Season 4

Starring: (the voices of) Billy West, Katey Sagal and John DiMaggio
20th Century Fox
RRP 39.99
Certificate: 12
Available now

As the adventures of the Planet Express crew draw to a close, Leela discovers which planet she came from, while Fry learns the reason why he was cryogenically frozen in 1999. But will these revelations be of any use to Fry as he continues to try and woo Leela...?

As I began to watch this, the final season of Futurama, I did get a little worried that I had discovered the reason why the series was cancelled. The opening episode, Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch, is decidedly average, despite the presence of the popular returning characters of Zapp Brannigan and the long-suffering Kif.

However, the quality soon picks up with the next episode, Leela's Homeworld, which, as its title suggests, delves into the mysterious heritage of the one-eyed wonder. Having been introduced, Leela's parents make several return appearances throughout the rest of the series.

This is far from being the only bit of character development this season. Futurama scores over The Simpsons, and just about every other cartoon series, by developing the ongoing relationships between Amy and Kif (in Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch and Three Hundred Big Boys) and between Leela and Fry (in The Why of Fry, The Sting and the last episode, The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings). This being the final season, the production team also crams in plenty of revelations about Fry's past, via flashbacks and time travel in The Why of Fry and the poignant Jurassic Bark.

My favourite episodes in this box set include the superhero spoof Less Than Hero (great theme song, guys), Crimes of the Hot (an environmental morality tale incorporating a wickedly satirical public information film), Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles (in which the main characters grow younger), the hilariously convoluted The Why of Fry, the moving The Sting and the parallel universe story (I always like those), The Farnsworth Parabox.

The best one of the lot, in my totally biased Trekkie opinion, is Where No Fan Has Gone Before. It should come as no surprise that this is a Star Trek pastiche, a series that has been amply spoofed already, both in previous seasons and in this one (see the holoshed in Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch). But Where No Fan... not only features the Kirk-like Zapp Brannigan and visual gags relating to Classic Trek episodes such as The Menagerie and The City of the Edge of Forever, it also stars the voices of original cast members William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols as heads in jars. An instant classic!

It's well worth splashing out an extra fiver to own this season on DVD rather than VHS, because there is a wealth of extras on offer. These include humorous audio commentaries on every episode (and an extra one on Jurassic Bark), deleted scenes from the majority of episodes, complete storyboards from Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch, the full-length animatic of Obsoletely Fabulous, eleven 3D modelling sequences and nine original pencil test segments. There are also a couple of Easter eggs, allegedly, not that I have been able to find them yet. My only criticism of the special features is that the sound levels on the deleted scenes are considerably lower than those on the main episodes - why?

Futurama's greatest strength - its focus on the genre of science fiction rather than the more scattergun social commentary of The Simpsons - was also the greatest obstacle in the way of its popular appeal. However, 17 of the 18 episodes in this box set ensure that the series bows out on a high.

Richard McGinlay

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