Futurama Volume Two
Fry and the gang continue in their misadventures
Cynthia Ward · October 17, 2003 | I hadn't seen Futurama in years, so I looked forward to viewing my shiny new Futurama: Volume Two DVDs. I found the animation as strong as I remembered, especially the retro-futuristic 3D opening, in which the "camera" follows the Planet Express Delivery Ship as it swoops above and below and around the pedestrian-tubes and skyscrapers and flying-car traffic jams of New New York. This is one of the best-ever TV-show openings, and I kept hitting Pause so I could, at last, read every billboard the spaceship zips by. I discovered that, unlike the chalkboard and couch scenes in the opening of Matt Groening's previous animated creation, The Simpsons, the billboard messages never change. And this betrays a larger problem with Futurama: Volume Two.

Most sitcoms are character-based, striking the sparks of humor by rubbing odd characters against one another and against odd situations. Humor is strengthened by the uniqueness of the characters: Peggy Hill gets herself into situations that her husband Hank never would, and vice-versa; Homer Simpson gets into situations that neither King of the Hill character could even imagine. For a Simpsons episode to work, Homer must be Homer. However, in many of Futurama's second-season episodes, you could replace Futurama's main character, Fry, with a different twentieth-century naïf, with little effect.

Futurama Volume Two
Fox Home Video, 2003
Originally released in 2000
637 minutes

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Many Volume Two episodes center on conceits and gimmicks. (What if Santa Claus were a homicidal robot? What if MASH took place on an alien planet?) This approach isn't surprising, since the series is based on a conceit (or, in Hollywoodspeak, a "high concept"): What if a stupid pizza-delivery boy found himself in the thirty-first century? If Futurama were character-based, the premise would be: What if Fry, a stupid pizza-delivery boy, found himself in the thirty-first century? (If you don't see the difference, you may want to skip the rest of my write-up.)

There's nothing wrong with centering a comedy on conceits and gimmicks; but when that's the approach, the jokes and gags had better fly thick and fast. Yet as I watched Futurama: Volume Two, I kept thinking, "I wish they would've read a little more science fiction; that would've given them a lot more jokes and references." My point isn't that SF parody must include print-SF in-jokes; it needn't. My point is, the viewer should never have time to think, "There could be more jokes." The writers of Futurama: Volume Two didn't have enough ideas. No wonder the billboards in the opening credits never change.

DVD Extras: Full-length audio commentary on all 19 episodes; deleted scenes; international clips; Easter eggs.
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