Good news, Zapp Branigan fans. You all complained about the lack of screen time for your "hero" in the first Futurama movie, Bender's Big Score? Well complain no more – you get more than your fair share of the chubby idiot in The Beast With a Billion Backs, the second direct-to-DVD feature-length episode. And so does Amy, but that's jumping ahead a little.
The Beast picks up where Bender's Score left off. It's been one month "since space ripped open like flimsy human skin", as newsreader Morbo pleasantly informs us. It turns out that the cosmic anomaly is actually a gateway to another universe. But before we learn any more about the rip, it's time to move on to Plotline B in which Fry has found himself a new girlfriend, named Colleen (Murphy). Everyone's happy for him – even Zoidberg, who keeps joyfully vomiting from both his seawater and freshwater stomachs. Good news for Amy, too – Kif has asked her to be his Fonfon Ru, which I guess is kinda like a wife. Or something.
After a quick side trip to Kif's homeworld of Amphibios 9 for the ceremony (conducted by the ubiquitous midwife, from the episode where Kif got pregnant) we're back on Earth where Fry decides to move in with Colleen. Even after making the horrifying discovery that he is merely one of the five boyfriends she shares her apartment with. Meanwhile, back at the anomaly, Farnsworth and his mortal enemy, Professor Wornstrom, vie for the right to send a mission to explore the thing. And in a further strand (which we'll cleverly call Plotline C) Bender discovers that the mythical League of Robots is actually real – and run by his hero, Calculon.
Enough about the plot – to say much more would be to give away too much. Suffice it to say that in the other universe lives a planet-sized many tentacled alien named Yivo. Who develops a rather unhealthy relationship with the denizens of planet Earth – hence the titular reference to making the beast with two backs. So the main storyline is about a giant tentacle monster having sex with everyone in our universe. Yep, after its "forced hiatus" Futurama came back to life with a slightly more adult bent. It's not quite as sweary as Family Guy, American Dad or South Park, but it's definitely edgier than The Simpsons.
The first film had naked alien spammers (plus the bonus of naked Leela and Amy). This time we get references to flying hookworm testicles, robot penis gags, (discreet) sex scenes, nipples being polished with industrial sandpaper and plenty of Amy's lovely cleavage. And once more we get loads of callbacks to episodes of the show's first four seasons – the Harlem Globetrotters pop up, as do those horny Amazon women and Pazuzu, king of the demons. Plus Robot Satan is back, again voiced by Dan Castellaneta from The Simpsons. And evil President Nixon. Plus Stephen Hawking's "pickled head" makes an appearance. But again comes the big question: is it funny? Yes indeed. Is it funnier than the first one? Again, yes indeed. All those who complained that Bender's Big Score lacked laughs will be eating their words this time round.
But a couple of minor quibbles (which led to giving this 4 stars instead of 5). Like Bender's Big Score, The Beast With a Billion Backs seems a little too geared towards the Futurama fans (of which, admittedly, I am one). And to survive on DVD, I think it needs to appeal to a broader audience and pick up some new fans. Plus, it seems a little like 3 episodes joined together to reach feature length – more so than the first one. But minor quibbles they are – this is still Futurama, and it still rocks. Oh, and Fry becomes the Pope of a new religion. Love the tentacle!
EXTRAS **** As with the first DVD, this one too is loaded with lots of extra goodness. There's a hilarious commentary track with creators Matt Groening and David X Cohen, star Billy West, the wonderful John DiMaggio (who simply won't shut up!), Maurice LaMarche, producers Michael Rowe, Cladia Katz and Le Supercinski, and director Peter Avanzino. Maybe they can talk Katey Sagal into doing the next one too? There's also some deleted scenes; a full-length feature, called Futurama: The Lost Adventure, which was produced for the Futurama videogame; behind-the-scenes with some of the voice cast (including guest star David Cross); a featurette on the history of Deathball; a storyboard animatic of the first part of The Beast With a Billion Backs; and a sneak peek at the next movie, Bender's Game. Which involves Dungeons & Dragons,the return of Mom, Leela as a centaur, Amy as queen of the "waternymphos" and a huge riff on The Lord of the Rings. Intriguing!• WATCH A CLIP from The Beast With a Billion Backs over at The GuardianLISTEN to an interview with Futurama's John Di Maggio (aka Bender Bending Rodriguez)