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Reviewed by Will Harris
t was one thing for “Futurama” to be rescued from cancelation on Fox and transformed into a series of feature-length films for Comedy Central, but when Matt Groening’s most consistent comedic creation – well, you know, currently, anyway – earned a further reprieve in the form of 13 new episodes, there was a seismic event from all of the geeks and nerds jumping up and down and cheering, “Hooray!”
And, yes, I was among their number. (We’re allowed to call each other geeks and nerds.)
Given the somewhat hit-and-miss nature of the “Futurama” movies, it was an extremely pleasant surprise to find that the show’s writers, apparently reinvigorated by being able to get back to straightforward, 22-minute-long installments, were firing on all thrusters throughout almost all of Season Six. Yes, you read that right: even though this set is described as the fifth volume, the Powers that Be have decided that the four movies count as the show’s fifth season, which means that this set houses the first half of the sixth season. But since you either already knew that or didn’t care (possibly both), let’s move on and discuss the episodes themselves.
The season premiere, “Rebirth,” picks up where “Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder” left off, saving the Planet Express team, not to mention Zapp Brannigan and his trusty sidekick Kif, from certain destruction – oh, hell, let’s be honest: they were little more than heads and skeletons – and putting them back in their proper place. From there, the show slips easily back into the groove of the Fox years, offering up episodes which make fun of classic sci-fi films ("In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela" beats the dead horse that is “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”), 21st century computer technology (“Attack of the Killer App” unabashedly mocks the iPhone), present-day issues (robosexual relationships, specifically the one between Bender and Amy), and awesome websites (“That Darn Katz!” = ICanHasCheezburger.com). There’s even a Christmas episode to wrap up the season, one which also serves as the season’s token anthology episode.
There are two episodes which particularly stand out of the pack, though if you’re not an old softie like me, you may not agree. Still, “The Late Philip J. Fry,” which finds Fry traveling through time for millennia in order to get back to his beloved Leela, is so sweet that it’s hard to imagine anyone not falling for its charms, and frankly, the same goes for “Lethal Inspection,” which reveals Bender’s secret origin and how his humble beginnings tie him to another regular character. It’s kind of an out-of-nowhere revelation that, by my recollection, has never even been hinted at before, but the ending is emotionally effective.
“Futurama” is back, baby! Is it better than ever? No, but even at its worst, the show is still handily holding its own with its original four seasons, and that ain’t bad.
Special Features: As ever, Matt “The Slave Driver” Groening has corralled the show’s cast and creators to provide commentaries for all 13 episodes on the set, and they’re as entertaining as ever, providing a mixture of backstage insights and utter absurdity. Example: for no apparent reason, John DiMaggio shifts into an uncanny Tracy Morgan impression on several of the commentaries. Also on the set is “The Adventures of Delivery-Boy Man,” a video version of the comic book written and narrated by Fry, but you’ve got the option to listen to audio commentary on that as well. As usual, there are plenty of deleted scenes, but there’s a featurette detailing Billy West’s recording session for a song on the show (“Behind the Fungus: Makin’ a Hit Song”), a collection of “Previously on ‘Futurama’” intros, and a video for “Bend It Like Bender.” There’s only one real disappointment among the bonus material, and that’s the presentation of the table read for “The Prisoner of Benda.” Half the fun of table reads is seeing the faces of the voice actors as they deliver the lines, but they’ve opted to put animatics onscreen instead of footage of the read. Bummer.