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Futurama: Season One

Created by Matt Groening, the genius behind The Simpsons, the sci-fi cartoon comedy Futurama premiered on March 28th, 1999. Given a try-out run of nine episodes by Fox Television, the show (created with producer David X. Cohen) continued Groening's Simpsons legacy of brilliant comedy and social satire for grown-ups, all disguised in the bright colors of a cartoon. While hardly an immediate hit, Fox nonetheless gave Futurama the go-ahead for 22 more episodes the following season and the show developed a loyal — if small — following. Considering the monster hit Fox had with The Simpsons (which had been on the air for a solid 10 years when Futurama debuted), it would only stand to reason that Fox would put the weight of their vast marketing resources behind Groening's new show; instead, the network buried it, moving it through several different time-slots and even removing it from the air for weeks at a time with no hint as to when it would return. With viewers unable to find Futurama, the show never developed big numbers and, in 2002, Fox chose not to renew. The show wasn't canceled, they insisted, they just weren't ordering any new episodes — a fine distinction that probably only makes sense to people who work at Fox. But they still want to make money off it, which is a bonanza for DVD buyers — Fox Home Video has released the first nine-episode season of Futurama in a gorgeous, deluxe box set, so you can enjoy it at your leisure without having to search for reruns on cable. In the premiere episode, "Space Pilot 3000," a nerdy pizza-delivery boy named Fry (voiced by Billy West) is cryogenically frozen by accident, waking up at the dawn of the year 3000. He meets Leela, a beautiful one-eyed alien pilot (Katey Sagal) and Bender (John DiMaggio), a hard-drinking, pocket-picking, vice-loving robot. He tracks down his great-great-great-great-great-great (etc.) nephew, Prof. Farnsworth, an aged scientist who runs an intergalactic delivery service; he gives Fry a job, prompting the former pizza-schlepper to exult, 'Woo-hoo! I'm a delivery boy!" The first episode introduced many of the themes that would follow in later episodes — snarky dialogue, a wicked eye for the idiocies of modern life (as parodied by ridiculous, sci-fi story elements) and a sense of the humor that comes from the unexpected and grotesque — in the Futurama world, the heads of 20th century celebrities have been kept alive in jars, allowing guest voices like Leonard Nimoy and Dick Clark to make appearances. Every episode in the first season is pure gold, from "A Fishful of Dollars," where Fry discovers the money in his old savings account is now worth $4 billion, enabling him to buy anchovies, a long-extinct delicacy; to "A Big Piece of Garbage," in which we learn that, to end jokes at the planet's expense, Uranus's name was changed in 2620 — to "Urectum." Also part of Season One is the hilarious "Love's Labors Lost in Space," wherein Leela meets famed space hero Zapp Brannigan, a smarmy Lothario who wears no pants, has a fixation on velour, and invites Leela to his "lovenasium." The final episode of the season, "Hell is Other Robots," features a jaw-dropping parody of Disney-style musical numbers when Bender goes to Robot Hell and faces the Robot Devil (Dan Castellanata). Fox Home Video's DVD presentation is outstanding — the full-frame (1.33:1) transfers are bright and crisp, making them look even better than they did when broadcast, and the Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is superb. The packaging itself is far superior to most boxed sets of TV shows, including Fox's Simpsons boxes; instead of an unwieldy fold-out case that causes the user to have to juggle three feet of cardboard and six or seven discs, the three-disc Futurama set offers each disc in it's own slim, transparent snap-case with episode synopses and extras listed on the case. All three cases slide into a colorful, illustrated box which goes into an equally attractive slip-case. It's a good-looking and easy-to-use package, and other vendors would do well to consider this style for future box-set releases. The extras are plentiful, including commentary tracks with Groening, Cohen, and others involved with the show; deleted scenes; and animatics, scripts, and storyboards. There's also Easter eggs on each disc — parody movie-posters accessible by highlighting items on various menus.
—Dawn Taylor

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