Futurama, Season Three, Episode Thirteen, “Bendin’ In The Wind”

Written by: Eric Horsted
Directed by: Ron Hughart
DN’s Ranking: Bad / Nonessential / ESSENTIAL

I gotta tell ya, I love the show in general and I do have my favourites, but coming to a watershed episode like this that’s widely beloved is always a lot of fun. Normally I reserve discussing the guest star for the notes, but Beck’s appearance here is the most famous and beloved part of the episode as well as the main draw; it’s definitely the best celebrity guest appearance on Futurama next to Al Gore and perhaps the best in the Groening oeuvre overall. The thing that always seems to get everyone is how Beck seems to not just allow so many jokes at his expense, but is the one who voices them. There’s always a risk of this kind of thing coming off as desperate – many post-Golden Simpsons guest appearances have this problem (when they’re not about fawning over the guest). With Beck, there’s two things going on. Firstly, he delivers every joke with this odd laidback sincerity that only serves to make the jokes themselves funnier; I think it makes it feel even more like the real Beck was amused and willing to play along with a tweaking of his public image. Secondly, the jokes feel no different from any other topic the show dives into. This was written by someone with a deep knowledge of Beck’s career and a willingness to play with it; this isn’t showing off that “we got Beck!”, and it’s not a kowtow to his ego. It’s just a bunch of jokes that take advantage of the fact they have Beck.

What I love is that this would still be a pretty good episode even if it didn’t have him. We finally get some payoff and development of all the jokes about Bender not-so-secretly dreaming of being a folk singer, and I absolutely love this whole plot. I’m always a sucker for stories about creatives, and this definitely feels like a comedic Futurama spin on that plot; what we’re effectively seeing is a guy becoming a workaday musician and then transitioning into creating his own art, and that’s really compelling to me even presented in the context of a ridiculous comedy. Bender is driven to music as a way of feeling better after a terrible tragedy, he finds community in both his fellow bandmates as well as his new fans, and he’s driven to making art as a way of making a difference, and somehow that’s really really funny instead of sentimental. It’s mostly because Bender is still Bender through all of this – selfish, lazy, childish, and only really able to empathise with people who remind him of himself. His comic peak in the episode for me is his initial response to losing his mobility – his murderous rage isn’t just funny because Patchcord Adams is annoying, it’s funny because he’s redirecting his rage and despair to something specific, which is such a human way of dealing with emotional turmoil. He is, after all, undone by his fundamental need to dance.

Title Card: Federal Law prohibits changing the channel.
Cartoon Billboard: “A Coy Decoy”, 1941

I also enjoy the B plot with Fry and company following the band in a VW. It’s interesting to compare with the hippie plot of “The Problem With Popplers” – as far as Futurama is concerned, the values of the Sixties are dead and buried and good riddance to them, but they’re definitely all about the aesthetic. The mocking of flower power is even still present here with jokes at the hippie fans for being broke, stoned, untalented, and useless. Nevertheless, it takes great pleasure in tie-dye, folk music, and psychedelia. This means we also get some of Fry’s knowledge of pop culture, which is always fun. We get a lot of indifference to robot suffering, which in a lot of ways feels like ‘balance’ to Bender’s general sociopathic indifference to suffering – he gets as good as he gives when it’s his turn. 

“Hey mister, mind if I take this old van?”
“Sure. You wanna dump the corpses out of there, it’s yourses.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve gotten used cars before.”

The title is a reference to the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ In The Wind”. The music Bender writes down is actually the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth. Bender eats Olestro chips. Patchcord Adams is a reference to the movie Patch Adams. Bend-Aid is a riff on Band Aid. The robots bumrushing the stage is a reference to Freaks. Cylon and Garfunkel is a reference to Simon and Garfunkel, and they perform “Scarborough Fair”. An image of three hippies at Bend-Aid is a reference to the painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. The car chase is a reference to multiple car chases in films set in San Francisco, including Bullit and The Streets Of San Francisco

Iconic Moments: “Look it up in the Becktionary!” | “That song doesn’t usually last three hours, but then we got into a thing. And then I forgot how it ended.”
Biggest Laugh:

Next Week: “Time Keeps On Slippin’”. “Off you go, apparently!”