Futurama: Volume 1 (DVD)

Futurama: Volume 1 (DVD)

Futurama premiered in 1999 to hype and anticipation that seemed fitting for the first new series created by Matt Groening since The Simpsons. But even before the show reached the air, Groening was describing his Futurama-related dealings with the Fox network as the worst experience of his adult life. What happened next couldn't have made him feel much better. While Futurama struggled to connect to its audience, Fox first moved it to a new time slot, then constantly preempted it for sports broadcasts, a pattern that continues today. Officially, Futurama is still on the air and in its fifth season, but production halted on the series last year, and the current season is composed of un-aired leftovers. Still, its 72-episode run nearly matches that of the original Star Trek, and it's been more than enough to develop a cult following for the show. Besides, with the growing availability of DVD box sets, why watch TV shows on TV anymore? Preserving the series in a form forever protected from preemption, the first DVD installment of Futurama features the first 13 episodes, originally shown as the first season and part of the second. Where The Simpsons has evolved in appearance and approach over the years, Futurama uses immediately impressive animation to place characters bearing Groening's signature look in a universe that seems to have been thought through to the last pixel. Anchoring the show is the character of Philip J. Fry (voiced by Billy West), a 20th-century pizza-deliveryboy accidentally preserved into the 31st century, where any resemblance to the present day is purely intentional. The world sits gripped by the developments on All My Circuits, a popular robot soap opera with a token human cast member. A corporation holds trademarks for the words "mom" and "love." Vehicles hover, but mostly because the formula for making the wheel has been lost. Futurama has been criticized for replacing the affection at the center of The Simpsons with an endless succession of gags and science-fiction in-jokes, but the series doesn't support the critique: It generates warmth for a supporting cast that includes a cyclopean alien, a hapless squid-like doctor, and a robot just on the acceptable side of malevolent. Not that there's a shortage of material aimed squarely at the geek contingent. On the commentary track for one episode, co-developer and theoretical-computer-science-degree-holder David Cohen reveals a background figure to be a parody of a type of diagram used in particle physics. He then goes on to explain that the diagram translates into a joke about dog feces. In other words, Futurama contains something for everyone–except, it seems, grumpy Fox executives.

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