“Bob’s Burgers – It’s a dead cow on a bun but it’s still really fun! Also, we’re closed.”
“Gene, it’s me.”
“Oh. Hi, Dad!”
“Have you been answering the phone like that?”
“Yep. People love it!”
Tina, Gene, and Louise Belcher are, to my mind, simultaneously among the greatest representative arguments for and against having children that modern television has thus far produced. They are unpredictable, springloaded balls of energy both creative and destructive, winsome and anarchic, with an uncanny ability for commentary – incisive, comedic, deconstructive – that belies their disarming youth. If they just as often lose their trains of thought and go adorably crazy, well…aren’t kids supposed to say the darndest things? They’re exactly the sort of children I’d theoretically want as a parent, though I shudder reflexively at the thought of being their father. Like all kids, they squabble, they plot, they naturally seek to fly free. With no super-close friends at school, I like that they instinctively band together, adopting a “Belchers against the world” posture (“We’re Belchers, from the womb to the tomb!”). Some traits – their innate curiosity or instinct toward self-gratification – are universal. Still, whether or not you’re a parent, it’s unlikely you’ve encountered children of quite this vintage or voltage before. They are, quite simply, Freudian concepts sprung to life, with Gene, the keyboard-slinging, easily distracted, food and fart-obsessed creature of pure appetite, embodying the “Id”, and Tina, the bespectacled, budding boy, horse, and zombie-obsessed wallflower nerd, skewing closer to the order and abiding morality of the “Superego”. Louise, the bunny-eared powerhouse and perpetual ringleader, doesn’t quite split that difference the way Freud’s “Ego” is supposed to. She’s too much of a gleefully unrestrained lawless element and/or pursuer of avarice. You’d think there are only so many adventures that even uncommonly motivated children might get into during a school day. You need to meet the Belchers then.
Animation affords children the ability to be wise, and wise-assed, beyond their years. The genius of Bob’s Burgers, much like The Simpsons before it, is that it makes the kids – who, despite ostensibly excusing its existence, get thrown a line or two on most family sitcoms and otherwise exist as background noise or color – into the show’s de facto stars, only then seeking to surround them with a cast of characters who are equal to their eccentricity and worthy vessels through which, as needs be, it might be nurtured or constrained. We look at Bob and Linda Belcher, hard working daydreamer romantics scraping by to make ends meet as the proprietors of a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, and we honestly understand where Tina (age 13), Gene (age 11), and Louise (age 9) might have come from, and why they’re essentially good, loving kids despite all the wackiness. Bob’s Burgers is only slightly less the parents’ show, and sometimes their own foibles or inherent weirdness – Bob’s petty blood rivalry with tacky pizza haus proprietor Jimmy Pesto, or his penchant for talking to food as part of his cooking method; Linda’s lustful embrace of seemingly every last little thing in life, especially singing in public – are all it takes to launch an otherwise decent episode directly into orbit, though, like the audience, they mostly seem content (and amused) to sit back and watch their children play.
Add to this base formula a rich regular and guest cast of relatable oddballs populating both the restaurant and local school, played, like the Belchers (Archer’s H. Jon Benjamin as Bob, Flight of the Conchords’ Kristen Schaal as Louise, esoteric standups Eugene Mirman and Dan Mintz as Gene and Tina, respectively), by a murderer’s row of distinctive comedic voice talent, a quip-heavy, flowing dialogue style so natural that, to whatever level it actually is, it sounds improvised, an abiding love of puns (most every episode features Bob’s newest “Burger of the Day”, plus, in the jaunty opening title sequence, both a house call from another new exterminator service [“Shut Your Mouse”, “Last Mouse on the Left”, etc.] and glimpse at (yet) another temporary next door tenant [“Simply the Asbestos”, “Bidets and Confused”, etc.]), some of the most fun and surprising original music cues, interludes, and callbacks you’ll ever hear, and a willingness to go wherever a comedic notion might take them while still remaining grounded in something resembling reality, and you have, for my money, the best family sitcom and achievement in television animation since the heyday of The Simpsons. Like its forebear, Bob’s Burgers is an exception that proves two-dimensional art can create and nurture three-dimensional characters, though I’d argue it actually took The Simpsons far longer to reach, if not the same quality level, the same end. Bob’s creator Loren Bouchard so obviously adores all of these characters – and through all the ebbs and flows of eight seasons of seaside shenanigans (and counting), they one another – that you almost can’t help but follow suit.
Let’s briefly meet the family (and their friends and neighbors), though if you’re already well acquainted, feel free to skip ahead.
- Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) – Despite being mislabeled in the City Guide as a “gas station”, Bob’s Burgers, the unassuming, second-generation mom and pop shop that is the accidental epicenter of its vibrant, beach-adjacent, lower class neighborhood, remains the little engine that could. Its proprietor is a harried but dedicated mustachioed family man – and, let’s face it, culinary genius – with a knack for inspiring extreme passion in all who cross his path. Most everyone who has ever actually tried one of Bob’s gourmet burgers (among them billionaire entrepreneur Warren Fitzgerald, celebrity chef Skip Marooch, jovial Oceanside Savings Bank robber Mickey, the Beta Upsilon Pi fraternity, the One-Eyed Snakes motorcycle club, minor league pitcher Torpedo Jones, hatchet-wielding restaurant critic “The Moody Foodie” [under protest/duress], plus dedicated regulars like Teddy and Mort) has come away enchanted; it’s just a matter of getting the word out that mouthwatering magic actually exists within such a hole in the wall. Bob largely functions as straight man to all the family and neighbor-engineered craziness that fills out his daily routine, and is more than realist enough to counterbalance his wife’s extreme optimism and kids’ berzerk creativity. The son of a stoic burger man who basically spent his own youth as unpaid child labor, Bob may tempt fate by conscribing his children into working at the restaurant (“Adorable”, says Mickey upon hearing it. “Such a good father,” to which Bob meekly protests, “No, no, it’s more about…not paying…well, whatever.”) but is determined not to repeat his workaholic father’s other parenting mistakes.
- Linda Belcher (John Roberts) – Look up joie de vivre in the dictionary and attached as an example will be a picture of amateur psychic, Thanksgiving caroler, restaurant matchmaker, and extreme chanting enthusiast Linda Belcher, the big-hearted, flip-haired Jewish girl from Brooklyn, a twenty-year-old in a forty-year-old body with a perpetual song in her heart – plus another two on deck – and a fierce, abiding, sometimes hair-trigger love of her husband and kids. Brassy, sassy, and only occasionally inappropriate, Linda clearly adores being a mother while still sometimes squirming against its inherent constraints. Without those familial bonds and responsibilities to ground her in domesticity, it’s hard to tell where Linda might’ve ended up – in a one-woman off-Broadway show, maybe. Sparsely attended at first, I could imagine Alllll Riggghht! (and its inevitable sequel, Oh, My Face!) evolving into quite the buzzed about destination night at the theater.
