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Featured TV on DVD Review: Futurama: Volume Five

January 13th, 2011

Futurama: Volume Five - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Futurama started in 1999 and quickly developed a dedicated following, while many considered it one of the best, if not the best prime-time cartoon. Unfortunately, it was on Fox, which messed with the show's schedule so many times that all but the most dedicated fans gave up trying to follow it and it was eventually canceled. Normally that's the end, but this show survived for a series of four direct-to-DVD movies, while now it is making its return to TV. But is it a triumphant return?

Volume Five has 13 episodes, starting with...

  1. Rebirth
    Starting immediately from the events of Into the Wild Green Yonder, the crew make it back to Earth... and immediately crash into Earth with only Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth surviving. Luckily he has a rebirthing machine, and he brings everyone back to life. Almost everyone.
    The new season gets off to a pretty good start with an appropriately off-kilter episode. Trying to re-launch the series and tying the episode into the last movie does result in a few bumps, but it still has high replay value.
  2. In-a-Gadda-Da-Leela
    A strange object is moving through space erasing all planets it encounters. Leela and Zapp Brannigan try to destroy it, but end up crashing on a planet, which turns out to be an Eden-like paradise.
    One of the weaker episodes of this set. It's still very good, especially some of Zapp's dreams, but it didn't have the same high level jokes. Again, worth watching, more than once, but not a classic.
  3. Attack of the Killer App!
    The crew of The Planet Express all rush down to Mom's computer store to get the latest EyePhone, which is installed in your eye and has the ability to record everything and directly upload to the internet. Bender and Fry get into a competition to see who can become the most popular with Bender going the low road while Fry tries to avoid sleazy, humiliating videos. However, since these products come from Mom, you know she's just using them for an evil scheme.
    A good episode, for the most part, but the satire on Twitter / YouTube / Facebook culture, plus the Apple Devotion is a little too on the nose and a little too ham-fisted to be as effective as it could have been.
  4. Proposition Infinity
    After Amy and Kiff break up, she starts dating Bender. Of course, as we saw in a previous episode, "Robosexual" relationships are illegal, so when they are found out, they start campaigning to change the laws and make Robosexual marriage legal.
    See above. Good jokes, strong replay value, but could have been a little more subtle.
  5. The Duh-Vinci Code
    After Professor Farnsworth continuously insults Fry's intelligence, Fry stumbles upon a missing Da Vinci blueprint and the pair end up learning an amazing secret about the famous genius.
    A parody of Da Vinci Code feels a little dated, but there are still enough parts that work to compensate. I especially like Leonardo Da Vinci's homeworld.
  6. Lethal Inspection
    Bender discovers that due to a manufacturing defect, he is not immortal... wait a minute, he was immortal before? He then demands to find the inspector who let his defect slip passed, and since it takes a bureaucrat to find a bureaucrat, Hermes tags along on his adventure. Meanwhile, Mom is looking to stop them, as she can't have a defective product ruining her reputation.
    This is the first episode on this DVD where I thought the old Futurama was back. Excellent jokes, good character development, and even a touch of heart. Okay, perhaps the ending was a little telegraphed, but it is still an excellent episode overall. It's not the best on this two-disc set, but it shows the show hasn't lost its touch.
  7. The Late Philip J. Fry
    After Bender's partying causes Fry to be late, first for work, then for a lunch date with Leela. For her birthday, Fry promises to take her out to dinner. He's determined not to be late, again, but the Professor ropes him and Bender into testing his forwards only time machine, which is supposed to take them one minute into the future. You can probably guess that's not what happens. Meanwhile, while the trio is lost in time, Leela first believes Fry stood her up again, then thinks the three of them died in a robo-stripper explosion and takes over The Planet Express.
    Even better than the last episode. Arguably the best episode on this DVD. Possibility even one of the ten best in the show's run.
  8. That Darn Katz!
    Amy has to defend her doctoral dissertation, but is immediately shut down by Professor Morris Katz and the others on the committee, after an allergy attack caused by Professor Katz's cat throws her off her speech. (Being hungover and in her underwear doesn't help. It's a long story.) She then discovers that not only did that cat cost her her doctorate, but it is a member of an evil alien race that could destroy humanity. ... Let's face it, anyone who has had a cat as a pet suspected as much.
    A step back from the previous two episodes, as it is more goofy fun than character development. However, if your biggest complaint about an episode of a cartoon is that it is goofy fun, you are praising it with faint damnation.
  9. A Clockwork Origin
    After evolution is rejected by the local museum in favor of Creaturism, the Professor decides to leave the planet and requests that he be dropped off on an uninhabited asteroid. There's no life because the toxic environment, so Farnsworth uses his nanobots to clean up the place. However, they get out of control and start changing, evolving, rapidly and soon they've overtaken the crew of The Planet Express. Of course, these robots believe they evolved naturally, while Farnsworth knows he started the process with his nanobots, putting him at the other end of the debate.
    Like the other "message" episodes, Attack of the Killer App and Proposition Infinity, this one lacks the subtlety to be truly effective. Also, it suffers from "False Equivalency". That said, there are more than enough jokes that work to compensate.
  10. The Prisoner of Benda
    The Emperor of the Robo-Hungarian empire is in town, and Bender plans to steal the crown. He'll need help to pull off this heist, but the crew refuses to be a part of it. Meanwhile, the Professor invents a mind-swapping machine, which Bender decides to use to pull off his heist. However, it only works once on each pairing, so if two people switch minds, they can't switch back, at least not directly. So very, very rapidly there are a series of mind-swaps resulting in a combination of minds in bodies that I won't go into here, as there are too many spoilers. Also, I would probably forget half of them.
    One of three episodes that you could call the best on this DVD. Not only do the mind-swaps get so out of control that it is farcical, but it allows for serious character development for nearly all of the crew, even Scruffy, the janitor.
  11. Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences
    Lrrr, from planet Omicron Perisa 8 has a mid-life crisis after his wife, Ndnd throws him out of the house. It seems he's given up on conquering other planets. Leela tries to get him to go back to his wife, while Bender suggests buying a sports car and hooking up with a floozy. At first he goes the fast car route, but eventually wants to get back with his wife. In order to do that, he has to pretend to conquer the Earth to show he's still a man.
    Starts out well, but doesn't have the stamina to last the full episode and it runs out of steam. It doesn't help that the episode it too similar to Spanish Fry, which is the better episode.
  12. The Mutants Are Revolting
    The Planet Express delivers their 100th package, and it only took them ten years to do so. After successfully delivering the package to a high-society woman, they are invited to a fund-raiser she is hosting. However, while there, Fry accidentally reveals that Leela is a mutant and that they have been harboring an illegal mutant all these years, so they are all banished to the sewers. In order for Fry to understand what it is like to be a mutant, he jumps into the sewer waters and turns into the most hideous mutant there. Meanwhile, Leela decides to lead the mutants in a revolt against the surface dwellers for full mutant rights.
    The third episode on this DVD that one could argue is the best. It has an excellent balance between the humor and the emotional side and has high replay value as a result. If the season ended on this episode, I would have been very happy.
  13. The Futurama Holiday Spectacular
    A trio of shorts about the three winter holidays: X-man, Robo-Hannukah, and Kwanza.
    The only real miss.
So was the show's return to TV a success? That depends on your expectations. Futurama is one of the best prime-time cartoons ever, and if you were to create a list of the top ten episodes of prime-time cartoons, you could probably have three or four from this show on that list. However, if you were to write a list of the top ten episodes from Futurama, I'm not sure any of the episodes from this set would make it.

