If this show's a-rockin', don't come a-knockin'
Futurama has had a great start to the seventh season. The animated series kicked the off this new string of episodes with an exceptional back to back premiere before last week's satirical turn with "Decision 3012." Episode 3 didn't share the same amount heart as the first two season seven installments but what it lacked in sentiment, it certainly made up for in laughs as the episode hilarious skewered the most popular right-wing 'political' criticisms thrown at the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. This week's “The Thief of Baghead” once again finds Futurama mocking a very American tradition - perfect for its July 4th air date - but this time it's the culture's obsession with celebrity.
"As the curtain rises on our verisimilitudinous tableau, you are no doubt curious as to why I tricked you all into hand-gliding here."
“The Thief of Baghead” opens with the Planet Express crew watching an episode of the popular soap opera 'All My Circuits' starring the Statner-esque acting robot Calculon. His talents on full display, we watch as the seven time Oscar nominee (voiced by the incomparable Emmy winning Maurice LaMarche) injects, with perfect enunciation, a delightful twist into the stale murder mystery plot. The show is interrupted by Amy's announcement that the aquarium is showing off their new non-biting-otters so the gang heads over to see the exhibits which, but the way, are far different than the ones nobody took Fry to in his time. The 'Jurassic Tank' is by far my favorite display and the aquarium setting offers the animators a great location to strut their stuff.
"Sir, you just hired yourself a new what-sa-what-so"
Soon Bender has everyone lining up for a group shot and the episode's story finally starts to come into focus. After trying on a few lenses, not to mention becoming his own tripod, the robo-photographer educates them on the benefits of film over digital - even though his eyes happen to be digital cameras - and how he's packing his very own dark room, the last of its kind. The speech certainly doesn't help the already cumbersome process which finds crew becoming rather annoyed, especially once Bender leaves them lined up to instead snap a photo of Calculon during the studio mandated time with his on-screen family. Bender not only gets the shot he wants, thanks to a little fake tennis racquet-ing, but is also hit with the 'shutterbug' and decides to seek a gig working as a paparazzo for US People Magazine.
"Ah yes, the bag. I've never understood people's fascination with that..."
In a not so subtle, and really not that effective, critique of TMZ and their slimy head-honcho Harvey Levin (complete with a the 'Larvae' version also annoyingly drinking the entire time), Bender finds himself in the bullpen discussing the gossip of the day. If you missed the board, a few of the topics include 'hypnotoad's paternity test' and 'Morbo's backstage blow-up' not to mention the first sighting of episode's antagonist Langdon Cobb. But first Bender takes to his job as a paparazzo, scheming his way to three great covers (the last with Parts Hilton was amazing) before television once again provides the bot a reason to live: to snap the only photo of the seven time Best Actor - and two time Best Actress - without his signature bag on his head.
"They looked at this! That proves it. Looking at this photo of Langdon Cobb has a horrific effect on living creatures. Hey, Zoidberg! Look at this photo of Langdon Cobb!"
"The Thief of Baghead" is able to stay afloat thanks to the always dependable rapid fire succession of gags but as far as the story goes, it starts to crumble under the weight of its own (silly) exposition. Now determined to take the elusive picture, Bender presses the idea to Levin who assures him of the feats impossible nature as well as the actor's 50 foot force field. No worries, Bender just buys a 60 foot ladder. After scaling the field and falling into the yard, he evades the ill-explained fungus dog guarding the tacky Hollywood estate and snaps the pic of Langdon with the bag-off but promises not to show anyone to save them from the terrible consequences! Of course, he soon shows Fry, Amy and Hermes (just to be sure) and the life is sucked from all three leaving them like flaccid corn husks.
"I'm a celebrity, I can kill anyone I want!"
Forunately, Professor Farnsworth is familiar with this soul sucking, sorry, life force sucking fungus from Brioria 6 - that are nothing like buffalo - and is able to provide some insight on how to deal with the attention seeking parasite. Namely, they must find and destroy Langdon's fungus-ego, good thing Bender recently got chased by a mushroom. In order to weaken the baghead-ed actor's monster, the remaining members of the Planet Express crew turn to Calculon who happens to be squaring off against Langdon in the upcoming World Acting Championship. If Calculon can best the Best Actor (and Actress), perhaps the blow to his ego will be enough to allow them to slay the beast? For his performance, the acting bot decides to go method with the ultimate death scene from Will I Am Shakespeare's Rome O. and Julie T.
"It was a lot and you'll never be able to pay me back."
With Team Stinky set up outside his mansion, Langdon wins the coin toss and goes into an epic rendition of 'Beantown Buddies' in which he manages to soak the bag right though with his tears. That was a tough act to follow, "I said it!" Calculon breaks into his soliloquy, backed by Clint Mansell's score from Black Swan, and the plan seems to be working with the robot's suicidal performance taking its toll on Langdon's ego. Too bad the bout's final decision goes to the baghead (with the image of Calculon dead on the stage is still making me laugh) and his ego grows so large it's soon crashing through the way. Even Bender's big idea to kill the actor with his own picture doesn't work... initially. Once again told the benefits of film over digital, Bender's perfectly developed photo captivates Langdon and causes his ego to explode. Bender saved the day?
”Say ‘Bender is great.’”
The Bender centric episode looses a bit of steam as it progresses and all in service of the less than satisfying 'pop' conclusion. "TToB" has an unusual amount of set-up for the series and, even though the jokes that get us there are quite sharp and can sustain the (emotion-less) story, the payoff isn't really worth the wait. Once the robot successfully snaps the picture of Langdon, not only do we immediately lose Fry, Amy and Hermes for the rest of the episode (with the others Express crew members soon to follow) but the writers get lost explaining the connection between Langdon's id and his fungus-dog ego only to resolve the issue with the aforementioned 'pop.'
Sure, there were funny moments along the way but Futurama is usually far more inventive and clever than “The Thief of Baghead's” feed the ego until it bursts solution (merely making Bender the hero isn't enough to freshen up the stale conclusion) and the episode marks the first real misstep in the seventh season.
Futurama returns with “Zapp Dingbat,” Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. It stars Billy West, Katey Sagal and John DiMaggio. It was created by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen.