At least in the world of animation, knee-jerk cancellations by studios (meaning Fox) occasionally see those shows gaining some comeuppance. It happened with Family Guy (which, after cancellation in 2001, was brought back by Fox in 2004 after strong DVD sales and syndication ratings), and more recently it happened with Futurama. Thanks to DVDs and the Internet, slow-burn shows such as these have had the time to find and build their audiences, apart from the old-fashioned Nielson ratings orgy traditionally employed by the networks. It’s almost as if fans will find good content, even if they happen to have missed out when it first aired. Go figure.
And so it is that syndication on Adult Swim and strong DVD sales were able to bring back our favorite package delivery crew from the year 3000. Futurama had a resurgence of sorts with the release of four direct-to-video movies, but their lengthy format didn’t particularly work with the show’s comedic strengths. They were good, but not great. This latest and more proper season of episodes finds the Futurama gang comfortably fitting back in to what they do best: inserting hilarious geek gags and math minutiae into slapstick animation.
And the episodes are very strong. The scenarios are as far-fetched as ever, past characters return in their full glory, and Fry’s budding relationship with Leela stays comfortably in jeopardy. Plus, Scruffy the Janitor gets more lines! It’s a credit to the writing staff and voice talents that the series feels like it picked up exactly where it left off. Although the opening of the first episode references the movies, you don’t really need any of the interim story to dive right in and enjoy more great self-contained episodes.
Volume 5 contains an extensive list of enjoyable special features. For starters, every episode features commentary by members of both the cast and crew. “Deleted Scenes” (10:20) includes some finished animation, and some as storyboard animation. It is exactly what it sound like, and some of the deleted scenes are pretty good. Futurama‘s air times are kept on a short lease, so it’s not surprising that good, quick gags still have to feel the axe on occasion. “Behind The Fungus: Makin’ A Hit Song” (4:58) is behind-the-scenes footage of Billy West recording the rock song “Shut Up And Love Me”, used (briefly) in “Proposition Infinity.” “Previously On Futurama” (1:21) contains some brief, unused intros intended for the four Futurama movies.
Disc Two brings “The Adventures of Delivery-Boy Man” (7:13) which contains additional comic book episodes from those featured in “Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences,” which is available both with and without a commentary track. “Bend It Like Bender” (2:40) is a pseudo music video comprised of Bender clips from throughout the series set to the full-length version of the song used in “The Mutants Are Revolting.” Finally, for the longest bonus item, there is a cast table read for “The Prisoner Of Benda” episode (35:08), which sports the full audio of the reading supported by storyboard animation.
An unfortunate mention should be given to the packaging for the release. Look, we know that Al Gore is a regular guest, but going all green on us by only providing a flimsy all-cardboard slip case for this set just results in something that is way too easily damaged, does not keep the discs in good long-term condition, and makes your product feel cheap. Fox, fix it.
Packaging aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable set that finds the Planet Express crew back in high form. Although not overall their absolute best episodes, there are certainly moments that rank among the series finest, and on the whole pick right back up from their long cancellation hiatus. Hopefully this is the start of a lengthy and fruitful second run, and it comes very highly recommended to fans of the series (and not too bad a start for newcomers as well).