Roswell That Ends Well, The Luck of the Fryrish, Godfellas, Jurassic Bark, The Sting, Where No Fan Has Gone Before, Parasites Lost, The Farnsworth Parabox, Space Pilot 3000, The Why of Fry, The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings, Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles, Leela's Homeworld... good lord, there are a huge number of great episodes and I could probably add a dozen or more to the list of classic episodes. Comparing this season to the great episodes of the previous seasons almost seems unfair. That said, I would rank four of the thirteen episodes as top-notch, even if none of them are top ten material. Those would be Lethal Inspection, The Late Philip J. Fry, The Prisoner of Benda, and The Mutants Are Revolting. Another four are good, but not great (Rebirth, Attack of the Killer App, Proposition Infinity, and A Clockwork Origin) and another four are average, average for an amazing show (In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela, The Duh-Vinci Code, That Darn Katz!, and Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences). This leaves just one miss: The Futurama Holiday Spectacular.

It's hard to beat that hit to miss ratio.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD start with audio commentary tracks on all 13 episodes with a list of participants that is too large to list. There are writers, directors, producers, and plenty of the cast that show up to talk and with the balance between information and entertainment, they add serious replay value to an already great show. Also on this two-disc set are 10 minutes of deleted scenes, the table read for The Prisoner of Benda, behind-the-scenes for Fry's music video, The Adventures of Delivery-Boy Man, and a Bender music video.

The Blu-ray has all of that, plus it is BD-Live enabled. The only Futurama exclusive is a sneak peak at season seven, which is the perfect use of BD-Live for this type of release. As for the technical presentation, Futurama is not the most detailed cartoon out there, so you might think it wouldn't shine on High Definition, but that is not the case. The video is very clean with amazing colors, sharp contrast, and very deep blacks. The audio track is not the most immersive you will hear, but the dialogue is always clear, while there is the occasional use of surround sound speaks and directional effects. Plus, it only costs 33% more, which is acceptable for TV on DVD releases.

The Verdict

Futurama: Volume Five is a mostly triumphant return to TV for one of the best prime time cartoons to ever air on TV. The DVD or Blu-ray is absolutely worth picking up, while the latter is Pick of the Week material.

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