"Futurama" Vol. 6: A Rusty Link To The Past
Futurama‘s been revived from the dead; in this second half of the new season, we find out the true origins of Zoidberg, what happens when Bender becomes self-replicating, the horrors of a Bone Vampire, how Fry got along with his dad, and the true origins of Zoidberg. Does Volume 6 revel in the past too much, or are the few moments of looking toward the future worth it?
There’s no doubt that Futurama is one of the great animated series, and its return to success has been well worth the campaigns, movies, channel changes, and like that it traversed to get where it is. The episodes in this set are of largely high quality, with only a few blunders inherent to the episodes themselves. The issue with this set comes with the compilation of episodes; throughout this season, way too many of the episodes deal with character origins or episodes trying to provoke an emotional response. It’s as if the writers of the show, largely math nerds, saw that episodes such as “Jurassic Bark” were critically acclaimed and loved by fans, and decided that more episodes like this would be better. The problem with that formula is that the tale of Fry’s lost dog only works when it’s surrounded by standard episodes; when it’s saddled between more of the same, Futurama becomes less of a comedy and more of a melodrama. The episode “Cold Warriors” deals with Fry’s relationship with his father; given that they’ve used flashbacks to explore his relationship in touching, if not overwrought, ways with him, his brother, and his dog now, all we need is his relationship with his mother to be explored and Futurama will (hopefully) be done with this need to crank out the emotions.
To continue the focus on the past, Dr. Zoidberg gets not one, but TWO origin episodes in this set. In “Mobius Dick”, we find out his relationships with the original Planet Express crew, and with “The Tip of the Zoidberg”, we find out just why Professor Farnsworth has kept such an inept individual on staff for so long. Zoidberg is a great character in small doses, and while his descent from “idiot” to “poor, starving, hated miscreant” has been inevitable (Homer himself went from “well meaning but slow” to “possibly deficient eating machine”, and most sitcom characters eventually become caricatures of their intended persona), the fact that two episodes give large swaths of his backstory in the same set is just an oddity.
Many episodes in the set do hit the right notes you’d expect from Futurama. “The Silence of the Clamps”, “Law and Oracle”, “Yo Leela Leela”, and “Fry Am The Egg Man” are perfect in any set of episodes, as they don’t venture into too much golden territory one way or the other. “Benderama” has a nice take on the scientific concept of Gray Goo, “Neutopia” has fun with Rule 63 of the Internet, and “All The Presidents’ Heads” brings up time travel in a new and entertaining way for the series.
The true highlights of the set are the final two episodes, “Overclockwise” and “Reincarnation”, both written as potential series finales. In the former, Bender is over clocked like a computer, and becomes unto a God. While in this form, he writes down the future of Fry and Leela’s relationship, an on-again, off-again plot point that has honestly needed clearing up (a deleted scene from “Yo Leela Leela” brought up this matter much earlier than at this latter date). At the end of the movies, they seemed squarely in a relationship, but when the series returned, it was largely skirted beyond the occasional joke. At the end of the episode (and written as it could be the end of the series), Fry and Leela read their future. It’s quiet, no words are said, and yet the acting in the animation is so strong, all the points are met while the reader has no idea the specifics of what they’re reading. This is the touching moment this season needs, and while Fry sharing a beer with his dad in the 20th century is appreciated, it’s nice to see an episode that looks towards the future in more ways than one.
The other, “Reincarnation”, stands out more for fans of animation. Filling the season’s gap of Futurama‘s “Treehouse of Horror”-esque anthology, the gang comes in contact with a giant diamond comet, but their interaction with it is skewed by the animation style they’re involved in. The first, a Fleischer/Steamboat Willy-era black and white adventure that others could probably nitpick in greater detail, continues Fry’s pining and eternal love for Leela. The second, the almost-requisite parody of anime, features the crew in various Japanese tropes, fighting off aliens who worship the diamond comet as a god. The final one goes for retro video games, and is rendered entirely in pixel art, as Professor Farnsworth solves science once and for all. While the connection may be missed, the commentary reveals that each part of the story has a plot point that just can’t be revealed with the animation style, such as a new color being invented in a segment lacking color. Less astute fans will at least appreciate the song cues from 70’s anime.
Extras are surprisingly light for a release from this crew, but they’re still light years ahead of other releases. Each episode has a commentary, there are deleted scenes, and three featurettes have the Professor explaining how a scene is made (almost boring by this point on animated DVD features, but they manage to make it interesting), an exploration of the “Reincarnation” episode by the director, and Frequently Axed Questions throw a few curveballs at the crew from fans. The lone BD-live extra of note is a unfinished scene from an episode from next year.
Futurama‘s still a solid show, this is just an odd mix of episodes that doesn’t really get the show across. It’s a solid product, it’s just a little uneven in its mix.