- Tina Belcher (Dan Mintz) – Since neither creator Loren Bouchard nor voice actor Dan Mintz is or, presumably, ever has been a teenage girl, the very existence of Tina Belcher is a sort of miracle. The eldest Belcher child is, to my mind, among a handful of the most convincing teenagers ever committed to film, precisely because, beneath her bland exterior, she is so all over the place, filled to the brim, conversely, with passion and pensiveness, self-esteem and crippling doubt, and convinced, as are all thirteen-year-olds, that the choices she makes and the opportunities she considers at this precise moment will be far and away the most consequential of her life. Compared to her whimsical brother and anarchic sister, Tina, however nerdy and inveterately boy (and butt, and boy-butt) crazy, is the straightest of arrows. Her low energy demeanor, and, at times, oppressive moral compass just make those occasions on which when she spontaneously decides to go the other way instead all the more surprising and delightful. Don’t ever change, Tina. Never has a monotone voice been more expressive.
- Gene Belcher (Eugene Mirman) – It’s interesting how interpersonal relationships skew within the Belcher clan. As a teenager, Tina splits the difference between being overly deferential to her parents and feigning independence, but her siblings are younger and theoretically more impressionable. If, behind the hooligan facade, Louise is her father’s daughter, then Gene Belcher – irresponsible yet well-intentioned, creative to a fault, highly animated, scatterbrained, theatrical, and goofy almost beyond belief – is, indeed, his mother’s son. Keyboard enthusiast, cabaret accompanist, alter ego of local TV celebrity “Beefsquatch”, and author/star of one-man underground sensation Die Hard: The Musical, Gene is a functional loner when operating outside the family orbit and generally uninterested in and/or ill-equipped to handle anything not happening in that fearsome kaleidoscopic void between his ears. Brought to life by brilliant veteran stand-up Eugene Mirman and sharing not a few of his panoply of quirks, Gene seems arguably the cast regular closest in profile to the voice that portrays him.
- Louise Belcher (Kristen Schaal) – The Belchers’ second daughter is a jolly plotter and merry prankster, a restless, conniving agent of general chaos (“God, I hate myself…for even asking Tina”) and, wherever possible, self-enrichment (as head of a made-up law firm, head of a made-up P.R. firm, celebrity cat agent, CEO of an underground casino, etc., etc.), not to mention likely the single sharpest person on the show in addition to being the youngest. Louise is an unlikely but marvelous mixture of street smarts and childish naivete, the sort of adorable little girl who presents her Christmas list as an “annual list of demands” while simultaneously praying to Santa Claus to grant her an “internship in your organization, preferably in the ‘Flying Animal’ or ‘Breaking and Entering’ Department.” The set of pink bunny ears she wears as a hat seems to suggest some deep-seated insecurity, fiercely concealed/defended otherwise. Louise does sometimes display remorse for all the havoc she’s wrought, but, while invariably moving, it’s still far from a normal occurrence. “You don’t want to mess with my sister,” Tina once gravely warned a neighborhood bully. “She’ll wear down your self esteem over a period of years.”
- Teddy (Larry Murphy) – The Belchers might not have a family dog, but at least they have Teddy. Lovelorn, socially awkward, and loyal to a fault, the cheerful, overly excitable neighborhood handyman is both Bob’s best customer and, by default, his best friend, kinda sorta. Teddy is the only non-Belcher to qualify as a show “regular”, and although his odd mini-obsessions and quixotic takes on life have been the highlight of many an episode, the rare occasions on which he steps into and inevitably steals the spotlight (such as in season four’s Uncle Teddy, season five’s Friends with Burger-fits, or season seven’s Sea Me Now) demonstrate just what grade of comedic secret weapon he is.
- Jimmy Pesto (Jay Johnston) – The bane of Bob’s existence and Hatfield to his McCoy, the proprietor of “Jimmy Pesto’s Pizzeria” enjoys the perfect vantage point – just across the street and visible through Bob’s huge front window – from which to work as his gnat-like, perpetual antagonist. Most people see Jimmy, petty and not particularly bright, as the clown that he is, though, with his infuriating good luck, corner-cutting ways, and ability/determination to outdo him at most every turn, to Bob he might as well be a Bond villain.
- Mr. (Calvin) Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) – Bob’s droll, dandified landlord, with his shock of Bozo hair, white, three-piece Antebellum aristocrat’s suit, and matching eye-patch, is perhaps the most physically striking character on a show that features its share of subtle, lovable grotesques. Filthy rich and utterly carefree, Mr. Fischoeder essentially owns the entire seaside town, and surveys the lengths and breadth of his domain via luxury golf cart, occasionally “tossing firecrackers” at his tenants, much more an incorrigible maker of mischief than traditional black-hat villain. He has quite the penchant for showing up uninvited to pour gasoline on an already roaring fire.
- Aunt Gayle (Megan Mullaley) – Linda’s serially flighty, socially inept, hypochondriac sister (“Guess who’s on new meds!”), a spinster and crazy cat lady (her long-haired Persian mix “Mr. Business” once unsuccessfully auditioned to succeed the “Chef Cat” cat food mascot) whose name fills Bob with reflexive dread that belies a grudging, underlying familial affection. Fun fact: Gayle is also the creator of the board game “Gayle Force Winds”, a multi-tiered, multi-textural endurance epic that takes between eight confusing hours and four days to play per session.
- Mort (Andy Kindler) – Bob’s nerdy, mild-mannered next door neighbor, restaurant regular, leather pant enthusiast, proprietor of the “It’s Your Funeral” Home and Crematorium, and, as we learned in season one’s Weekend at Mort’s, another local small business owner who, like the Belchers, lives in a smallish apartment above his place of work.
- Gretchen (Larry Murphy) – An obnoxious, free-wheeling neighborhood hair stylist and amateur pet medium once described admiringly by Louise as Linda’s “friend who swears”, Gretchen is the perfect added pinch of unpredictability for any situation that needs to be nudged off the proverbial cliff.
- Hugo (Sam Seder) – Bob’s other sworn enemy is this belligerent, diminutive neighborhood health inspector (and part-time nudist). Given to impulsive, periodic flare-ups with Jimmy Pesto, Bob must tread more carefully in his ongoing dealings with the openly antagonistic Hugo, who has the ability to legitimately hurt his business and, as Linda’s jilted ex-fiancee, an inextinguishable personal grudge to power his efforts. The moment, in season six’s Sliding Bobs, where Tina imagines the alternate timeline children of Linda and Hugo’s marriage (meet Mona, Dean, and Charlize!) remains one of the single funniest (and blondest) in show history.
