Futurama continues to be “back” in Futurama: Volume 6, now available. The crew from Planet Express continue their spoof on all manner of science fiction and popular culture, which admittedly is a difficult pairing. And with Volume 6, we see the writers struggle a bit with how to properly balance the needs of both. Although the show has always been a safe haven for those more inclined to nerd culture, some of the references in these episodes reveal a tension with how to both pump up the geek while overall just keeping things funny and moving briskly.
In fact, this volume is almost split in half between episodes that are more all-purpose (such as “The Silence of the Clamps” and “Benderama”) and those that are trying a bit too hard to force a theme (“Mobius Dick” comes immediately to mind). Things are still overall positive, and even the episodes which labor a little too much are enjoyable, simply struggling when held up to better examples. But at the same time the show feels like it’s growing. With episodes like “Overclockwise” and the finale “Reincarnation,” we see the animation and ideas both branching out and trying new things. Some hit better than others, but it’s this growing phase that hopefully means the series is trying to find new ways to expand, in order to further its longevity.
Bonus features on Futurama sets have always seemed like an afterthought, and Volume 6 is no exception. They are requisite and forgettable (and fairly brief — not counting the episode commentaries). Of most interest will probably be the episode commentaries for all episodes in the set, delivered by a revolving round-table group of cast and crew. Deleted scenes (14:54) are broken up between the two discs of the set. A few are actually in finished form, but most are storyboard animatics extended on to portions of final scenes to provide some context. Several are quite good, but also heavily favor certain episodes which just seemed to run long.
There are three featurette videos included. The first is “Professor Farnsworth’s ‘Science of a Scene’” (17:10), which is more of a standard making-of — detailing some of the steps involved with a scene from “Overclockwise” — bookended by voiceovers from Professor Farnsworth. Next up is “Reincarnation Explained” (6:46), where director Peter Avanzino discusses the inspiration behind the different animation styles used in the season finale. Finally, various crew members pitch in to answer fan questions in “Futurama F.A.Q. (Frequently Axed Questions)” (11:27), although, unfortunately answers are a bit corny and hit-and-miss as it looks like they were just made up on the spot.
The packaging is basically the same as Volume 5, with a cardboard slipcase housing a cardboard inlay for both discs. It’s not optimal and is highly prone to damaged artwork and scratchy discs, but I guess the “future-friendly” decision makers at Fox once again won out.
But the episodes themselves are the real draw here — and, for the most part, things still hold together well. Although not as immediate and energetic in pacing and humor as Volume 5, there are some real gems in this set. Some episodes often strive for higher nerd quotient and it’s usually at the expense of more general laughs (think of the four hiatus movies for an example). But hopefully the overriding balance of the past will be regained for the next season.