WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I remember the support that Fox gave Futurama when it debuted in 1999. The network that gave us The Simpsons was in love with its new Matt Groening-created show, and they wanted you to love it too. My, how love and excitement can turn to uninterest. Once Futurama started rolling, those same Fox executives, who apparently just didn't "get" it, gradually turned their collective back on the show, running it only haphazardly and dropping promotions.
You might think Futurama lasted five increasingly sporadic seasons, but the truth is more pernicious. Unsure what to do with Groening's admittedly wacky brainchild after its first couple of seasons, Fox simply left the show to die after four seasons worth of episodes were in the can. Following two exciting seasons, fervent fans were left with a couple more seasons worth of inspired Futurama zaniness sprinkled over 3 years, but we never really knew when to expect them or in what order. It was a sad state of affairs at Fox, resulting in bad vibes on both sides. The ultimate irony—or perhaps a form of apology—is the fact that Fox is finally lavishing the proper attention on this first-rate show in the form of gorgeous and elaborate DVD season sets.
Season 3—at least when considered in its production order, and not in Fox's careless air-date order—is a strong extension of the colorfully odd humor that we grew to love in the show's first two seasons. At this point, we've forgiven Futurama's minor flaws—for example, the show's lack of a truly sympathetic character—and we can adore it for what it is: a potent, if absurd and cartoony, sociological commentary about our own present-day world.
In case you're coming to the show blind, Futurama is about the continuing adventures of Philip J. Fry (Billy West), a 20th-century pizza-deliveryboy blasted into the future, who has found himself suddenly inhabiting a strange Earth filled with weird aliens and robots, an insane media, and any fancifully technological marvel that suits any given episode's plot. Fry has become part of a bizarre star-hopping troupe of characters that include cyclopean hottie Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal), the blissfully malevolent Bender (John DiMaggio), the Grandpa Simpson-inspired Professor Farnsworth (also West), the squid-like Dr. Zoidberg (also West), the Jamaican bureaucrat Hermes (Phil LaMarr), and the human Amy Wong (Lauren Tom).
Many consider the 22 episodes of Futurama: Season Three to be the sharpest and funniest of the entire series. Particular standouts for me are the brilliant Emmy-winning Roswell That Ends Well, the hilarious and oddly touching Luck of the Fryrish, and the clever Time Keeps on Slipping. Here's the breakdown, and as usual, the episodes are presented in production order. (The actual schizophrenic air dates are in parentheses.)
Amazon Women in the Mood (2-4-01)—Zapp Brannigan crashes the Planet Express ship into Planet Amazonia, which is inhabited by a race of giant women. Zapp and Fry must endure "snu snu" with the giant ladies.
Parasites Lost (1-21-01)—Fry eats a vending-machine egg-salad sandwich that gives him worms. Turns out, they're intelligent worms that make Fry a new man.
A Tale of Two Santas (12-23-01)—Preempted for a year, this Christmas tale returns to the legend of the future's violent Santa robot. This time, he's accidentally frozen, and Bender must take his place.
The Luck of the Fryrish (3-11-01)—Fry, believing himself the unluckiest man on Earth, remembers the seven-leaf clover he found when he was a kid.
The Birdbot of Ice-catraz (3-04-01)—After the Planet Express ship causes a horrible oil spill on Pluto, a bunch of penguins in a refuge start multiplying like mad.
Bendless Love (2-11-01)—A sleepwalking Bender starts bending things in the middle of the night, including Professor Farnsworth, who ships the robot off to a Bending Factory.
The Day the Earth Stood Stupid (2-18-01)—A race of evil brains is destroying planets and is approaching Earth. It's up to Fry's unique brain to save the world.
That's Lobstertainment! (2-25-01)—Dr. Zoidberg asks his Uncle Harold Zoid to help him with a career in comedy.
Where the Buggalo Roam (3-03-02)—Kif meets Amy's parents, who dismiss him as a wimp. To prove his manhood, Kiff offers to rescue the family's buggalo, which were stolen by Martians.
Insane in the Mainframe (4-08-01)—Fry and Bender are framed for bank robbery by Roberto, one of Bender's old robot friends. They're convicted of the crime and sent to an asylum for criminally insane robots.
