Futurama Volume 5 DVD Review: a mixed bag of robot parts

Like a comical alien being one might find on the show, Futurama has lead a strange existence.  First airing in 1999, Matt Groening's "other show" ran for four seasons, unfurling the adventures of 20th Century pizza delivery boy Fry in the 30th Century, where he gets a job working for the Planet Express delivery service.  In 2003, Planet Express closed up shop on the FOX network, but the crew returned in 2008 for a series of four direct-to-DVD features.  While the first, Bender's Big Score, was a triumph, the other three, well, weren't.

futurama

Just when it looked like Into the Wild Green Yonder would be the gang's last outing, Comedy Central picked up the show for another season that aired in 2010 and is now available on DVD in the form of Futurama Volume 5.  This latest season, like the four direct-to-DVD movies, is a mixed bag and hard to recommend to anyone who isn't a fanatical Futurama fan already.

One the one robot arm, you've got great episodes like "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences," "The Late Phillip J. Fry," and "The Prisoner of Benda," in which the Planet Express crew switch brains/bodies in a sitcom cliché that succeeds here because of the ludicrous lengths to which it is taken (eventually, the Harlem Globetrotters and a sentient bucket get involved).  On the other -- this one seemingly malfunctioning -- robot arm, there are episodes like "Proposition Infinity" and "A Clockwork Origin" that get so caught up in forcing a political or religious message across that they forget to be funny, and episodes like "The Futurama Holiday Special" that don't have a message to force across yet still hardly produce a chuckle.

The high points of the season are fantastic.  Clever writing abounds in episodes like "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela," in which a V-Chip-enabled Death Sphere approaches Earth, determined to censor it our of existence, and in the spoof "The Duh-Vinci Code."  "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences" begins with a spot-on parody of Comic-Con and the funniest "The Scary Door" opening in the show's history.

Longtime fans of the series will appreciate the reoccurrence of several of Futurama's running in-jokes, as well as some fun cameos throughout the season.  And Zoidberg's last line in "The Mutants Are Revolting" is among his funniest lines ever, which, for Zoidberg, is saying a lot.

Unfortunately, with Futurama Volume 5, one must take the good with the bad.

"The Futurama Holiday Special" takes a cue from The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror episodes, or Futurama's similar "Anthology of Interest" offerings, in that it splits the episode into three non-canonical individual segments, each a tale of a different 30th century year-end celebration.  The first, Xmas, has already had other full episodes devoted to it, and this short tale feels like it was taken out of the reject bin and hastily cobbled together.  The Robanukah story is clever as an idea, but laughless in execution.  And by the time the Kwanzaa story comes along, it feels like everyone (not just the viewers) are getting tired of this laughless mess.

Haters of Apple's iPhone will enjoy "Attack of the Killer App," but personally I couldn't get past the decision to give Leela a singing boil on her butt.  I mean, I know she's a mutant and all, but seriously, guys?  A Scottish singing butt boil named Susan?  It feels like a throw-away Family Guy gag.  "Hey, Lois, this is even worse than that time I had that singing boil on my..." and so on.

As for the preachy episodes, there's nothing wrong with wanting an episode to have a message, but at the cost of entertainment, then there's a problem.  "Proposition Infinity" and "A Clockwork Origin," regardless of how you feel about homosexual marriage or Intelligent Design -- the topics the episodes discuss in a very thinly-guised manner -- it's impossible to rank these up with better, funnier episodes of the season.  South Park often gets criticized for it's "message" episodes, and these two fit right in with those.  They are self-gratifying for the creators, a bore for the audience.

Volume 5 consists of two DVDs featuring 13 episodes, all sporting commentary tracks.  The rest of the special features in this set are nothing remarkable, and some even rather puzzling.  "Previously on Futurama" is a collection of the characters stating, "Previously on Futurama."  When the four Futurama movies were broken up into individual episodes to air on television, these quick clips were inserted at the beginning of each of the episodes.  Seeing them all stacked back to back isn't particularly interesting, and their inclusion on this DVD really seems to indicate that this is only intended for the hardest of the hard-core Futurama fans who insist on owning everything Futurama ever created.

There's a feature called "'The Prisoner of Benda' Live Table Read."  I was eager to see the main cast of the show sitting around a table and getting to watch them reciting their lines in character.  Instead, the feature consists of rough storyboard sketches that accompany merely the sound of the live table read, which merely equates to a sloppier version of the animated episode, full of the cast chuckling and giggling throughout.

"Bend It Like Bender" is a feature billed as "Bender's First, Best and Only Music Video!"  It's a collection of clips of Bender from the show set to music, in case you, like me, were expecting something else.  "The Adventures of Delivery Boy-Man" is an elongated version of Fry's comic from the episode "Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences."  "Behind the Fungus: Making a Hit Song" shows Billy West recording the song "Shut Up and Love Me," and mainly seems to consist of close-ups of people playing guitar.  Selected deleted scenes also round out the DVD bonus features.

With only 13 epsiodes, and even though some are great, this set feels overpriced, especially in light of the remarkably flimsy packaging the two discs come in.  The two DVDs are merely slid into thin, cardboard sleeves, allowing them to slide around or even fall out if handled improperly.  The hard-core Futurama fans no doubt already have Volume 5 in their collection, but it's hard to recommend a purchase to anyone else in light of its shortcomings.

By Sombrero Grande

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3 Comments
On: Sunday, February 20, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Welcome Sombrero !

I'm a huge fan of The Simpsons but never quite got hooked by Futurama. I think I'd need to head back to the start to get oriented. I'd catch a few minutes here and there and never got a great sense of the characters and their quirks, etc. 

On: Saturday, February 26, 2011
mateo said:

Yup, as much as I love Futurama, Vol. 5 definitely lost it's sharp writing and wit. And without it, you really come to realize just how much that's always what has really propelled the show and made it so slyly funny and such a gas to watch. As mentioned, the whole thing feels thrown together this time, and not up to its usual standards. Same goes for whoever is writing all those lame "song and dance" numbers (as in the Xmas specials)! Even the usually engaging and talented voiceovers feel kinda weak this time around, or maybe they're just trying their best with the poor writing they've been given.

All in all, Vol 5 is frankly a disappointment, although no doubt there will be many hardcore fans who will still be happy to get their Futurama "fix", no matter how "watered down" it's now become.

On: Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Nate said:

I love watching Futurama on my days off and now I can watch it everywhere with DISH Network and there version of TV everywhere. I have DISH Network as my service provider and they provide me TV everywhere anytime without any additional cost or fees besides my monthly subscription. I had bought a Sling adapter like the recommended and connect to my 722 DVR and DISH provided me a free app called DISH Remote access that allowed me to do this. I later on downloaded the Android app for this and I cannot get enough or get it past my head that I am actually watching all my favorite programs on my phone! As a DISH employee and subscriber I can tell you this works on Smartphone’s, Tablets, and Laptops and you do need high-speed internet or 3G cellular data plan. Check it out www.dish.com/TVeverywhere.

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