Futurama: Volume 6 on Blu-Ray and DVD
by Jared Scott Stroup
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The Comedy Central renewal of Matt Groening and David X. Cohen’s Futurama initially recieved its share of expected negative criticism. I, for one, believe their recent output to be as strong as their run on FOX, and the reduced number of episodes per season (thirteen down from a usual twenty-two) has strengthened the watchability of the series. A typical network run of episodes often leaves too much room for filler and lazy ideas, but by reigning in the quantity, a consistency in quality can emerge.
Any fan of Futurama knows there’s no arguing that the show has always delivered the goods, but this method of episodic brevity leaves you wanting more. This endlessly inventive show has more in common with comic strips and storytelling techniques of yesteryear than the well-worn formulas of television. Keeping in the Groening tradition, it’s always been a fringe show but, unlike its sibling series The Simpsons, it never really found mainstream success. As a result, the writers seem content with their cult following and, though this is speculative, would rather satisfy them than attempt to reach a wider audience. Whenever they do have special guest stars, they’re not exactly ratings-grabbers: Stephen Hawking, Al Gore, David Cross, and Beck to name a few. Patton Oswalt continues that tradition with a guest spot as a villian in this volume.
With stories rooted in every science fiction creation you can think of, and an equal amount of attention paid to scientific facts, Futurama is frequently the most entertaining prism in which to think about the universe in all its mystery and wonder. It’s also very funny to boot—with that Simpsons-esque subversive and absurdist humor laced throughout these wonderfully original stories—though I do feel it’s erroneous to treat this series as strictly comedic. The jokes are usually decoration for the ideas being presented, ideas that are sometimes so massive in scope, so jarring in their complexity, that it’s like a religious experience for the scientifically minded. That will only sound ridiculous to those who are not acquainted with the adventures of the Planet Express crew.
But for those who agree, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the show is smart fun for all ages that can capture the imagination of the thoughtful viewer, but it mostly dabbles in big ideas rather than fully explore them. I don’t want to give the impression that the show is didactic to the point of tedious overkill. In fact, the writers never cease to amaze me with their freshness and rapid pacing, flexing their creative muscles at every possible point to create unique entertainment, first and foremost.
This recent collection of episodes is in synch with everything I wrote above, and is noted as
Some episode standouts include “Mobius Dick”—which is a space variation on the literary allusion of the title, with a bermuda triangle-style wormhole in the location of their mission (also Professor Farnsworth describes his concern as “grief diarrhea”)—and “Reincarnation”—a vignette episode that showcases a variety of animation styles and blatantly stands out against any animated program on television (a bit of a show-off episode, really). We get more exposure to the workings of the robot Mafia in the first episode: “The Silence of the Clamps”, which is a crazy space western mob episode where you’ll hear the word “clamp” more times in 22 minutes than you ever expected to—including The Clash song “Clampdown”. The robot mafia will do more than intimidate you out of squealing, they’ll rewire your circuits to ensure that you can’t testify. And “Neutopia”, which may suffer from a familiar battle of the sexes storyline, but they spin the concept on its head in a time when gender norms are being challenged and championed, giving the episode a relevance that may or may not be intentional.
Futurama is not just high brow mixed with low brow, but the highest of brows (literature, philosophy, science, etc) mixed with the lowest of brows (toilet humor, slapstick, bad puns, etc). I suspect its lack of a substantial fanbase is due to either the feeling of it being above you (because it’s a science based show) or that it’s beneath you (it’s animated, silly, on television, whatever). The creative team behind these stories are certainly putting the only show quite like it on the air, and though many would love to replicate it, there’s no easy formula for churning out an episode of television that is akin to Futurama. It requires too many ingredients, with knowledge and a sense of humor running neck and neck for the most important of them.
Futurama Volume 6 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox. You can catch new epsiodes on Comedy Central.
Jared Scott Stroup is a Film Studies Major at Eastern Michigan University. He lives, works, and studies in the Detroit area, where he’s involved in theatre and stand-up comedy.
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