- Harold (Sam Seder) and Edith (Larry Murphy) – Elderly married proprietors of the nearby “Reflections” art supply store, who nurse a hysterically hostile grudge against Bob that dates back to season one’s Art Crawl and hasn’t cooled an iota since. On such occasions as the hapless burger man might innocently arrive seeking sequins for a Halloween dragon costume or “decorative tissue paper” to adorn a parade float, Harold and Edith berate him nonstop from the second he darkens their door, proclaiming the shop either closed or immediately closing, and spontaneously marking up the price of craft glue 1000%. On the other hand, Edith did once give Bob a crash course in wrinkly nude figure portraiture, wherein the rule of thumb is to tackle elements in the following order: the essence, the gesture, and, only then, the breasts.
- Felix Fischoeder (Zack Galifianakis) – Almost all you need to know about Mr. Fischoeder’s grandiose, immature, inappropriate, almost unbearably needy younger brother, Felix, was on display from his introduction, in season four’s Ambergris, as a deposed prep school washout and family disappointment turned inept assistant landlord. Only Felix, after all, would set about the relatively simple business of fixing a single runny toilet by, instead, ordering the full scale gut job and remodel of Bob’s entire restaurant bathroom and recasting it as an onyx black postmodern nightmare wherein the seatless commode (“It’s Swiss!”) is indistinguishable from the sink (and matching bidet?) without potentially dicey closer inspection.
- Jimmy Pesto, Jr. (H. Jon Benjamin) – If, as Louise once put it, Tina has, “a crush on most every boy she knows”, Jimmy Pesto, Jr. still represents the very top of her mountain of maybes. An odd, lisping creature with his father’s exclamatory eyebrows and a chin pointed even more dramatically inward, Jimmy, Jr. seems equal parts stuck up and dimly oblivious, with a dash of “tortured artiste” for seasoning, as he is prone to spontaneous eruptions of modern dance with minimal provocation. It can be difficult to know exactly what Jimmy, Jr. thinks of the doting Tina at any given moment, though the rank uncertainty that has long been the hallmark of their romantic chemistry hasn’t deterred her yet.
- Zeke (Bobby Tisdale) – Jimmy, Jr.’s best friend, running buddy, wrestling partner, and all-around constant companion is this amped up, tree trunk-thick, runaway jock, a cooking prodigy and boy of few but occasionally deep words who can assume, as the situation dictates, the guise of playful bully, unapologetic truant, wise confidant, street hustler, astonished bystander, or even zen philosopher. Next to Tina, with whom you can almost sense a nascent romantic spark (I always enjoy how her voice morphs from sunny to disgusted as she greets her stealth boyfriend and his omnipresent bromance with the inevitable, “Hi Jimmy, Jr.! [pause] Zeke.”), he is arguably the most impenetrable and, therefore, psychologically fascinating character on the show. How that sharp hillbilly accent emigrated due northeast to coastal New England is anybody’s guess, but Zeke wields it to great comic and even tragicomic effect.
- Andy and Ollie Pesto (Laura and Sarah Silverman) – Beatific dim bulb twins who I still can’t reliably tell apart, Jimmy, Jr.’s little brothers display faux-Corsican levels of closeness and endearingly creepy co-dependence, serving as reliable fonts of completely random goofiness that enliven the background of any scene into which they are inserted.
- Tammy Larson (Jenny Slate) – A take-no-prisoners social climber with flexible morals and negligible brain power, not to mention slathered-on green kabuki mascara and a blonde side ponytail with clandestine brown roots, Tammy Larson began her career as Wagstaff’s preeminent bad girl before quickly transitioning into its “Queen Bee” mean one, all the while taking inordinate pleasure in making sure one Tina Belcher always knew her subterranean place in the pecking order. Though their epic rivalry came to a head during season four’s sublime Mazel-Tina, Tina and Tammy are the sort of combatants who seem destined to spar forever. Season eight actually flipped the script and forced them to into uncomfortable collaborative situations, including team babysitting a schizophrenic five-year-old (played by Maria Bamford!) and the stealth courtship of a dreamy out-of-towner, with lovestruck Tina unwittingly playing the Cyrano de Bergerac laureate advisor to Tammy’s stock “hot moron” character.
- Millie Frock (Molly Shannon) – If Tina and Tammy enjoy a more traditional rivalry, Louise’s relationship with her own nemesis, the diabolical Millie Frock, is much more layered and twisted, not to mention fraught with psychological warfare. Millie’s all-consuming obsession with Louise (“Let’s go build bunk beds and live in the forest!”) is difficult to fathom, let alone quantify, and Louise’s habit of overreacting wildly to the slightest Frockian provocation – up to and including her mere presence – has landed her in deep water on multiple occasions. Season eight’s The Silence of the Louise cast an intrepid Louise as Clarice Starling to Millie’s Hannibal Lecter, but saw them actually forge a grudging friendship as the byproduct of working together to unravel a gruesome but ultimately silly mystery at school.
- Mr. (Phillip) Frond (David Herman) – With its principal named but never shown, Wagstaff found itself in need of an institutional villain, any villain, of flesh and blood. Into that breach stumbled Phillip Frond, the school’s timid, prissy guidance counselor, or, as he prefers, “emotion coach”, who, with the aid of a small army of hand-knitted “therapy dolls” (meet Lynn Secure, Pierre Pressure, Portion Control Joel, et al.) and through no other fault but, perhaps, his own personality’s, has managed to get on most every Wagstaff student’s bad side by/despite doing his job in a reasonably dedicated, conscientious manner. An authority figure with questionable enforceable authority or will to use it, Mr. Frond has nonetheless greatly complicated the lives of every living Belcher, save Bob’s father, including, in season five standout The Cook, The Steve, The Gayle, and Her Lover, a brief but torrid love affair with Linda’s sister Gayle that was unsettling on multiple levels.
I tend to shoot the moon when creating lists, which is reason enough why I don’t get around to doing as many as I might prefer. I’ve sketched a lot of superlatives above, with plenty yet to come, but, even by my standards, I’ll admit this one kinda got away from me. I wouldn’t change it. People compelled to read will likely be the sort of Bob’s Burgers fan that I am, and, I hope, will enjoy all the loving, if excessive, detail contained herein. Poor souls who have here trespassed in a foolish search for random listicles or similar clickbait might just escape their harrowing brush with long-form exposition intrigued enough to dig into the show a bit deeper. They won’t regret it if they do. Bob’s Burgers offers characters with heart (and the volume turned way up), without reservation or judgement, and bets that you will be charmed and delighted. Take that bet. In celebration and anticipation of the show’s ninth season, premiering September 30 on Fox, here is my take on the its ten best episodes…otherwise known as the tip of the iceberg.
- Mazel-Tina (Season 4)
After she is purposely left off the guest list, a desperate Tina volunteers the family to cater the bat-mitzvah of a bratty classmate so she can attend, then finds herself, almost by accident, both usurping the spotlight from her rival and loving every minute of it.
