DVD Review: Futurama: Season 5

Created By Matt Groening
Starring Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille and Maurice LaMarche



When a beloved cult TV series gets cancelled before its time (which is pretty much a guarantee over at Fox TV/FX), fans tend to go through the usual stages of loss and grief:

1. Denial (“I don’t believe it. It’ll be back at midseason, I’m sure of it! It must be a mix-up – maybe they just meant to axe Jersey Shore instead?”)
2. Anger (“They cancelled Firefly!? It’s time to strap C4 to our chests and suicide bomb Fox Studios! Just make sure there’s enough of us left alive to pee on the ashes!”)
3. Bargaining (“Halve the budget! Or just do another, shorter season before you end it?! I’ll sell my left kidney to help fund new episodes! And if we bombard the studio with petitions and mail gherkins to NBC – because the lead character ate a gherkin in the background of an episode once – they’ll be sure to realise their mistake and bring it back!”)
4. Depression (“I just can’t see the point in waking up to a world that doesn’t have a second season of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr…”)

The only stage fans never seem to reach is acceptance; people still cling to the hope that their favourite short-lived shows will be brought back from the dead and better than ever, never entertaining the notion that the returning product might not be as great as they remember, or that the writers might’ve lost the show’s mojo in their time away. I’m as guilty as anyone: I’d kill Jedward for another season of Veronica Mars or Terriers (Though I’d probably kill Jedward for a half-eaten mayonnaise sandwich, and I vomit at the sight of mayo). But while there are exceptions – like the 2011 revival of Beavis & Butt-head, which is smarter and funnier than it’s ever been – shows brought back from the dead don’t often recapture the giddy heights that made you adore the series to begin with.
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After its untimely cancellation by Fox in 2002 at the heady peak of its quality, the renewal of Futurama by Comedy Central five years later seemed like proof that there certainly was some heavenly being watching over us and wanting us to bask in the glowing light of phenomenal TV entertainment. The subsequent series of lacklustre direct-to-DVD movies should’ve been enough to give any fan of the show pause, though. Futurama’s fifth season finally saw the show return to its 30 minute episodic roots last year, but the results are less than spectacular, and while there’s a few great episodes that come damn close to the show’s former greatness, as a whole it’s the series’ weakest season yet by a wide margin.

The show’s writers seem to have lost their previously impeccable skill for intelligent, timeless, rapid-fire comedy in the years since the show’s cancellation, and Futurama’s fifth season often relies on remarkably lazy gags. Pop culture references are hardly new for Futurama, but the writers used to side-step topical humour which would date the show, careful to frame 20th Century jokes through the eyes of fish-out-of-water Fry. In revived Futurama, characters born in the 30th Century throw out references to CSI Miami and The Boondocks, and already-dated and unfunny topical satire becomes the focus of episodes, with ‘Attack of the Killer App’ poking fun at iPhones, Twitter and featuring a giant, talking boil named Susan Boil.
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CSI gags were already worn transparently thin years ago and making fun of Susan Boyle is like hitting low hanging fruit where Futurama usually aspires to a much higher, smarter, wittier level of humour, and Killer App manages to be the worst episode the show has ever had. That general laziness is felt in later episodes, too. Christmas special ‘The Futurama Holiday Spectacular’ rehashes far too much of past episodes – Fry feels distant and disconnected at Christmas, only to have Robot Santa attack Planet Express, and a return to the planet of the deadly space bees, for instance – with a few clunky musical sequences, awkward pacing and without much of the fun of past ‘What If?’ anthology episodes.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad, and there are a few standout episodes that almost manage to rival the quality of Futurama in its prime. ‘Lethal Inspection’ manages to capture the heart and pathos of classic episodes like ‘Jurassic Bark’ and ‘Leela’s Homeworld’, Bender-centric body-swapping opus ‘The Prisoner of Benda’ nails the kooky, clever and hilarious sci-fi tone that fuels the show’s best episodes, and ‘The Late Philip J. Fry’ – in which Fry, Bender and The Professor test out a time machine that only goes forwards – combines an intelligent and hilarious story with character-driven emotional payoffs.
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Sady, season five is Futurama’s most wildly uneven yet, with some of the series’ worst episodes to date. Though there’s a trio of excellent adventures to balance it out, the rest manage to be just decent enough, with a laugh-out-loud moment or two per episode, and that’s a far cry from the usual ‘A’-grade-laugh-a-minute writing of the show’s heyday. Still, the couple of duds aside, it’s an entertaining enough selection of episodes, and worth it just for ‘Lethal Inspection’, ‘The Prisoner of Benda’ and ‘The Late Philip J. Fry’, which give fans a blight glimmer of hope that the series will hopefully find its footing again and recapture the hilarity that it once delivered effortlessly.
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Futurama: Season 5 is the series’ first to be released in high-def Blu-ray format, but if you’ve yet to buy a player, the DVD set is an incredibly attractive compromise, with a great visual transfer and a generous selection of special features.

  • Audio Commentaries w/ Cast & Crew on all 13 Episodes
  • Deleted Scenes (10 mins, 20 secs)
  • Behind The Fungus: Makin’ a Hit Song – Billy West Hits the Studio to Record ‘Shut Up And Love Me’ (4 mins, 49 secs)
  • Previously on Futurama: Unseen Intros from the Feature-Length Movies (1 min, 22 secs)
  • The Adventures of Delivery-Boy Man: An Original Video Comic Book Scribbled and Performed by Philip J. Fry (w/ Optional Commentary)
  • Bend it Like Bender: Bender’s First Best and Only Music Video (2 mins, 41 secs)
  • The Prisoner of Benda Live Table Read (35 mins, 8 secs)

The ‘Prisoner of Benda’ table read, which offers up a live rehearsal for the episode, is a fun inclusion, but it’s strangely delivered as audio over storyboards. A proper behind-the-scenes recording of the actors doing their thing in the rehearsal room would’ve been better, but it’s a cool extra nonetheless. The deleted scenes and Fry’s goofy animated comic are entertaining, too, but the Bender’s best bits montage music video is a little pointless.

It’s the commentaries that’re the crown jewel of the set, though, as Matt Groening, David X. Cohen and a revolving door selection of the voice cast and crew jump in for a jovial chat about each episode. Like past Futurama tracks, or those from The Simpsons DVDs, Groening & Co. have a tonne to say and have a lot of fun doing it, which makes for pretty damn infectious fun and some incredibly enjoyable commentaries.

The Season:

The DVD:




Futurama: Season 5 is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.
Click here to order the DVD from Amazon.co.uk.