Futurama Watch: Season 7, Episode 17 - Forty Percent Leadbelly

"Any Resemblance To Actual Future Is Purely Coincidental"

For some reason, once Futurama was resurrected by Comedy Central they started splitting the animated comedy into two-part seasons and, just before it returned to small-screens for the second half of the seventh, the network revealed that this run would be the series' final stretch. To be fair, so far Season 7B hasn't been anywhere near the multiple Emmy Award winning show's usually high quality with the special one hour, two episode premiere ( "2-D Blacktop" and "Fry and Leela's Big Fling") being pretty mediocre before another good but by no means great installment the following week ("T.: The Terrestrial"). Maybe, since they know that cancellation is on the horizon, Comedy Central has saved the best till the end? Well, the end is nigh because, after the much improved "Forty Percent Leadbelly," four of the show's final thirteen episodes have already aired meaning there's only a single-digit number of new Futuramas left. Forever! Probably?! Who knows? A few more promising installments like last night's solid (half-)musical just might persuade another network to pick up the show.

"But Robit, you can't just make up folk songs like you can a medical diploma. They have to come from the heart."

I was actually pretty down on the new season, even starting to understand and/or rationalize Futurama's cancellation by Comedy Central because I'd match rather see Matt Groening's second (and superior) animated series bow out gracefully instead of overstay its welcome by a decade like The Simpsons. Then I watched "Forty Percent Leadbelly" and all of those feelings quickly turned to sadness, realizing that the series that can still produce such great episodes is operating on borrowed time. Not only was the story entertaining, supremely clever and impeccably structured but the episode also contained some beautiful animation (particularly the train travel), several solid songs and a bunch of big laughs. As you can probably guess from the metal in the title, "Forty Percent Leadbelly" is Bender centric and, like most that concentrate on the debauched robot, it didn't leave much room for the rest of the Planet Express crew. One of the best things about Futurama is the large ensemble of hilarious animated characters at their disposal, however, this installment manages to shine with a much more narrowed focus. That doesn't mean the rest don't each get a few choice one-liners but Bender does most of the heavy lifting.

"Scratch that Rubber Turkey, we got a 20 on the Tin Man."

And Fry lends an extra hand whenever needed. Actually everything the feeling deserted Fry said during his "Forty Percent Leadbelly" subplot was pretty much gold. Another thing you might have guessed from the title is that the plot of the Bender centric episode would involve folk music since 'Leadbelly' is clearly a reference to Lead Belly, one of the early and most influential musicians in the genre. The installment started a bit slow but once Bender heads out on his journey to gain some song informing life experience, it really takes off with one clever, and often reflexive, twist after another until it all ends with dead duplicates and a wonderfully articulated as well as animated comment on artistic integrity. Not to mention where having it will get you (and your series). But I'm getting way ahead of myself. "Forty Percent Leadbelly" opens with the Planet Express crew delivering a supervillain frozen in carbonite to 11-Worth Variable Security Prison, the same place where folk legend Silicon Red served his later sentence and is now being released. Oh, and this is also where we learn about Bender's lifelong dream to become a musician. Something he cares so deeply about that he's willing to desert Fry with the dangerous cargo to pursue a meeting with his hero. And, you know, steal his guitar.

"Because you're idiots. Come on, Silicon Red. Let's sell out!"

Of course, the frequently imprisoned singer isn't gong to part with Salmonella that easy and Bender must go elsewhere to find the one of a kind, totally unique instrument. Thanks to science, this isn't as hard as it sounds and the robot downloads the schematics to a scientist's Make-o-Matic. It's not nearly as confusion as it sounds, and it only gets more (brilliantly) convoluted once we learn that Bender was never actually unplugged and all his songs are being manifested by the machine. Kind of like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man sequence from Ghostbusters. Or the sphere from, uh, Sphere. After a failed show, the aspiring folk singer learns that there isn't an exact formula for creating art (or getting rich and famous), so Bender sets out on the journey of self-discovery. Well, he still steals the experiences of another blue collar poet, Big Caboose, but at least this time he personally gets mixed up in the lyrics. I mean, life experiences. Okay, not as much mixed up in as directly responsible for, however, Bender manages to avoid becoming a casualty of his own creativity and, as usual, walks away unscathed and carefree. Why suffer for artistic integrity when you can sell out instead. Who would have thought Silicon Red could rap so well? Great track.

Futurama returns with Episode 18, "The Inhuman Torch," next Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. And, if you haven’t seen it already, be sure to check out the awesome trailer for the rest of the seventh season.