DVD Review: Futurama Vol. 5

'Futurama Vol. 5': The Branier Common Denominator

"Futurama‘s return to television has been a slow, strange process. Unlike Family Guy—which was cancelled and then returned to its original form, network, and night—Futurama had to spend some time in a return-to-TV-halfway-house. Comedy Central revived the series as four direct-to-DVD films which, after their debut, where chopped up into half-hour segments and aired in reruns as individual episodes.

Though the creators performed admirably within those limitations, it was not the most natural structure for a television show. Each movie had to have its own narrative arc, with a setup and a payoff befitting a feature-length film. Then, within each story, beats had to be doled out in half-hour increments so that, in reruns, the stories would make sense and feel satisfying as individual episodes. Finally, after the success of the DVD-to-TV experiment, Futurama was allowed to start making new episodes without any of those limitations, with the first of the new batch premiering on Comedy Central on 2010-06-24. 

To the show’s credit, the audience doesn’t often feel the behind-the-scenes machinations—the time restrictions, the unsteady sense of not knowing if the plug will be pulled again—in episodes themselves. 'You guys have gotten really good at writing episodes where you don’t know if it’s the last one or not,' creator Matt Groening tells his crew during the commentary for 'Rebirth', the most recent season premiere. And it’s true: The Futurama writers have mastered the art of finagling a satisfying conclusion with just the right amount of open-endedness.

Thankfully, Futurama Volume 5—which contains the first 13 episodes of the most recent, TV-only season—doesn’t have to concern itself with endings. The series picks up immediately after the last film, Into the Wild Green Yonder. The writing, gorgeous 3D animation, and vocal performances pick up just as quickly, as if the series never had to experience the interlude of cancellation and direct-to-DVD movies."

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