Nutshell: At the heart of Tina Belcher, the perpetual struggle rages, a pitched tug-of-war between her pronounced goody-goody tendencies and more, shall we say, prurient interests (boys, butts, zombies – wash, rinse, repeat). While the ongoing battle between her Hall Monitor exterior and prolific author of “erotic friend fiction” interior may be much of what makes her a brilliant comedic creation, Tina is also beset by all the questions and desires of a standard-issue teenaged girl, chief among them popularity. Tammy Larson makes a perfect foil because she is almost everything that Tina is not: shallow, careless, bratty, indifferent to other people (who nevertheless love her, ugh). One of the many reasons Mazel-Tina is my favorite episode of Bob’s Burgers is that it pulls back the curtain momentarily and demonstrates that Tammy and Tina, for all their differences, are at least united in their rampaging self-regard. Tina just hides it better…most days. This observation may just make them normal thirteen-year-olds in the final analysis, but, boy, does being thrust into duty as Tammy’s bat-mitzvah party coordinator (complete with headset and clipboard) bring out an aspect that we’re not all that used to seeing in Tina. We feel for her in the midst of her pointed exclusion from the guest list, looking on longingly as Tammy storms the school halls barking eleventh-hour orders/threats into her cell phone (“What is it now, Rabbi Rosenberg?!”). We feel for Tina as she finagles a job catering the affair as a back door way of attending, then guilts her resistant father into agreeing to the gig. When a devilish Louise commandeers one of the catering walkie talkies to scare away Janet, Tammy’s harried party coordinator, and Tina is drafted into the job because she just kinda happens to be standing there, we feel for Tina having to take all the attendant additional grief just to be closer to the action (and still not technically invited). But then an amazing thing happens. Louise and Tammy become trapped in the hollowed-out, not-at-all-symbolic giant papier-mache Tammy head that, suspended above the dance floor, serves as the bat-mitzvah’s garish centerpiece. Left suddenly with nothing but a clipboard, a schedule, and her own devices, Tina feels compelled to keep the party on track, eventually even standing in for the missing girl of the hour through the limbo contest, conga line, Chicken Dance, “Lady’s Choice” dance with the cutest boy in Hebrew School, etc. – first reluctantly and then, steadily, less so. A girl could get used to all this attention…let’s just hope Tammy never finds out.
Guest voice of note: Comic actress Jenny Slate (Parks & Recreation) gets her biggest and best platform on which to whine and shine as Tina’s insufferable and egomaniacal enemy, Tammy. By the end, you almost feel sorry for her. Um, yep.
B-Side Story: With Tina whisked off to be, first, the new Janet and, later, Tammy’s understudy, the remaining Belchers predictably drift. Louise, as mentioned, finds ample trouble to occupy her. Linda, drawn by the siren smell of crepes, is the next to go, on a culinary walkabout that would’ve made the late Anthony Bourdain proud, followed soon by her husband on an innocent quest for “napkins” that almost immediately balloons into a full-on shirking of his catering duties. Left alone at the Belcher kiosk, Gene tries gamely to entertain passersby and offers uncooked mini-burgers to his bat-mitzvah patrons (“run it under hot water!”), while Bob and Linda, already absent-minded enough when not also intoxicated at exploring a roomful of delicious food, unexpectedly run back into each other at the wedding reception being held next door.
MVP(s): Tina and Louise. This is the only tie in this category, and, in the final analysis, as good a reason as any to elevate the episode to #1.
All-Star Contributor(s): Tammy, Gene
Best pun: Due to limited time spent in the restaurant, we never actually see the Burger of the Day. A tie between the “Quilty as Charged” quilt shop and new exterminator “Stuart-A-Little-Less” will do just fine, however, given the circumstances.
That secret ingredient: If Louise can just stay out of juvenile hall long enough, the l’il pink and green terror has a potential career ahead of her as a CIA interrogator. The sequence where she commandeers Bob’s catering walkie talkie and, alternately assuming the guises of “bad cop” and angel on her shoulder (“Bat-zilla!”), browbeats Tammy’s party planner into quitting, mid-party and minor nervous breakdown, to chase her latent Broadway dreams, is a precision delight to witness. I’m also a fan of the bat-mitzvah’s game show-worthy introductory number (“She’s Tammy / She’s glammy / She’s just a little hammy / If she sang a song right now, she’d probably win a Grammy…”).
Best quip(s): Where to begin? There’s Gene’s alarmed response when Tina’s pleading with Bob to accept the catering job leaves her dramatically sweaty and severely red-faced: “Ahhhh! One luftballoon!!!” Or Tina trying to rationalize her actions afterward: “The power of the bat-mitzvah is intoxicating. It’s like a religious experience!” After Linda goes M.I.A., Gene and Bob solemnly acknowledge that things at the burger kiosk will never be the same – (Gene:) “But Mom said she’d be right back!” (Bob:) “Gene, look at me. We both know your mom isn’t coming back after just one crepe. She’s not going to stop, Gene. She’s never going to stop.” (Gene:) “It’s who she is. If she stops, she’ll die…like a crepe shark!” Also wonderful is Tina’s personal Captain-Renault-from-Casablanca moment, where, when at the climax of the “Lady’s Choice” dance she hijacked from Tammy, the gig is finally up and, cornered, she feigns sudden outrage at her own shocking behavior: “Justin? What are you doing? I’m not Tammy. Get my hands off your upper butt!”
- Boyz4Now (Season 3)
Confronted with Tina’s favorite cheesy boy band live in concert, Louise is horrified to discover she has developed an instant, irrational, unstoppable crush on its prepubescent front-”man”.
Nutshell: Just as most of humankind can be subdivided into one of two groups – those who, most likely in their youth, once liked one or more teenybopper/”boy bands” (N-Sync, Backstreet, One Direction, NKOTB, etc.), and those who instinctively disparage if not outright despise the form and all its blubbering adherents – it isn’t a stretch to suggest that Louise Belcher’s nine years of life similarly straddle two time periods: “pre-Boo-Boo” and “post-Boo-Boo”. It just figures that Aunt Gayle would buy Louise a pricy ticket to tag along to a concert by Tina’s favorite boy band, “Boyz4Now”, despite Louise’s professed extreme hatred for them, their fans, and everything either stands for. When Gayle has to suddenly cancel after an unfortunate domestic misunderstanding, Louise’s volcanic schadenfreude is tempered by her sister’s crestfallen mood and she reluctantly decides to engineer a way to get them to the show after all. What awaits her there, having already bored through layer upon layer of screaming fans (“No wonder no one likes women…”) that might as well have been mile upon mile of the Earth’s crust just to arrive at their prime floor seats, will change Louise forever. The immense joy of Boyz4Now lies in witnessing its repeated application of a simple equation – Louise is morally repulsed by a person to whom she is violently attracted physically – and each new iteration of her evolving struggle is sharper, funnier, and more desperate than its predecessor. Soon enough, Louise is thinking of what, let’s be honest, is a harmless little girl’s crush in terms of demonic possession, and devises on the fly a radical, if temporary, exorcism method just as the boyz are set to leave town.
