Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 23, 2004)
For Futurama fans, Volume Four of the series on DVD comes as a bittersweet event. On one hand, we’re happy to get this new set of 18 episodes. On the other, we know we’ll never get more, as this package completes the now-defunct series.
So without further ado, let’s check out the 18 episodes on Volume Three of Futurama. I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs, which also corresponds to their production numbers but not airdates. Sometimes these vary radically, as the shows first aired over a wide variety of dates. The synopses come from an excellent site called “Can't Get Enough Futurama“ (http://www.gotfuturama.com) - thanks to them for their permission to use the recaps.
Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch (aired January 12, 2003): "Amy's (Lauren Tom) romance with Kif Kroker (Maurice LaMarche) takes a twist when an unexpected pregnancy occurs -- he being the pregnant one. As Amy questions her commitment to the squishy green alien, Kif must return to his ancient, mysterious homeworld to give birth in the same muddy swamp where he was born."
Stories that focus on Kif and/or Amy usually don’t do much for me. Kif’s best as a supporting character, and Amy’s just dull in general. Despite that, “Notch” is a pretty terrific show. The story’s clever and the execution quite amusing, largely thanks to a series of hilarious asides tossed out by Bender; he plays little role in the plot but makes it funny.
Leela’s Homeworld (aired February 17, 2002): "When Leela (Katey Sagal) returns to the orphanarium in which she was raised, she is recognized for her success as a starship captain. Bender (John DiMaggio) and Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) decipher something far more rewarding for Leela, as Fry (West) helps her discover some long-lost secrets about her background, including what happened to her parents."
Episodes about Leela’s orphan status tend to get a bit sentimental and sappy, and that tendency moderately infuses “Homeworld”. The show’s first act works best, largely because it focuses on Bender’s sleaziness. After that, it turns somewhat goopy, though the concluding montage of moments from Leela’s childhood is sweet. It still has good moments, but it’s not a great show overall.
Love and Rocket (aired February 10, 2002): "Love is in the air when Bender finds himself involved in a shipboard romance....with the ship. When the Professor upgrades the Planet Express spaceship's software with a sexy female voice (guest star Sigourney Weaver), Bender falls hopelessly in love. But when the ship discovers that Bender is unfaithful, she charts a course for self-destruction, and it's up to Fry and Leela to save the day."
Bender-centric episodes usually work well, and “Rocket” falls into that category. It helps that we get a fun guest turn from Weaver, who does nicely as the ship’s voice. We get a clever twist on the relationship theme since one of the participants is a spacecraft, and this is a good program.
Less Than Hero (aired March 2, 2003): "Suffering from aches and pains, Fry and Leela turn to Dr. Zoidberg (West) who gives them a "miracle cream" that he bought long ago from a traveling salesman. Lo and behold, when they try it out, it actually is a miracle cream that gives them superpowers. Fry and Leela decide to become super heroes with Bender as the third member of their team."
You don’t see a lot of shows in which the characters gain superpowers, so that makes “Hero” unusual and fun. It jabs at the standard superhero TV series conventions as it develops a quirky story. Chalk up this one as a good show.
A Taste of Freedom (aired December 22, 2002): "Dr. Zoidberg is accused of flag desecration when, at a Washington D.C. celebration, he cannot restrain himself from eating a large flag. After Zoidberg is sentenced to death, his people send an invasion force to enslave the people of Earth and teach them the meaning of freedom."
We get a rare Zoidberg-centric show here, and it’s a good one. It can get slightly heavy-handed about its freedom of expression message and kind of feels like they wrote it back in the early Nineties when flag-burning was such a hot button issue. Nonetheless, it’s clever and funny.
Bender Should Not Be Allowed On TV (aired August 3, 2003): "When a young star of the hit robot soap opera "All My Circuits" literally falls to pieces, Bender seizes his chance for stardom. Along with Fry and Leela, Bender sabotages the auditions and secures a spot on the show. As a result of Bender's misbehavior, the Nielsen numbers rise, making Bender a star. When a new group, Fathers Against Rude Television (or F.A.R.T.) plans a Million Dad March to protest his character, Bender realizes his effect on kids."
It’s hard to go wrong with an episode that focuses on Bender at his most obnoxious. Parts of the show seem a bit stale, as parodies of soap operas and TV networks aren’t exactly original. However, the show tosses out lots of great bits and becomes consistenly amusing.
Jurassic Bark (aired November 17. 2002): "Fry and Bender discover that the exact pizzeria Fry worked at before coming to the 30th century is on display as part of a 20th century exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. Fry is horrified when he sees his dog, Seymour, petrified among the artifacts in the exhibit. Fry reacts with protest and learns that there is a possibility to clone his "best friend" back to life. Bender perceives Seymour as a threat to his friendship with Fry and gets his own Robo-puppy as competition."
