Planet Express, you did your best.
Facts of the Case
Volume 4 presents the remaining 18 episodes of the series. Originally aired on Fox in 2002 and 2003, these episodes span the show's mutilated fourth and fifth seasons:
• "Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch"
• "Leela's Homeworld"
• "Love and Rocket"
• "Less Than Hero"
• "A Taste of Freedom"
• "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV"
• "Jurassic Bark"
• "Crimes of the Hot"
• "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles"
• "The Why of Fry"
• "Where No Fan Has Gone Before"
• "The Sting"
• "Bend Her"
• "Obsoletely Fabulous"
• "The Farnsworth Parabox"
• "Three Hundred Big Boys"
• "Spanish Fry"
• "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings"
Another classic science fiction show cancelled before its time.
From the first episode, "Space Pilot 3000," I was hooked on Futurama. I instantly loved the characters, the setting, and the irreverent humor sprinkled throughout each episode. I've always found that humor to be the best feature of the show; the characters can be talking about one thing and suddenly this terrific joke comes out of nowhere. It happens in every episode, catches you off guard, and gives you a great laugh. I can't think of any other show with such a consistently dry wit.
The epitome of that humor comes from the elder statesman of the show, Professor Farnsworth. I love that cranky old man! Forever loudly speaking his mind (with an irascible smile on his face) and often not knowing what he's saying, Farnsworth can make even the most mundane of lines hilarious. He speaks with such conviction and honesty that you can't help but love his carefree style. The fact that he's 161, a genius, a distant relative of Fry, and owner of Planet Express is irrelevant next to the power of his quips. He stands just a bit above everyone else, which is a tremendous feat considering the well-crafted cast of characters.
Watching Volume 4, I expected to find many episodes that I had missed because of Fox's vile airing schedule. I figured I had missed a good half a dozen or so, but I was surprised to learn that I had missed only three. One of the episodes that I saw for the first time, "Jurassic Bark," deserves some special discussion. I must admit that if it weren't for Judge Ryan making note of this episode in his Volume 3 review, odds are that I wouldn't have mentioned it. But thanks to his courage, I shall stand tall and follow suit. But first, let's go back three spaces.
This episode focuses on cloning Fry's dog from the 20th century. Fry can't wait to spend time with his dog again, but in the end, he decides not to allow the cloning to proceed. At the last moment, we learn that Seymour lived to be fifteen, even though Fry was frozen when the dog was only three. Fry, believing that Seymour lived a full life without him, thinks he will barely remember his old master. Then we see what happened to the dog for those twelve years after his owner disappeared: Seymour sat outside the pizzeria waiting for Fry to come back. That's it.
As a pet owner myself, my heart was torn open when I saw poor Seymour just sitting there. It was so painful, so remarkably sad and poignant, that I cried. This show hit a raw, sensitive nerve, and I let the tears flow freely. I never expected this humorous show to take such a dramatic and unexpected turn in the final minutes of the episode. Futurama is all about the humor, but this episode stunned me with such a depressing ending. It was astounding. In fact, every person I've spoken with about this episode finds it remarkably sad as well, and I even get a little teary just talking about it. Call me a wuss, but I simply cannot express how unusual this ending is for the show. I felt so sad for Seymour and Fry. If they only knew the joy they could have brought to each other if they had gone ahead with the cloning. It wouldn't have erased the pain Seymour experienced, but the second chance would have made it all better.
I know it's just a cartoon, but this time it really pushed my emotional buttons. What an incredible episode.
Of course, I cannot in all good conscience let this review go by without making a special mention of the episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before." This Trek-based episode is, "surprisingly," one of my favorites. Not only did they get the entire original cast—except James Doohan, who, I would presume, was sick at that time—but the show also got the cast to utter the most outrageous lines, poking fun at Star Trek, each other, themselves, and Trekkies. Well done!
The transfers for the last release of Futurama are television standard. By that, I mean if you've seen one TV show on DVD, then you've seen most. The full-frame video is a touch better than average, thanks in part to the fact that it's a cartoon. Colors are bold, popping off the screen; blacks are deep and well defined; and detail is excellent—you can easily see all the in-jokes. The only problem I had, which may be a result of a slight defect in the disc, is a spot of shimmering in an episode. I had this same problem with Volume 1, except it was there throughout all the discs. This time, it's a brief hiccup and nothing to worry about too much. For the audio, you get the standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that gives you no problems whatsoever: Dialogue is crisp and clean, and there is no distortion or hiss at any point. I believe Futurama would have done well with an upgrade to a 5.1 mix, but we weren't so fortunate.
A plethora of bonus materials awaits you, sprinkled throughout all the discs. They follow the same pattern as the previous volumes:
• Audio Commentary on all Episodes: (Pay attention all other television shows!) Every episode gets its own commentary track (with two for "Jurassic Bark"), though the commentators change. Staples include some of the voice talent, Matt Groening, and David X. Cohen. While entertaining, they usually didn't really talk about the parts of the show I wanted to learn more about. Further, I often found myself tuning them out, trying to watch the much funnier show.
• Deleted Scenes: Usually these are just brief scene extensions, but there's an occasionally amusing bon mot thrown in for good measure.
• 3D Models from Rough Drafts: Most of the show is standard 2D animation, but some scenes have fully rendered 3D objects. You can watch the genesis of eleven such objects.
• "How to Draw" Bender and Professor Farnsworth: For those with a modicum of talent (or at least some derring-do), here's how to draw two of the fans' favorite characters.
• Pencil Tests: As the name implies, these are rough pencil tests of various characters. This exercise is akin to creating a cartoon by flipping the corner of a stack of paper.
Rounding out the goodies are animatics, international clips, storyboards, a still gallery, and some Easter eggs. (I know there are more hidden on the discs, but there are so many menus, I tired of looking for them all.)
Wow! That's a lot of good stuff!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Is there hope for Futurama? Does Futurama have a future back on one of the "big" networks? Recently, Groening was asked in Entertainment Weekly magazine if Futurama might get a second life, like Family Guy. His response: "We're trying to figure it out. If we can do more episodes, we'd love to. David and I worked for a couple of years [planning the show] before we even pitched it, and we haven't revealed all of the secrets that are embedded in it. There are even characters that we created back in the beginning of the series that we never got around to introducing."
Like the secrets revealed in "The Why of Fry," who knows what other clever twists these guys have up their sleeves. We want to know!
See you on another channel.
In a sad one-two punch, "Spanish Fry" and "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings" were two weak episodes that didn't utilize the environment or the characters. Instead of going out with a bang, Futurama fizzled out. Regardless, the show still has a strong cult following of loyal viewers. When Fox graced us with episodes, it was one my favorite shows. It was a perfect way to start a Sunday evening, bolstering me for another week at work. The suits never got it, never understood it, and they robbed us of a great pleasure. In syndication and on DVD, maybe Futurama will be given a second chance. One can only hope that we'll get lucky and get fresh, new episodes one day, but I doubt that fans of animation will have lightning strike twice.
Futurama is acquitted of all charges.
Fox is hereby found guilty of canceling a show well before its time. They can bite my splintery wooden ass!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary on Al Episodes
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