The Route of All Evil (12-08-02)—Cubert Farnsworth and Dwight Conrad (Hermes' son) are suspended from school. For kicks, they get a newspaper-delivery job and end up hugely successful.
Bendin' in the Wind (4-22-01)—After using a giant electric can opener, Bender is paralyzed. At the hospital, Bender meets Beck, who turns Bender into a musical hero.
Time Keeps on Slipping (5-06-01)—Professor Farnsworth creates a group of mutant basketball players to challenge the ancient and unbeatable Harlem Globetrotters. Unfortunately, in doing so, he rips a hole in the space/time continuum.
I Dated a Robot (5-13-01)—Fry falls in love with a downloaded image of Lucy Liu. Soon, an army of warrior Lucy Liu-bots are after the gang.
A Leela of Her Own (4-07-02)—Leela is signed to the New New York Mets, and she becomes the first female major-league blernsball player.
A Pharaoh to Remember (3-10-02)—Fry, Leela, and Bender deliver a giant sandstone to Osiris 4, an Egypt-like planet where Bender becomes a tyrannical pharaoh.
Anthology of Interest II (1-26-02)—The crew ask Professor Farnsworth's What-If machines three questions that lead to three outlandish stories. Bender wonders what life would be like as a human; Fry asks what life would be like if it was like a video game; and Leela wanders into Oz.
Roswell That Ends Well (12-09-01)—This Emmy-winning episode finds the crew sent back in time to 1947, when they crash at Roswell, New Mexico.
Godfellas (3-17-02)—The Planet Express ship is attacked by space pirates, and Bender gets torpedoed into space, where he becomes a God to a race of tiny aliens.
Future Stock (3-31-02)—A cryogenically frozen guy from the 1980s is thawed and becomes CEO of Planet Express.
The 30% Iron Chef (4-14-02)—Bender is a horrible chef but tries to compete against his inspiration, Elzar.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Fox presents Futurama: Season 3 in a very colorful transfer of the film's original 1.33:1 television presentation. At first, you might be alarmed by some severe combing and interlacing errors in the menus, but once you get into the actual presentation, the image is wonderful. The level of detail is strong, and colors are bright and intense. The reason for this absolutely fine presentation is probably thanks to the fact that the animators use a digital coloring process.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The DVD offers a Dolby 2.0 audio track that's accurate to the original televised production. Although Futurama isn't an aggressive surround presentation, it does boast healthy separation across the front. Dialog is clean and clear, and I noticed no distortion at the high end. Sound effects, which are a particular strength of Groening's crew, come across vividly.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The menus and the selection of supplements are very similar to those of the first two seasons. The somewhat unwieldy menus give you a separate submenu for each episode, but when you select Special Features on a submenu, you're directed to a central repository of that disc's extras.
The best extras are once again the scene-specific Audio Commentaries over all the episodes. The participants vary from show to show, but you get wacky banter from Matt Groening (producer), David Cohen (producer), assorted directors and writers, and voice actors Billy West and John DiMaggio. These tracks are more of the same from this crew—filled with laughter and trivia. There are hilarious moments here and there, but surprisingly, there are also extended periods of silence. The moments I enjoyed most include those when the group talks about fan reaction to particular episodes and, of course, when they point out in-jokes. A special treat on Disc 4 is a second, separate commentary over the Emmy-winning "Roswell That Ends Well" that focuses on animation. One of the participants on this commentary, Rich Moore (supervising director), sounds a lot like Steven Soderbergh.
The set includes very funny Deleted Scenes from all but five of the episodes. These are mostly polished, finished scenes that were no doubt cut for time or because they were a bit risqué.
Disc 1 contains Storyboards for "Parasites Lost."
Disc 4 contains a few more supplements than the other discs in the set, adding a Still Gallery, a How to Draw Characters (Fry & Leela) short piece, an Animatic for "Anthology of Interest II," an International Clip piece that echoes the other sets, and 3-D Models.
If you search around a little, you'll find a couple of mildly humorous Easter Eggs.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Really hitting its stride in its third season, Futurama became a classic animated series despite Fox's dropping the ball. I highly recommend these lovingly produced sets, put together by a studio experiencing renewed interest.