Guest voice of note: New Girl’s Max Greenfield as Louise’s pint-sized new obsession, the dreamy, imminently slappable Boo-Boo. Bob’s has long had a gift for deploying memorable returning cameos, deftly balanced so as to keep them from becoming stale or outstaying their welcome. To wit: In the season six Halloween episode The Hauntening, Boyz4Now reappeared in music video form, unpacking the “Thriller”-esque can of corn “I Love You So Much (It’s Scary)”. By season seven’s Bye Bye Boo Boo, however, the boyz had sadly broken up, and the potential for another close encounter with her freshly minted solo popsqueak crush pulled Louise back into the Boo-Boo Breach a fateful, final time. Those other appearances are all fun callbacks and plot devices, of course, but the original is the one with real juice, though I understand the Boyz are set to factor into the looming season nine premiere. They are the Spinal Tap of the “Boy Band” genre. It’s always a pleasure.
B-Side Story: Bob and Linda’s competitive sides come out as they root for Gene in the regional finals of “Table-Scaping”, an odd boutique mashup of table setting and performance art at which, as a crazy creative dynamo with a flair for the dramatic, he is unsurprisingly a natural. (I love, love, love the flashback that shows how he got to the finals in the first place.) We also briefly check in on the misadventures of Zeke and his eccentric cousin Leslie, who stake out the Boyz4Now parking lot in an attempt to hock cheap hot dogs and bootleg t-shirts to the assembled hordes.
All-Star Contributor(s): Tina, Gene, Zeke, Andy and Ollie
Best pun: As the Bob’s episode I’ve likely seen the most, it stands to reason this particular opening might hold a special place for me. As such, I honestly can’t choose between the “Break-a-Bear” teddy bear disposal company and the perhaps overly enthusiastic new exterminating service “Rat-a-Tat-Flat”. Boyz4Now is one of the rare episodes to take place in total either at home or in town and never venture into the restaurant (hence, no Burger of the Day).
That secret ingredient: Boyz4Now is catapulted over the top in its very first sequence, which presents, in snippet form, the music video for a hysterically overwrought power ballad and, in so doing, also slickly serves as all the introduction necessary for us to pinpoint and ruthlessly prejudge the titular boy band. The lyrics are all pretty hilarious in a highly specific way, but the unexpected joke in the song’s chorus, one of the show’s all-time zingers, is so spectacular that I don’t dare spoil it here. Also amazing is the climactic moment at the concert, after her shock epiphany and a sweaty, uncomfortably confrontational self-evaluation in the ladies’ room mirror, when Louise finally melts down completely in Tina’s ever-reassuring presence: (Tina:) “It’s okay, Louise, you’re just having a crush.” (Louise:) “NEVER!!! BOO-BOO!!!!!!!!”
Best quip: The moment where Tina and Louise simultaneously learn over the phone that their concert trip has been canceled is a study in extreme divergent reactions to identical news. (Tina:) “Hi Aunt Gayle. Whew, are you outside? An emergency?” (Louise:) “Emergency?!” (Tina, meekly:) “Yeah, I understand, okay, bye.” (Louise:) “Gimme the bad news! Gimme the bad news!” (Tina:) “Aunt Gayle pepper-sprayed one of her cats because she thought he was an intruder trying to sexually assault her! She had to take him to the vet and we have to miss the concert.” (Louise:) “YEAH!!!!!!!!” Hmm, lots of exclamation points when quoting Louise this time, I’m noticing. I worry I might still have undersold her passion. It’s just that kind of episode.
- Seaplane! (Season 4)
Lamenting the lack of excitement in her marriage, Linda signs up for seaplane flying lessons from a local lothario, notorious for using simulated near death scenarios as the cover under which he might surreptitiously bed bored housewives.
Nutshell: Bob’s Burgers takes place somewhere in coastal New England, or at least along the American East Coast. It could just as easily be the Jersey Shore as the Boston suburbs, though more likely it’s an amalgam of all the little details that differentiate day-to-day life in those areas from their less colorful inland counterparts. I’ve lived such a landlocked existence overall that I’ve only ever even seen an ocean a handful of times, so the Belchers’ community fascinates me on an additional level. There’s a whole waterfront economy existing just out of view, with a seaside mini-Coney Island amusement park at the end of the street, and a gaggle of tiny islands both inhabited and not scattered off the coast. In this context, it might seem the most normal thing in the world for Linda to decide the solution to the rut her marriage currently occupies would be to purchase couple’s seaplane flying lessons. Still doesn’t mean Bob will be into it, of course, though no sooner has an indignant Linda stormed off for a now-solo aerial adventure than Bob receives some unsettling background dish on her new teacher, who, as fate would have it, has something of a reputation. As Mr. Fischoeder informs the fascinated Belcher children and their increasingly horrified father, “Upskirt Kurt” is an infamous local player with a fairly bulletproof go-to move: Take a woman in a grounded marriage and get the blood and endorphins pumping again by letting her literally fly and then simulating a harrowing crash landing. The seaplane emerges miraculously intact, if adrift offshore, and the totally random nearby island the castaways swim to – Quipiquissett Island, known to amorous locals as “Quickie-Kissit” – is both conspicuously deserted and suspiciously staged/ engineered for maximum romantic return on investment. Though he loves and, above all, trusts his frankly underappreciated wife, Bob doesn’t linger long before running out the door in an attempt to intercept the rendezvous. “It’s a make-out island,” Teddy innocently informs them, just before. “It’s why I want to buy a kayak.” Color Bob nervous (and Tina intrigued).
Guest voice(s) of note: Will Forte strikes so many varied right notes as “Upskirt Kurt”, legendary marital bogeyman turned meek little mouse, who certainly talks a great game, fake-crashes a great plane, and spares no expense setting a romantic scene (“I’m pretty sure there’s a shady meadow just over that hill. Oh look, a lute! I always wanted to play one of these!”), but is quickly and conclusively put in his place by Linda. Watching Kurt exhaust his bag of tricks as he desperately tries to woo a clearly unimpressed target is both guilt-free comeuppance and great fun. Kevin Kline’s Mr. Fischoeder, always welcome, is a positively Dickensian presence throughout, as, like one of Scrooge’s Greek chorus ghosts, he periodically intersects with Bob and the kids at points on their meandering journey to “Quickie-Kissit” to ratchet up Bob’s unease and/or cheerfully inform him he’s not moving nearly fast enough.
