This week's episode, "Forty Percent Leadbelly," goes off the rails, taking us away from a story that's interesting to a story that isn't. It also proves that no show, no matter what its available talent, can survive an ironic rap sequence.
Quick, what's your favorite thing about Bender?
I can answer, with absolute confidence, that no matter how many people read this review, not one of them will answer, "His interest in folk singing." Unfortunately, that's what we're treated to. You can actually see the moment when the characters literally walk out on an interesting episode and into a bland one.
The whole thing starts when the Planet Express crew transports a prisoner to a "variable security" prison. Leela, wearing the snazzy uniform from "31st Century Fox" that gives her automatic "hero hair," stays in the main area to be hooted at by the prisoners. Fry transports Doctor Brutaloff, who is frozen in carbonite, but isn't as permanently frozen as Fry would wish. Bender goes off to fanboy celebrity prisoners. With the number of futuristic jail movies out there, there was a lot of material to spoof, and following any of the characters seems like it would be great. Unfortunately, as soon as Bender sees famous folk singer Silicon Red leaving the prison, he walks out after him, and the real fun is over.
Bender copies the folk singer's guitar and tries to be a folk singer himself. He heads to a railway to make up a song, only to find that his epic ballad of love, murder, and train yards is coming true. This happens courtesy of a wireless connection to a 3-D printer. Wireless connections? 3-D printers? Neither is especially futuristic, but neither is as dated as the sudden, inexplicable rap that the characters do to finish out the episode. If only we'd stayed in the jail.