Stuck in an unfortunate time slot that resulted in it being interrupted by football quite often, "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening's "Futurama" took some time to get going, but the show's best seasons provided some classically funny and wildly inspired plots for the memorable characters. The show focuses on Philip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy in the year 1999 who finds himself on what he thinks is a prank delivery. An accident happens and Fry finds himself frozen in time for 1000 years, waking up in 2999.
Despite the initial horror, sadness and terror, Fry eventually comes around to the idea of living in the future, complete with the assistance of his butt-kicking alien love interest, the one-eyed Leela ("Married...With Children"'s Katey Segal). He also befriends Bender Unit 22 (Chicago Hope's John DiMaggio), a crude, hard-drinking robot who continually schemes and talks his way out of the trouble he creates.
Bender is one of his co-workers at the local intergalactic delivery service. There's also Professor Hubert Farnsworth, Amy, Hermes Conrad and lobster doctor Zoidberg. The show's voice work is top-notch, especially Billy West as Fry, Segal as Leela and, beyond all else, John Di Maggio as Bender, whose delivery of the character's sarcastic lines was rarely less than superb. Supporting performances are often terrific, too - especially the Spock/Kirk dynamic of assistant Kif and space captain Zapp Brannigan, who appear in occasional episodes throughout the series.
All of the seasons of "Futurama" have been released on DVD at this point, and the hardcore fans of the series have probably snapped them all up by now. Yet, here comes the "Monster Robot Manic Fun Collection", a "best of" collection (which "The Simpsons" have released quite a few of, although, unlike this, those have a theme - Christmas, Halloween, "Star Wars") that I suppose is meant to promote the season sets to casual fans or those completely new to the series.
The collection does offer four very good episodes, three of which are some of my favorite episodes from the show. The first episode is, "Anthology of Interest I", which was the last episode of the second season. In the episode, Farnsworth creates a "What If" machine that shows a simulation of any situation it's asked. Fry wonders what life would be like if he was never frozen, Leela wonders what it would be like it she were more impulsive and Bender wonders what it would be like to be 500 feet tall. There's definitely a few amusing moments here, such as Giant Bender and Fry playing games in the park, with Bender tripping and accidentally squishing a Hanson concert.
"Roswell That Ends Well" opens with Fry mindfully ignoring the instructions not to put metal in the microwave, sending off an energy wave that hits an oncoming wave from a supernova explosion. When the two waves hit one another, they open up a portal in time, sending Fry and the crew back in time. Once they get accustomed to their surroundings, they realize they've crashed in Roswell, NM and that Fry's grandfather is working at the nearby military base. Despite getting warnings not to screw with anything that would change time, Fry - in the episode's most amusing bits - keeps getting his grandfather in bigger danger.
"Hell Is For Other Robots" is the funniest episode in the collection, as Bender is the focus. When brought backstage at a (heads of the) Beastie Boys concert by a robot friend, he sees that all of the robots are trying the latest robot drug - large jolts of electricity. After one try, he gets hooked ("Don't worry, I don't have an addictive personality.") and keeps searching for ways to get another power surge. When the group's ship tries to steer away from an electric disturbance in space, Bender decides to sabotage the ship and go in that direction, getting such a jolt that it melts him to the ship. When they return, Bender apologizes and decides to change his ways, joining robot religion. The gang decides they like the old Bender, and successfully tempt him back with a trip to Atlantic City. Unfortunately, this results in Bender being taken to Robot Hell, where Leela and Fry have to save him from the Robot Devil.
Finally, "The Sting" has the crew headed into space to harvest honey from dangerous space bees. Leela decides to bring one of the young bees back with them in order to try and harvest honey. Instead, the bee tries to sting her, but Fry gets in the way, and appears to be dead from the sting. Leela begins to have dreams where Fry is alive, but whenever she wakes up, she seems to be as deep or deeper into the dream-state that she's in. This is actually one of the sweetest episodes of the series, as it's a nice portrayal of the Fry/Leela relationship.
Again, I liked these episodes a lot, although I'm going to wager a guess that hardcore fans of the show already have them on DVD on the full season sets. For casual fans or those who never watched, however, this is a good place to give the series a try.
VIDEO: "Futurama" is presented here in 1.33:1 full-frame, the show's original aspect ratio. Like the prior sets I've seen for the series, there's really not a whole lot to say about these presentations, either. Sharpness and detail are first-rate, with the animation appearing crisp and well-defined. No edge enhancement or any other considerable faults are visible. The show's bright, vivid color palette appeared well-saturated and vibrant.
SOUND: "Futurama" is presented here in Dolby 2.0. The show's audio remains crisp and easily understood throughout, with no distortion or other concerns in regards to the dialogue, music or sound effects.
EXTRAS: Creator Matt Groening and members of the cast and crew provide both an audio introduction to the disc and each of the episodes. They also return for an audio commentary over the animatic (rough version) of "Hell is For Other Robots", which is available on the DVD.
Final Thoughts: "Monster Robot Maniac Fun Collection" offers four mostly stellar episodes of the hilarious series. The extras aren't enough to recommend the disc to those who already own the episodes elsewhere, but for newcomers who can't decide whether or not they want to get into buying sets of the series, this disc is a great way to try it out.