It feels like we’ve seen this episode before, at least from the point of view connected to Bender’s jealousy. This means “Bark” doesn’t feature much of a plot, as between that element and the flashbacks to the Fry/Seymour relationship in the 20th century, the show doesn’t dote on story much. It includes some funny moments, but not anything particularly scintillating. It does feature a surprisingly touching conclusion, though I admit I’m a sucker for anything emotional that features dogs.
Crimes of the Hot (aired November 10, 2002): "As Earth is unable to counter its rising temperature through the usual method (the dropping of a giant ice cube into the ocean), Al Gore leads an emergency conference in Kyoto, Japan, where Professor Farnsworth claims responsibility for the crisis. It seems love detoured him from observing proper emission standards on his prototype robot, and that could necessitate the destruction of all its "descendants." That includes Bender, who resigns himself to having a farewell blowout before being blown up."
Who ever would have thought we’d hear an almost president utter “I have ridden the mighty moon worm” or “Peace out, y’all”? Gore presents a nice ability to poke fun at his earnest, environment-friendly side; he’s not a great voice actor, but he adds mirth to the show. The program’s generally Bender-centric nature - plus some appearances from Nixon’s head - makes this a good one.
Teenage Mutant Leela’s Hurdles (aired March 30, 2003): "When Fry and the Planet Express gang realize that at 161 years old, the Professor has become too crotchety to handle, they decide he needs to be "youth-a-sized". Traveling to an asteroid, they register the Professor at a posh resort where their full-body bath in searing hot tar is guaranteed to turn back the clock. Through a series of unfortunate accidents, the bath covers not only the Professor but also everyone else and all are affected by the treatment. Back at Planet Express, a now 53-year-old Professor tries to keep a now 13-year-old Fry and other kids under control while looking for a way to reverse the effects of the tar treatment. Meanwhile, "the kids" all react to their newfound youth, including Leela, who decides she could have a taste of the childhood she never had as an orphan."
Even after all these episodes, Futurama still manages to toss out some surprisingly quirky moments like the Professor’s nuclear-powered teeth that run amok. I could live without another appearance from Leela’s parents, who’ve popped up too frequently for my liking. Nonetheless, the younger versions of the crew offer some fun moments and make this a pretty good show.
The Why Of Fry (aired April 6, 2003): "When Leela gets swept off her feet by Chaz, an aide to the Mayor, Fry falls into a deep funk thinking that she could never like a non-important guy. Adding to Fry's funk, a bizarre genetic abnormality is discovered that qualifies him for a mission to save the universe. While on this mission, we learn what really happened on Dec. 31, 1999, the night Fry was frozen. Meanwhile, Chaz ruins a skating date, and Leela realizes Fry is much more to her than she ever knew."
“Why” goes into a more complicated plot than usual, and it also flashes back to more than a few prior episodes. This means it runs the risk of becoming too complicated, but it usually fares well. It’s not a terrific show, but it includes some amusing moments and generally works nicely.
Where No Fan Has Gone Before (aired April 21, 2002): "Fry is put on trial for his life for traveling to the forbidden planet of Omega 3 to retrieve all 79 episodes of Star Trek, and he must defend the claim that human kind needs Star Trek to give them hope for the future. In the 23rd Century, Star Trek fans had evolved to such a level that they corrupted the world's governments and all things Star Trek were then banned to Omega 3. Fry sets out on his mission with Leela, Bender and Leonard Nimoy's head in a jar, only to discover William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei and Walter Koenig are living on Omega 3 under the watchful eye of Mellvar, an evil energy creature -- and Star Trek's biggest fan."
Futurama engaged in more than a few Star Trek parodies over its run, with some more obvious than others; they got as obscure as the “Horta Burn Clinic” in an earlier show this season. “Fan” gives them even more license than usual, and they run with it. It certainly was a coup to land most of the surviving members of the Original Series as voice actors, as only James Doohan fails to appear. They show a great capacity to mock themselves in this consistently terrific show.
The Sting (aired June 1, 2003): "After arriving at an asteroid field in deep space, Fry, Leela and Bender attempt to collect honey produced by vicious space bees. Leela decides to take a baby queen bee that kills Fry! After Fry's funeral, guilt ridden Leela has a romantic dream that causes her to believe that Fry is still alive. As Leela's bizarre dreams continue to develop, she sinks into a much stranger sleep."
