Review by KC Carlson
Just when you least expect it, a new season of Futurama pops up, like a bad uncle or a smelly penny. It’s the little show that refuses to die, while getting better and better as it scrapes its way back to television year after year. It’s great watching new episodes (and classic episodes) on Comedy Central, but it’s even better getting a new collection (available in both DVD and Blu-ray) of the most recent batch of shows, packed with Special Features for the uber-fan.
This new 13-episode, two-disc set is called Futurama: Volume 6, although what’s exactly on it is a little confusing, reflecting the history of the oft-neglected little show. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
Ok, we’ll go deliver this crate like professionals, and then we’ll go ride the bumper cars.
So, is all this confusion worth it? Absolutely. Futurama is one of the most intelligent, outrageously funny, and most honored shows on TV. Each episode of the show rewards the viewer on several different levels. On the surface, it’s just a funny cartoon, with wacky characters doing slap-sticky things, but the dirty little secret is that Futurama is actually an extremely clever (as in you usually don’t ever realize this) satire of everyday life, as filtered though a science-fiction-ish society a thousand years from today. It’s also a workplace comedy (one of the most popular characters is Scruffy, the janitor), albeit one filled with surreal humor. (The Hypnotoad made me say that.) Since it’s no longer on stodgy Fox, with the more liberal standards of Comedy Central, the humor in these new episodes is even more outrageous. Although, not everything the Futurama crew dreams of makes it to air — so don’t miss the generous portions of depravity in the Deleted Scenes on the disc extras.
Speaking of extras, Futurama Volume 6 has plenty! The best for long-time fans is the 11-minute Futurama F.A.Q. (Frequently Axed Questions), an irreverent Q&A with actual fan questions (as read by Bender) and answered (usually) in the most confounding way possible. The 17-minute Professor Farnsworth’s “Science of a Scene” takes a behind-the-scenes look at the episode “Overclockwise” and goes through the many steps involved in producing an episode from start to finish. “Reincarnation Explained” is a seven-minute look at the Season Finale “Reincarnation”. That’s easily one of the series’ best episodes, featuring three different vignettes using three different animation styles: old-school B&W animation (in the Fleischer Studios “bouncy” style), early low-res video game style (think Atari 2600), and anime. Brilliantly produced and funny, too!
I usually groan when I see TV box sets with commentary tracks for every episode (overkill!), but Futurama is the rare exception, because every Futurama commentary (like the show itself) functions on several different levels. If you’re a mega-nerd, you’re in good company, since the show is created by them, and they love to geek out over every minute detail. For those of us not paying complete attention to the episodes, the friendly geeks also love to point out where all the “hidden gags and secret messages” are. There’s usually a lot, and they’re incredibly happy to geek out over those, as well. But in case the commentary gets too nerd-centric, there’s usually a voice actor or two participating (occasionally having their characters comment) to provide a completely different level of anarchy in the recording booth. John DiMaggio (voice of Bender) is particularly good at this.
Interesting. No, wait, the other thing: tedious.
Besides those episodes previously mentioned, Futurama Season 6 offers up a good percentage of great episodes. “Yo Leela Leela” is an often biting parody of modern-day children’s programming (specifically some of Nickelodeon’s offerings), with a special voice cameo from Tom Kenny, the voice of some of Nick’s popular characters. “Möbius Dick” not only is based on the similarly titled literary masterpiece, it features a cameo from Doctor Who, incorporates concepts from Uncanny X-Men, confuses the Biblical story of Jonah with Pinocchio, and its “spaceship graveyard” sequence is the funniest thing I saw all year (especially since I’m such a big music fan). “Benderama” features not only guest voice Patton Oswalt, but also references grey goo, The Twilight Zone, and Newhart. “All the Presidents’ Heads” is a fun time-travel episode involving the preserved heads of the Presidents of the United States (including a few we don’t know about yet), as well as characters from Firefly, Amy Pond (from Doctor Who), and Owen Harper (from Torchwood). The Doctor himself shows up again, and there are references to Andy Warhol, Monty Python, Manchester United, and the XXII Winter Olympics. And in “The Tip of the Zoidberg”, we learn the secret relationship between Dr. Farnsworth and Zoidberg (and specifically why the latter still has a job).
AND NOW… MORE PROMISED INFORMATION
Curious about the strange broadcast history of Futurama? These next couple of paragraphs are for you! However, for those of you who are bored by numbers or explanations (and if you are, why are you watching Futurama?), please skip this section and move to the next heading.
And remember, don’t do anything that affects anything, unless it turns out you were supposed to, in which case, for the love of God, don’t not do it!
Futurama originally ran for several seasons on the Fox Network, beginning in 1999, although no one seems to know exactly how many because the show was frequently preempted by NFL Football. This kept happening because Fox deliberately scheduled it in a timeslot that was always preempted by football (at least in some time zones) — which shows you the high regard that the network had for the show. Eventually, Fox canceled Futurama. (Although some sources indicate that the series was never canceled at all — Fox just stopped ordering new episodes. (How rude.)) All the episodes that Fox showed (or didn’t show, depending on time zone you lived in) were collected into DVD collections called Volumes 1-4. Because of football, it took Fox five years to show four seasons of shows.
For a while, everybody thought that the show was gone forever. But something interesting happened. When Cartoon Network started running Futurama reruns in their Adult Swim block of programming, the ratings (relatively speaking) went through the roof. The show continued to do well on Cartoon Network, and again on Comedy Central when the CN agreement ran out. In 2007, production of four Futurama direct-to-DVD movies led to those being broken into 16 “new” episodes of the series, which are usually referred to (production-wise anyway) as Futurama Season 5. Then in June 2009, it was announced that Comedy Central had picked up the series for an additional series of 26 episodes (in production terms: Futurama Season 6). However, Comedy Central opted to show them in two separate batches of 13 episodes each in 2010 and 2011. And that’s how they’re being released on disc — as two different two-disc, 13-episode sets, confusingly called Volume 5 and Volume 6.
To make matters even more confusing, if you purchase and watch Futurama digitally, the group of shows on DVD/Blu-ray Volume 6 is called “Season 8” on iTunes and Amazon — and the episodes are listed in air date order there. As always, for the physical disc collections, the episodes are arranged in production order. If this is too confusing, we could probably call in Stephen Hawking (a frequent Futurama “guest”) to explain it better. But he’s probably too busy being on Futurama.
All in all, I had a pretty sweet life. How about we grab a six pack and watch the universe end.
Futurama Volume 6 features 13 complete episodes as a two-disc set. (As far as I can tell, the DVD and Blu-ray have identical contents.) It’s in eco-friendly packaging (at least the DVD is), although the box is highly crushable (the set’s only real drawback) — so you might want to purchase this one in a store, rather than having it crushed during shipping (if you care about such things). I really like the new, modern design of the set’s cover — very colorful and eye-catching.
And “good news, everyone!” Futurama will return to Comedy Central for 26 more episodes, with the first 13 to air in the summer of 2012, and the others in 2013. These will include a political episode — Nixon’s head is running for re-election in 3012. (I kinda hope he wins.) Also, Bender impregnates a soda machine, and, oh yeah, the end of the world is predicted for 3012.
Unless it actually ends in 2012… “Sweet zombie Jesus!” (The studio provided a review copy.)