Ah, how the annoying antics of brain-dead television executives amuse me so. Like several other animated and live-action shows that have aired on the Fox network, only to have the plug pulled on them by a roomful of business-savvy suits that had the misfortune of being born without a sense of humor, Futurama enjoyed a brief, four-season run on TV from ‘99 to ‘03 before going bye-bye. That, of course, did not stop animators like Futurama creator Matt Groening — or Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane, for that matter — from keeping their respective shows going via syndication and DVD sales — which made the folks at Fox take notice. But, whereas McFarlane’s series was renewed and kept alive on its original network, Groening’s Futurama moved to the world of Comedy Central after its cancellation.
OK, here’s where it gets tricky, kids: Futurama lasted only four seasons on Fox before producing four direct-to-video movies. Afterwards, the aforementioned feature-length DVD films were spliced into sixteen “new” episodes for a fifth season (on Comedy Central). Then, Futurama was renewed for a sixth “official” season and said season is what we get in Futurama: Volume 5. It’s very reminiscent of the time George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was released in Italy as Zombi, to wit the Italians made their own unofficial sequel, Zombi 2, which was subsequently released in the US as Zombie before making another unrelated follow-up called Zombi 3 which was released in the States (many years later) as Zombi 3 — which caused a lot of people to cry over the mathematics of it all.
So anyway, Futurama: Volume 5 (or, “Season Six,” if you prefer) picks up where the uncertain ending of the final of the four feature-length made-for-DVD films, Futurama: Into The Wild Green Yonder (or, the end of Season Five, if you will), left off. Our cast — Phil, Leela, Bender, Gilligan, The Fonz, et al — return to Earth via a deadly, fiery impact after being pursued into a wormhole by Capt. Zapp Brannigan. They die, only to be resurrected by the mad Professor Farnsworth. From there on in, it’s business as usual: the darkly-satirical and frequently-risqué jokes fly by at an alarmingly-fast speed, the humor ranges from sophomoric to sophisticated, and the parents at home start to wonder if their kids should really be watching this or not.
Personally, I have no qualms against the various kinds of humor shows like Futurama and Family Guy bombard their audiences with (i.e. everything from fart and sex jokes to obscure pop-culture or scientific references). I do have a hard time getting through shows like these, though, due to my inability to successfully sit through anything that’s animated (which I attribute to having once overdosed on anime when the genre became “popular” in the US in the ‘90s). But mostly, I have a difficult time with back-to-back viewings of these kind of shows because my brain simply starts to shut down — and that’s coming from a guy who has sat through the enjoyably-ridiculous Zombi 3 more times than he would care to admit to (or remember, for that matter).
But, no matter how I mince words, there’s no covering up the fact that Futurama: Volume 5 is still a pretty enjoyable set. There’s no doubt in my mind that the regular Futurama lovers out there have already picked this one up. Should you be a newbie to the series, though, you probably won’t be too terribly confused when it comes to the series’ characters or stories (unless you’re work at Fox, that is). Both the Blu-ray and Standard DVD releases of Futurama: Volume 5 contains all 13 Episodes on two discs, and although the animation here isn’t something that you might expect to find in High Def, I have to admit that the Fox’s 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer of these episodes is striking. The colors are very bold, contrast is well-defined, and detail is, well, about as good as you can get for animation.
On the aural side of the coin, Futurama: Volume 5 boasts an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that succeeds in delivering the barrage of jokes the show has become a cult favorite for. All other audio factors here — such as the sound effects, music, or whatnot — are secondary, and, as such, the mix works admirably. Should you have trouble with the jokes (or the incidental sounds), the set includes three sets of subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish and French.
Futurama: Volume 5 also includes a number of Special Features, beginning with audio commentaries for every episode hosted by Matt Groening; his co-executive producer, David X. Cohen; and whomever else may have wandered into the recording studio that day from the cast and/or crew departments. The rest of the bonus materials include about ten minutes of Deleted Scenes, several featurettes (“Behind The Fungus: Makin’ A Hit Song,” “Bend It Like Bender,” and “The Adventures Of Delivery-Boy Man”), the “Previously On Futurama” openings from the feature-length films, and a live table read for the episode “The Prisoner Of Benda.” A BD-Live exclusive gives you a look at Futurama: Season 7, which I’m sure will hit video next year under the title Futurama: Volume 32.