One in a very long line of Fox shows canceled before its time, Futurama was never properly appreciated by audiences during its original run—often, it was seen as something of a stunted kid sibling to The Simpsons. But, like Proust and Robert Johnson, Matt Groening’s “other” animated endeavor captured rapturous attention posthumously—in this case on Adult Swim—and was recently given new life in the form of four straight-to- DVD movies.
The first, Bender’s Big Score, pits the Planet Express crew against a trio of nudist alien Internet scammers intent on fleecing the entire population of Earth. Along the way, Leela finds a “new” love, Fry learns that the tattoo of Bender’s face on his ass holds the key to time travel, and professional bureaucrat Hermes Conrad loses his body and his wife (at least for a while).
Unfortunately, much of the irreverent wit, nerdy sci-fi references and uncannily relatable character touches that made Futurama such a late-night favorite are missing from this latest installment. Most of the regulars are present—among them disgraced starship captain Zapp Brannigan and Morbo, the belligerent alien news anchor—but Groening & Co. seem to have lost a step or two since the show went off the air in 2003. The special features, including commentary by the creators, storyboards and some other goodies, are a nice improvement on those found on the series DVDs. Still, fans expecting Bender’s Big Score to be a culmination of the brilliance that characterized what was, for a while, the best animated show on television will feel a bit shortchanged.