It wasn't the first network or cable series to be canceled too early (and it certainly won't be the last), but the multiple demises of Matt Groening's Futurama proved to be slow and steady. Not in quality, at first: this tale of a man frozen for a millennium only got funnier as the series progressed during its initial run, though network support dwindled during its initial four-year lifespan. As the Simpsons machine rolled on, Futurama's timeslot was shuffled around; for a time, the series directly followed Groening's most famous creation, but the pairing didn't last long. Futurama was eventually cancelled for the first time in August of 2003, though subsequent DVD releases (broken into four "volumes", due to its erratic broadcast schedule) only strengthened the show's rabid following. New fans flocked in, albeit late to the party. Even so, Futurama was on life support and the idea of new episodes seemed more unlikely with each passing year.
Eventually, strong home video sales led to a series of four direct-to-DVD movies during 2007-09 (Bender's Big Score, The Beast With A Billion Backs, Bender's Game and Into the Wild Green Yonder), which were subsequently broken into episode-sized chunks that aired during 2008-09 as Futurama's de facto fifth season. Though undoubtedly of lesser overall quality than the earlier 30-minute episodes, most fans were simply tickled to have the series back in any format. Futurama lurched forward on Comedy Central from 2010-2013 with two full seasons' worth of episodes...though, like the movies, most fans couldn't help but notice a modest dip in quality. Nevertheless, Futurama remained popular on home video as Volumes 5-7 saw the light of day; unfortunately, this eighth volume of episodes (essentially, the second half of Season 7) might be the last, as Comedy Central has expressed no interest in renewing the series. For now, at least.
So is late-period Futurama any good? Well, usually. Though I've no doubt that most fans have stuck with the series through thick and thin, I've only caught passing glimpses of Futurama during the "Comedy Central Era". This was essentially my first run-through of a partial season since 2010's Volume 5, which incidentally kicked off the series' second chance at life. It's a solid run overall: while there are several clunkers on this 13-episode collection, a number of bright spots made me remember why I fell for Futurama in the first place. The characters are lots of fun and the series has plenty of heart when it needs to, even if the sentiment or romance often feels more convenient than earned.
"T: The Terrestrial"
"Fry and Leela's Big Fling"
"The Inhuman Torch"
"Saturday Morning Fun Pit"
"Assie Come Home"
"Leela and the Genestalk"
"Game of Tones"
"Murder on the Planet Express"
"Stench and Stenchibility"
Additional Bonus Features
These 13 episodes aren't consistently awesome but plenty of standouts are on board. "T: The Terrestrial" sees Fry stranded on Omicron Perseii 8 after the Planet Express crew leaves with their cargo, where he's taken in by a boy but longs to return home. "Calculon 2.0" stars everyone's favorite soap acting robot as he reluctantly begins life in a new body. "Assie Come Home" (above) finds Bender on an epic quest to locate his shiny metal posterior. "Game of Tones" follows the Planet Express crew back to 1999 in a musically-charged adventure. "Stench and Stenchibility" (below) is a nice little diversion starring Zoidberg as he falls in love with an anosmic flower vendor. Finally, the kinda-sorta-maybe series finale "Meanwhile" shows us the ups and downs of ten-second time travel...and Fry and Leela's wedding, too.
Volume 8 manages to build a little bit of momentum during the final few episodes, but there are a few nagging roadblocks along the way. "2-D Blacktop" is a nice little wink at Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop but doesn't spark much interest beyond its offbeat premise. "Saturday Morning Fun Pit", an "Anthology of Interest"-style outing that parodies a few toons from the last several decades, suffers the same fate: it feels late to the party and never quite hits the mark (and if your target audience doesn't enjoy it, who else will?). Other episodes are decidedly hit-or-miss, but the bulk of this baker's dozen remains watchable and, in most cases, pretty damn entertaining. All told, Volume 8 isn't a bad send-off for the little show that could...and, depending who you ask, actually did on several occasions.
Fox's presentation of Futurama: Volume 8 is pretty much on par with the last three installments: it's available as a separate DVD or Blu-ray package, the technical presentation is top-notch, the bonus features are entertaining and that blasted paperboard packaging still sucks ass while attempting to delay the ozone layer's downward spiral. Whee!
Video & Audio Quality
Believe it or not, this is the first Futurama I've watched on Blu-ray and the end results are even better than expected. The series' relatively simple design looks terrific in 1080p, boasting excellent image details, vivid colors and no flagrant digital imperfections of any kind (aside from a touch of aliasing, which doesn't surprise me in the least). The late-period 1.78:1 aspect ratio is once again maintained...because if there's one nagging complaint I've had against earlier seasons, it's that they didn't shoot for widescreen in the first place. Obviously, there's little to complain about here, as Futurama fans should be extremely pleased that the series closes up shop (?) with a rock-solid visual presentation on Blu-ray.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's fancy-pants 1080p resolution.
The audio is equally pleasing, as the series' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 envelops the listener with plenty of crisp sonic detail. Though primarily a dialogue-driven series, Futurama's bustling city atmosphere, terrific music cues, larger-than-life characters and sporadic bursts of action are capable of surprising audiences during the bulk of of these 22-minute episodes. From the strong front channel separation to occasional action from the low end, this is a fine mix that suits the series quite well from start to finish. Optional English (SDH), French and Spanish subtitles are included as well.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the basic menu interface is smooth and easy to navigate. This two-disc release is housed in one of those infernal paperboard (but carbon-neutral!) slipcases, in which the slightest bump or shipping mishap will render it damaged beyond repair. Not a fan of this packaging at all, but at least it's been consistently bad for the last six years.
Not much that we haven't seen (or heard) in some fashion before, but most of this is top quality stuff. I'm pleased that another batch of Audio Commentaries
was included for all 13 episodes; though I was only able to sample a few due to time constraints, I'll definitely catch every one of these soon enough. Futurama
was one of the first TV-on-DVD shows that I remember really
enjoying the commentaries for, even those hidden ones tucked away as Easter eggs. Featuring David X. Cohen, Matt Groening, several episode directors, a bonus animators' commentary during "Game of Tones" and more, these look to be entertaining, informative and worthwhile tracks that Futurama
fans will enjoy. The only downside is that they appear to have been recorded before the show's cancellation, so there's less closure than expected.
Next on the list is a brief collection of Deleted Scenes (16 minutes); these are all of varying quality but definitely worth a look. "Inside Futurama: The Writers' Room of Tomorrow" (13 minutes) is a short and extremely loose look at the formation of your average episode, while "Futurama University" extends the behind-the-scenes details to other aspects of the show's production. It's a well-rounded collection of extras, even though some of Futurama's more rabid disciples may be left wanting just a little bit more. Optional subtitles have been included for everything but the commentaries.
Is Futurama finally gone for good? Probably not...but just the same, the majority of these "final" episodes ensure that the series' second (or is it third?) life doesn't end on a low note. A handful of these even manage to approach the heights of Futurama's early years, especially gems like "The Inhuman Torch", "Calculon 2.0", "Game of Tones" and "Meanwhile". Fox's two-disc package basically maintains the high level of quality set by earlier volumes, pairing an excellent A/V presentation with a nice little collection of entertaining bonus features. Whether you've drifted from Futurama in recent years or stuck with it every step of the way, Volume 8 is worth a look. Firmly Recommended.