There are a lot of reasons to like Bender Bending Rodriguez. He’s a great cook, a loyal best friend, and he always knows the best place to hide any inconvenient corpses. But from a narrative perspective, Bender might be the single most useful character in the Futurama toolbox. He’s greedy, ambitious, and lazy, which means he can jumpstart all kinds of different storylines, and his morality isn’t fixed, which means he can serve any function that’s needed in those plots. Bender can be the bad guy, he can be the victim, he can be the reluctant hero; he can be jealous of his friends’ love, or he can accidentally-on-purpose kill them all. Last week, the revelation that Bender would be at the head of the robot uprising that destroyed all of humanity wasn’t a shock, or in any way inconsistent with what we’ve seen from the character so far, while at the same time, his occasional moments of sweetness and self-sacrifice aren’t contradictory or forced. Best of all, he doesn’t come off as ill-defined. He’s just Bender, and it works.
Which isn’t to say all his episodes are inevitably classics. “The Thief Of Baghead” is decent, giving Bednder a new job as a paparazzo for a sleazy tabloid (“The Magazine More Women Deny Reading”), and introducing us to a new monster on the show, an attention parasite named Langdon Cobb who uses his acting ability to feed off the adoration of millions. The episode has some decent jokes and good lines, at least one gag that made me laugh out loud, and a story that mostly holds together right up until the end. Bender gets to be a dick throughout, which is always fun, and Professor Farnsworth whines a lot, which works as well. (Farnsworth is in some ways as useful as Bender, but his age and general crankiness give him a few more behavior restrictions.) And hey, Calculon died. Really. Who knows if they’ll bring him back down the road, but he gets a terrific death scene, sacrificing his life in order to win a contest by performing the most authentic interpretation of Romeo’s final monologue ever seen. It’s a strangely emotional moment, as the robot delivers Shakespeare’s lines without a hint of irony or bombast, and the only punchline is that, despite his best efforts, Calculon still loses. Also, he remains dead. It’s a non-joke kind of joke, which, while not laugh-out-loud funny, is still gratifyingly weird.
Also weird? That attention parasite monster. It’s hard to know what to make of Cobb. From one angle, he serves as a satirical jab at celebrity worship; Langdon says that the reason he decided to stay on Earth was because the people here have a tendency to love famous people to distraction. But as a commentary against blind adoration, this is pretty weak sauce, and I doubt it was intended to go much beyond the obvious joke. Besides, given that Langdon destroyed every other planet he visited, you could argue that humanity’s approach to fandom actually saved us all from a soul-, er, life-force sucking death. As a character, Cobb is unsurprisingly under-developed. His funniest contribution to the episode comes in his introduction, when Bender learns that Cobb is a brilliant actor who has spent his entire career wearing a paper bag over his head. The incongruity of a man with a bag over his head performing love scenes and inspirational speeches isn’t subtle, but it’s worth a laugh or two. Unfortunately, learning more about the character means learning the reason why he wears the bag, and it’s a purely practical explanation: Anyone who sees his real face has their soul—damn, did it again—their life-force drained. The bag is still silly, but with the mystery gone, the joke isn’t really a joke anymore. It’s a plot point.
Worse, Cobb’s eventual defeat is lacking, as Bender manages to inadvertently stoke the actor’s Ego—a separate creature represented by a giant fungus dog—until it explodes. The “I’ll feed it what it wants until it bursts” resolution is an old one, and here, it feels perfunctory and unsatisfying. There’s a germ of an interesting idea in Cobb, but it never gets more interesting than that first sight gag. Yet the half-hour has enough good bits that a disappointing conclusion doesn’t entirely undo it. Most of the first half of the episode is Bender screwing around, being a pain in the ass both on purpose and by accident, and even when it isn’t utterly hilarious, it’s still pretty entertaining. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Bender’s child-like attention span. He has an adult’s appetites with a 5-year-old’s sense of how best to satisfy them, and that never gets old.
- Favorite joke of the episode: “Jurassic Tank.” The sight of the T-Rex paddling desperately to stay afloat made me laugh so hard I had to rewind the scene.
- When it comes to determining if a photo is sucking the life-force out of his friends, Bender follows the scientific method.
- Also, his camera has a They Live lens.
- “Aquariums have really changed since I was a boy and no one ever took me to them.”
- “Once again, television has given me a reason to live.”
- I would watch the World Acting Championships way more than the Oscars.
- “I’m a celebrity! I can kill anyone I want!”