B-Side Story: Like a few of the very best Bob’s episodes, Seaplane! unfolds as two equally important stories running parallel before they eventually converge. In this case, we follow Kurt’s dogged improvisational attempts to romance Linda as she crosses over in attitude from completely oblivious to his advances to aggressively hostile, while Bob and the kids navigate an increasingly fraught gauntlet of the not particularly sympathetic or helpful to reach the remote lover’s island and head Kurt off at the pass. The fact that neither really has anything to worry about – Linda wouldn’t cheat on Bob in a million years and Bob was never going to leave her stranded, even if he didn’t particularly have a good plan to get home with his wife once he found her – is just icing on the cake.
All-Star Contributor(s): Bob, Tina, Mr. Fischoeder
Best pun: I’m partial to the “Don’t Go There” cautionary tape store, though I admit that “Cockroach Blockers” pest control also has a certain something.
That secret ingredient: Much of why Seaplane! works is that it spends its first two-thirds establishing just how much Bob and Linda care about each other in spite of it all, then demonstrates that their dramatic reunion – Bob finally rows and staggers his way ashore, kids in tow, almost passing out from exhaustion before symbolically/feebly punching Kurt in the butt – still didn’t solve their underlying problem. For that, we’ll need an actual climax and a legitimate near death experience. The Belcher clan piles into “Shoshanna” the Seaplane – the kids insisted – to begin the ride home in grumbly silence, tethered by a conveniently long rope to the back of Mr. Fischoeder’s ostentatious jet boat. Mr. F cranks the stereo to impress passenger Kurt and lets his horses run free, and soon enough Shoshanna is not only again accidentally airborne but charting a collision course with a low bridge. Yes, Bob shimmies out onto the wing in a desperate attempt to sever the rope with naught but the puny training knife from Kurt’s wine opener and, after a genuinely suspenseful close call, Linda is able to land the plane safely – once grounded, the couple bask again in their recharged mutual affection, galvanized by circumstance – but it’s Bob’s zero hour updates to his Press Corps of kids as he sets about the white-knuckle task that inject just enough absurdity into the proceedings to remind you what show you’re watching:
(Tina:) “Did you save us yet, Dad? (Bob:) “Not yet, Tina!” (Louise:) “How about now, Dad?” (Bob:) “No, I’m trying to do it!!” (Tina:) “How much progress have you made?” (Bob:) “It’s not a real knife, and I’m on the wing of a plane!!!” (Gene:) “Pontoon!” (Tina:) “Just a percent, a percent?” (Louise:) “It’s looking pretty grim, Dad, just sayin’!” (Bob:) “The constant questions aren’t helping!!!!”
Best quip: With that said, I’ll go with this revealing exchange between the castaways, showing that Kurt, while possessed of rudimentary comprehension skills and the ability, under duress, to at least turn a fake cry into a real one, still has a long way to go as a potential reclamation project of the #metoo movement: (Kurt:) “I’m not going to apologize for giving women what they want!” (Linda:) “Women do not want to be tricked into having sex, Kurt!” (Kurt:) “Well, when you say it like that, it sounds gross!”
- Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks (Season 5)
One white lie begets another and soon spirals out of control when Bob indulges Tina in a little father-daughter bonding time behind the wheel, Tina accidentally totals the car, and the family becomes entangled in the web of an unscrupulous insurance adjuster.
Nutshell: When a particularly beautiful morning and a once-in-a-lifetime deal on wholesale napkins inspires Bob to allow his daughter to take a couple laps around an almost empty parking lot, he’s remembering one of the few true bonding moments he had with his own father, not the, let’s face it, practically foregone conclusion that Tina will, in her own inimitable style, melt down instead and somehow rear end the lot’s sole other vehicle, which just happens to belong to Jimmy Pesto. Bless Tina Belcher. She kinda looks funny; she kinda talks funny; she kinda acts funny. And those three observations only scratch the surface of why she unequivocally is funny. Even beyond her flatline monotone voice, of course, she also just kinda sounds funny. Bob’s fans will know of what I speak when I mention “The Moan”. A magnificent comic creation of voice actor Dan Mintz, The Moan is an unbroken harbinger of doom that emits from Tina like a low frequency, off-key foghorn whenever she feels the least bit of dread. In Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks, dread saturates the very air. As an already flustered Bob tries to get his story straight with the visiting insurance adjustor, The Moan summons him back into the restaurant kitchen to have a brief but pointed discussion with its source (“Stop making that sound. He hears it!”). Equally famous, even more alarming, and funnier still is Tina’s trademark panic attack vocal loop, a bottomless series of staccato outbursts akin to the sound your car makes right before its engine explodes (“Tina, stop doing that. It’s disturbing, and scary.”). Wrecks also sees Tina break into the panic attack vocal loop on multiple occasions, especially when, after the meeting with the adjuster goes a little too well and the Belchers are invited to cater his garden party, she inadvertently starts a grill fire that burns his house down. More wracked with guilt over all the lying (“What’s next? Perjury?! Human trafficking?!”) than she was for totaling the car, and convinced she’s an irredeemable jinx engaged in the process of actively destroying her family, Tina endures sleepless nights and worries her hair is falling out – apparently one strand at a time. (Bob:) “Tina, you have the fullest head of hair in the family. I would kill for that hairline.” (Tina, frazzled:) “I believe you would!” When it turns out the adjuster was playing them in order to cash in on his own exorbitant homeowner’s insurance, and, moreover, embroils them in the elaborate future fraud he has planned because he can hold the initial wreck against them as blackmail leverage, the family goes to, um, adequate lengths to extricate him from their lives.
Guest voice of note: The Three Amigos of Insurance Fraud ride again…for the first time! Better Call Saul’s Bob Oedenkirk is so wonderful and natural as Chase Cominsky, the cheerfully corrupt claims adjuster – “Restaurants are magnets for insurance fraud! Broken pipes! Slip-and-falls! Her!” – that it practically feels like typecasting. Saul Goodman himself might even have been proud of Chase’s grand scheme, that is until he overheard and properly processed the head-slappingly obvious way in which it ends up getting foiled.
B-Side Story: With the family car out of commission, Mort kindly offers chauffeur services, quite unaware of how much advantage the young Belchers will take of him. What begins innocently with Gene asking where the hearse’s “oil slick” button is located ends with him mooning Mort’s police escort; what begins innocently enough with Mort trying to prevent the kids from using the floorboard as a commode ends with them invading and commandeering a nearby open house to use the bathroom there. Gene goes the full steamy sauna route in the guest loo, while, downstairs, Louise chats up some unnerved prospective tenants: (Louise:) “Our grandpa died. That’s him out front. He’s in the to-go box. His last wish was to be buried at the house he was murdered in.” (Gene:) “With the shovel he was murdered with!”
MVP: Tina, and it is absolutely no contest. You’ll love her “everything is okay” face.
