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Should it last another five or six extremely strong years, there may exist the possibility that Futurama will rise a robot’s antenna above The Simpsons as my all-time favorite TV show. It’s incredibly inventive and has an entire universe to draw humor and situations from, all while utilizing a pitch-perfect cast of voice actors to portray these over-the-top characters. But there’s something different about these last couple years on Comedy Central, and I can’t quite put a fing-longerer on what it is, though I believe it to be the stunted episode count.
The thirteen episodes included in this set are better as a bunch than the last two DVD volumes, which comprised the whole of the sixth season. This DVD is actually the first half of the seventh season, the second half of which will start playing in 2013. Beyond the prospect of a fistful of cash, I can’t understand the motivations behind this clumsy decision. But maybe I’m just meant to shut my mouth and watch the show non-conspiratorially.
Like most animated shows (and Comedy Central shows in general), there are no season-long plotlines to follow with Futurama, which means each show is only as strong as its best jokes and plotline. No Simpsons’ guest star overkill to rely on here, and it’s a wonderful thing. As far as I know, the only guest stars were Wanda Sykes, Estelle Harris, and Patrick Stewart, and each actor’s character was central to the episode’s plot. This is good news, everyone!
Sykes, in what must be a highlight on her resume, plays a vending machine that has sex with Bender and births/dispenses their child, and Bender’s fatherly side is examined. Of course, the kid is never heard from again, and that’s fine by me. Speaking of parenting, the Professor finds his own parents living in suspended animation in a Matrix-type virtual retirement community on the Near Death Star, and he finally resolves his years-long resentment towards them. Also, Zapp Brannigan tires of Leela’s constant refusals and points his orbital thruster towards her mutant mother. Hubba hubba.
While these episodes are as enjoyable as they need to be, I find Futurama is at its strongest when the plotlines offer a futuristic and satirical take on current problems and issues. “Decision 3012” pits a re-campaigning Richard Nixon up against the über-capable Chris Travers, whose origins are called into question when he can’t produce his “Earth Certificate.” Kenya believe something like that? Performance-enhancing drugs are central to a plot where Leela and Amy start competing in the violent sport Butterfly Derby. Hermes becomes addicted to replacing his body parts with those of a robot in order to better himself, warning of a near future when synthetic bodily enhancements become mainstream. Bender joins a fox hunting club, only to backtrack in protest when he finds out the fox is a robot, and a controversy over a robot’s rights ensues.
The two best episodes on the set, however, deal with existentialism and nature. As in the episodes “Godfellas” and “Obsoletely Fabulous,” Bender spends much of “Free Will Hunting” plagued by philosophical problems he can’t possibly answer on his own. Vexed by the realization that a robot’s programming disallows him of free will, he spends time on robot planet Chapek 9 to gain insight into what he sees is a major travesty. “Naturama” is a different kind of beast entirely, mixing the three-segment set-up with the Wild Kingdom homage, “Mutual of Omicron’s Wild Universe,” which inserts the show’s characters into the lives of mating salmon, the Pinta Island Tortoise, and the Elephant Seal. The salmon segment in particular is one of the most beautiful bits in the series, and the others are just behind it. Adding humanism to the seemingly arbitrary lives of animals adds a tragic layer that resonates after the credits roll, even with a rock-humping tortoise involved.
On the special features side of things, I again think a full season set would have made more sense. As it is, the main draw here are the commentaries for every episode, all featuring the humorous asides from creator Matt Groening and cast members Billy West and John Dimaggio, as well as a slew of writers, directors, and animators. Maurice LeMarche, when present, steals the show every time. And “A Farewell to Arms” even gets its own bonus animator commentary. There are about fifteen minutes of deleted scenes between the two discs, and the funniest ones haven’t even made it to the coloring stage.
Actually, “Christopher Tyng’s Big Score” is really the most interesting eight minutes in the set for me. Tyng, the film’s composer, is a self-taught musician whose talent is, understandably for this show, out of this universe. It’s mostly just him riffing on the opening theme and talking about his history with the show, but it’s an inspiring jaunt into a different angle on a musician’s life than is usually shown.
The final two features are the least necessary, but tie into the show cleverly enough. “Jukebot 3000” is there to give five of your favorite Futurama tunes the karaoke treatment. “Mobius Trip: Infinite Futurama Screen Loops” is the most curious, as it’s just 4-5 looping minutes of the show’s characters, primarily from the “Naturama” episode hanging around either in an Aquarium setting or a Terrarium. I guess it’s like a screen saver substitute, I don’t know. All I know is Hypnotizing Toad says I have to keep watching.
Though a dual pack combining both halves of the season will probably be a better value for the dollar, this show is nearly priceless to me, so I’m advising you to do something I wouldn’t do myself. Buy it. Watch it. Love it. Or the headless body of Spiro Agnew will grunt you to death.
Length: 296 mins
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: 12/11/2012
Starring: Billy West, Katey Segal, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr
Directed by: Peter Avanzino, Steven Sandoval
Created by: Matt Groening