After the wonderful “Fan”, I worried that the show might sag. Happily, “Sting” proves amusing, particularly in its first act with the bees. We get a fun Alien allusion plus a lot of other clever elements in this fine episode.
Bend Her (aired July 20, 2003): "Bender faces his greatest challenge when he tricks his way into the 3004 Earth Olympian and wins several events, but he must endure the final and most revealing test to receive his medals. When Bender has a date with a major robot celebrity, Calculon, he sees this as an opportunity to be wined and dined like never before. When Bender realizes there's an inequity of feelings, he enlists Fry's and Leela's help to stage a "soap opera death"."
As usual, Bender episodes remain some of the best, and “Her” doesn’t disappoint. Probably the series’ most exuberant performer, John DiMaggio clearly gets into his work as FemBender and adds silly flair to the role. The show takes many fun twists and provides a very entertaining piece.
Obsolutely Fabulous (aired July 27, 2003): "When Fry, Bender and the Planet Express gang attend Roboticon 3003 - the world's largest robot trade show - the Professor purchases the new "Robot 1-X", which threatens to render Bender obsolete. Feeling inadequate, Bender returns to MomCorp for an upgrade, but becomes terrified that the procedure will erase his robo-humanity. In desperation, he escapes from the factory and becomes a castaway on a tropical island that seems uninhabited... or is it? Violence ensues."
It seems awfully soon to offer another episode that focuses on Bender, but I love the character too much to complain. This one concentrates on him even more strongly than usual since he spends so much of it alone. That’s a partial disadvantage, as Bender works best when contrasted with others, but the show still musters a lot of hilarity like our favorite robot’s rocks-in-the-sand message for aid. How can you beat a show with a wooden Bender?
The Farnsworth Parabox (aired June 8, 2003): "When the Professor conducts an experiment so hideous that he wants his apparatus destroyed in the thermonuclear inferno of the sun, he has Leela guard the two-foot cubic box overnight so that no one opens it and sets it off. Fry and Bender try their best to sneak a peek but it is Leela who finally gives in and opens the box. Drawn into the power of the box, Leela is thrown into a parallel universe, which has duplicates of the Planet Express gang - including Leela."
It’s tough to beat the fun of parallel universes, and “Parabox” offers a lot of amusing moments. This show offers a twist because it only musters minor differences and doesn’t make anybody the opposite. It’s a very entertaining show that becomes especially cool toward its manic climax.
Three Hundred Big Boys (aired June 15, 2003): "As a result of Zapp Brannigan's (West) victory over the Arachnid homeworld, Richard Nixon's head gives everyone a $300 refund from the silk surplus. Leela, the Professor, Bender, and Fry find wacky ways to spend the money. When things get too hot at Zapp's celebration dinner, Fry saves the day."
“Boys” doesn’t exactly pour on the plot, but that doesn’t make it interesting. The structure allows the show to go down a variety of paths in creative ways. It doesn’t become an outstanding program, but it musters a number of good bits and seems generally satisfying.
Spanish Fry (aired June 15, 2003): "When the Planet Express gang goes camping in the woods for their company outing and Fry goes searching for an encounter with his favorite legendary figure, Bigfoot -- he is beamed aboard a spaceship and returned the next day without a nose. Fry learns that humans everywhere have been losing their noses and aliens are profiting for the sale of "human horns." A suggestion from Leela and a surprise visitor aim at keeping the human face safe. "
How in the world did this episode get past the network censors? Yeah, Fox is pretty lenient, but it’s still pretty startling to find a show chock full of blatant penis and masturbation jokes that aired at 7 PM on a Sunday. Anyway, they’re excellent penis and masturbation jokes, and they help make this a funny program.
The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings (aired August 10, 2003): "Fry, in an effort to win Leela's love, makes a deal with the Robot Devil to become a gifted musician. He has tried to take Holophoner lessons, but his teacher claimed he had "stupid fingers." Bender realizes that the Robot Devil is the only one to help. Fry makes a deal only to regret it immediately as it comes with a hefty price."
Thus ends the run of Futurama, with a pretty solid show. The Simpsons ran a fair number of musical numbers but Futurama did so much less frequently. One earlier instance occurred with the Robot Devil’s first appearance, and they reprise that format brilliantly here. Most of the third act consists of an extended musical piece, and it’s a lot of fun. I can’t call the last program the series’ best, but it finishes things on a very satisfying note.
I find it tough to compare various seasons of a series, so I can’t say if Volume Four of Futurama is superior to the prior three sets. However, it definitely deserves consideration as the show’s best run, for I found little about which to complain. Of course, some episodes seem stronger than others, but we get no real clunkers, and the majority offer a lot of fun and cleverness. It’s another solid release.