All-Star Contributor(s): Bob
Best pun: Gotta give the nod here to Milwaukee’s finest spin-off exterminating service, “LaVermin and Shirley”.
That secret ingredient: Wrecks contains not one but two unforgettable extended comic set pieces. The sequence where Tina totals the family car, swerving and moaning her way through a deserted parking lot at approximately 3 mph – (Bob:) “Tina, you’re kind of headed toward the only other car in the lot” – has a cringe-worthy inevitability to it that ranks among the show’s very best moments. It is a work of comedic genius, not to mention quintessential Tina. If, as with depression, there are stages of panic and alarm, the soon apoplectic Bob, who naively and incorrectly thought he was just doing something nice for his daughter, experiences them all inside of ten seconds. I also love how Tina, at her exposed-nerve best, wanders into the middle of Bob’s conversation with Chase and stammers out wildly incongruous alternate facts her father is then forced to incorporate into a spurious narrative of which he’s fast losing control. (Tina:) “And then a cormorant flew in the window!” (Linda:) “What the hell’s a cormorant?” (Gene:) “A cormorant – what an auspicious sign!”
Best quip: I always return to a clearly unnerved if not terrified Tina, half-obscured by the steering wheel, as she fatefully starts up the car: “Let’s make this kitty purr…”
- The Equestranauts (Season 4)
Bob gets sucked into first the subcultural orbit and then the seedy underbelly of the overly dedicated adult male followers of a young girl’s pretty pony cartoon TV show after Tina is swindled by a costumed know-it-all at their local convention…
Nutshell: The most bizarre entry in a list that will, for what it’s worth, later feature Battle Royale recast as large scale adult water balloon warfare and repurpose Spielberg’s Duel into a white knuckle holiday showdown with a candy cane-shaped death machine is this consistently gripping, only occasionally outright absurd undercover expedition into what must qualify as one of the true unexpected fan niches/shadowy realms in anyone’s imagination. Whether he emerged from the experience with precious memories, PTSD, or both, writer Dan Mintz clearly has some sort of trenchant insight into “Bronies”, those dedicated adult male followers of the long-running My Little Pony toy line and cartoon series, and has here created uncomfortably familiar alt-analogues in the form of The Equestranauts, a quartet of dainty, talking, color-coded cartoon equine ass-kickers, and (ahem) “Equesticles”, the fawning, elaborately costumed, exclusively male fan contingent that loves them…perhaps too much. Long-time fan Tina Belcher arrives at the local Equestranaut convention anticipating a gathering of her peers, only to discover, as Louise puts it, that, “We’ve discovered a new kind of man!” Bummed by the rampant gender disparity but still looking for connection wherever she can find it, trusting, meandering Tina runs afoul of “Bronconius”, a smug opportunist who offers temporary fellowship just long enough to goad her into trading away the ultra-rare Equestranaut collectible she’d loved since the age of five. I could describe what happens once the Belchers all reconvene and their overarching plan crystallizes, but I’d rather let the family explain in their own loving, albeit pushy, way. (Louise:) “Bronconius isn’t just going to hand it back over, Dad. Wake up! He tricked Tina! We’ve got to fight trick with trick!” (Tina:) “Like what, Louise? Dad’s gonna waltz in there disguised as an Equesticle, with a complete knowledge of the show, earn their trust, infiltrate their inner sanctum, and steal Chariot back?!” (Louise:) “Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes!!!” (Bob:) “No, no, and no!” (Gene:) “Oh, come on! We’ve always wanted to give you a makeover!” (Linda:) “And I’ve always wanted to make you a silly costume that you have to wear in public!” (Tina:) “And you love me, and would do anything for me!” (Teddy, for some reason:) “Yeah, do it for us!” (Bob:) “Ugh! Okay, fine.” (All:) “Yay!” (Gene:) “Undercover Horse Dad!” There. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Guest voice(s) of note: “Big Bads” in the Bob’s universe come neither bigger nor badder than the aforementioned “Bronconius”. (Bob:) “Could I ask you something? I know you’re the expert around here on Equestranauts stuff…” (Bronconius, feigning humility:) “Oh, it’s just something I’ve proven time and time again.” Played by Bob’s go-to purveyor of elitist disdain, master standup Paul F. Tompkins, Bronconius, whose costume and nefarious facial hair, conspicuously marbled and perfectly trimmed, give him a vaguely aristocratic air when he doesn’t just look like a giant, purple chess piece, styles himself as the villain of every story and the smartest guy in any room. He clearly loves being bad, even if it turns out he’s really just looking for a friend. More conventionally loveable standup Ron Funches co-stars as the comparatively harmless, legitimately fun-loving “Horseplay”, Kristen Schaal’s husband Kurt Braunholer, a talented comic in his own right, splits the difference as Bronconius’ open-faced designated punching bag, “Sunpuddle”, and David Herman takes a break from playing Mr. Frond to voice the quartet’s best named, otherwise most anonymous table leg, the legendary (I mean surely, in some circles) “Pony Danza”.
B-Side Story: The Equestranauts is truly exceptional in that it creates an entire ancillary world in which both the characters and audience of Bob’s Burgers can dabble without (immediately) losing their bearings. Bob’s problem is that he keeps getting sucked deeper into the labyrinth. By the episode’s one-minute mark, you’ll already know the name of each Equestranaut, what they look like, where they live, and the name of their arch enemy. By the eight-minute mark, you’ll know the geographical difference between “Horsestradam” and “Salt Lake City”, not to mention who Horsanna married in season three. By the twenty-minute mark, let’s just say that you’ll know far, far more than you ever wanted to know about the “Equesticle” subculture. That much setup work – and, especially, ample, lovingly nerdy supporting detail (“Be a man and use your pony name!”) – just doesn’t leave much room for disconnected shenanigans on the side.
MVP: Bob. I invite you to consider this episode, and his efforts therein, the next time you might feel like patting yourself on the back for outstanding parenting.
All-Star Contributor(s): Tina
Best pun: “Spray Anything” Pest Control is the clear winner among a merely decent trio.
That secret ingredient: Despite Linda’s protestations that her husband, as a guy “surrounded by men who play with toy ponies”, is therefore “in the least danger possible”, The Equestranauts does take a sharp, sinister turn in its final third, as the convention after-party is revealed as a lurid bacchanalia modeled somewhat in the style of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, except, you know, with any number of horse cosplay varietals instead of all the sex. Against this backdrop, the one-way friendship between Bob and Bronconius continues to evolve, getting weirder and weirder until it’s finally revealed as, if not kinda sweet, then at least somewhat understandable. Before everything goes south for good, Bob, having reached the inner-inner-inner sanctum of Bronconius’ hotel room, waits with bated breath as the royal purple chess piece unveils, in a misguided bonding attempt, his most prized Equestranaut collectibles – “The Scottie Pippen Special Edition ‘Headhorn’!; the Estonian version ‘Peggysis’ called ‘Peggy-Stroika’…this thing brought down The Wall!; A gold-plated ‘Mini’ previously owned by Jon Hamm!” – before finally landing at the episode’s MacGuffin – Tina’s “ultra-rare, camel-toed ‘Chariot’”. It’s geek critical mass for an episode that has teetered on the brink since its opening moments.
Best quip: In an episode littered, as you can read above, with notable quotables, I’ll just go with my personal favorite, which depends, as ever, on impeccable line delivery by Eugene Mirman. Tina suddenly realizes the gig is up when she notices a handwritten notebook labeled Tina’s Equestranaut Fan Fiction: “My Friend Zombie Horse – 28 Hays Later” mixed into a stack of Bob’s preparatory reading material, while Louise and, especially, Gene don’t quite know how to react to her shouts of alarm. (Tina:) “What’s this doing in here? It’s non-canonical!” (Louise:) “It’s what?” (Gene:) “Are you trying to say ‘nautical’?” (Tina:) “Non-canonical! Non-canonical!” (Gene:) “She’s gone crazy! Let’s put her down!”
- Topsy (Season 3)
Louise goes to war with her substitute Science teacher, a haughty, self-possessed, part-time Thomas Edison “reenactor”, culminating in a vengeful, unprecedented science fair project turned musical extravaganza in which the sparks literally fly…
Nutshell: I went to high school with an Elvis impersonator, and he was damned good. It’s been over forty years since The King last sat The Throne, however, and I’d say his glut of professional doppelgangers has appreciably dried up, outside of Las Vegas and, maybe, certain hot pockets of the American South. Just try tearing a nine-year-old (with or without bunny ears) away from her iPhone long enough to “wow” her with Elvis, cold. It’ll end in shrugs and/or tears. Similarly, I’m not at all suggesting that Thomas Edison was an obscure or inconsequential figure in American history, just that he’s an unconventional modern choice for an all-consuming idol, not least of which because he died in 1931. If Edison’s otherwise sterling reputation (I mean, I’m assuming…what have you heard?) gets run through a wood chipper over the course of Topsy, I can assure you at least that it was as a beyond petty means to an end. No one, and I mean no one, gets over on Louise Belcher, see. Mildly offend this darling little girl and she will seek to thoroughly humiliate you in turn. Wrong her even slightly and she’ll devote her life to destroying you. As the Wagstaff Science Fair approaches, Louise is convinced she has her project well in hand, intent on reentering the ruddy craft volcano she submitted the previous year – Linda has been using it as a wine bottle koozie – since her doddering old Science teacher will neither notice nor care. Enter Mr. Dinkler – semi-professional “Thomas Edison impersonator and re-en-ac-TOR” (emphasis mine), arguably the world’s worst substitute – who parlays the teacher’s illness into a palace coup, summarily assuming control of not just the class but the Science Fair, and instituting, as his first benevolent act, a strict “No Volcanoes” policy. When Louise attempts reason, even revealing “Mount Louise-ious” in the process, Dinkler gleefully stomps it flat and assigns her “Thomas Edison” instead. Whenever Louise’s left eye starts twitching, run. Such aggression will obviously not stand. Looks like ridiculously elaborate revenge is in order.
Guest voice(s) of note: (Louise:) “I need information on Thomas Edison…something that wouldn’t be recognized if plagiarized.” From such innocent requests, dense and venomous plots are accidentally hatched. Office vet Mark Proksch injects just the right amount of smarm into Mr. Dinkler, but even more impressive is comedian Billy Eichner in his debut as inveterate troublemaker, drama-seeking missile, and all around miserable cur Mr. Ambrose, the sort of school librarian who belligerently advises confused children to use the internet for research because, “books are stupid!” Ambrose’s hissed, cryptic incantation, “Topsy!”, sends the Belcher kids off in search of clues, and they find long ago newspaper accounts of Thomas Edison himself supervising the public electrocution of a circus elephant as a way of proving the superiority of his DC current over AC (Nikola Tesla would be irate, Angus Young conflicted). Louise, appalled and delighted, sees shaming his hero as a backdoor directly into Dinkler’s soul and her wheels begin to furiously turn. Surely a science project would be too pedestrian and small scale for such ambitious work. Instead, she’ll mount a righteous cautionary spectacle, featuring dramatic readings by Edison (Gene) and Topsy (Tina), music and pathos, and, above all, lots and lots of sparks.
B-Side Story: Topsy branches out in several directions in birthing B-stories, like tributaries off a mighty river. Gene perhaps willfully misunderstands his role of providing music for the skit, expanding its scope into, first, an off-Broadway-worthy production number, and, then, a full-blown “love duet” between murderer and victim that has to be seen to be believed. Handyman Teddy, who admits to, in his high school days, once “making a Van de Graaff generator to get girls”, is tasked with creating the huge sparks necessary to make the whole thing believable. He wiles away lonely hours in the Wagstaff basement awaiting his cue from Louise to throw the switch, slowly going stir crazy, even inventing a suspiciously impressive alter ego, “Dr. Glenn Wellness”, as a ruse to throw nosy janitors off the scent. Meanwhile, the married Belchers’ innate competitiveness, glimpsed as a unified front in Boyz4Now’s B-story, reaches its nadir as the two engage in a sad tussle over ownership of the “As Seen on TV”-worthy concept of gender-applicable, wearable kitchen seasoning dispensers. In the red corner: Bob’s “Spiceps”, worn around the upper arm like tassle bands on a pro wrestler, for the male cooking contingent; in the blue, Linda’s not-exactly subtle “Spicerack” bra substitute for the discerning culinary lady. Unwilling to concede the other victory or even entertain a truce, the warring couple takes their show on the road in hopes that a random investor might see the future sticking out from amongst a cavalcade of fourth-grade Science Fair exhibits. It could happen.
MVP: Louise. Ragged-edge-of-madness Louise is so often the best kind.
All-Star Contributor(s): Teddy, Gene
Best pun: A photo-finish between “Hugs Not Bugs” exterminators and the “I Know Why the Cajun Bird Sings” Burger. In research mode for this project, the former did make me smile but the latter made me laugh out loud. Consider that the start of a running theme.
That secret ingredient: Gene’s repurposed “love duet” (starring the voices of Mr. Fischoeder and Aunt Gayle as Thomas Edison and, it must be reiterated, Topsy the Elephant, respectively) is the episode’s unquestioned centerpiece. (Edison/Fischoeder:) “That bosom’s mighty ample…” (Topsy/Gayle:) “He’s just too hot to trample.” But the surprise climactic reveal, from behind a literal curtain, where the true scope of his ambition as both a composer and showman becomes clear is more than just a LOL moment. It’s the entire reason I included this category in the recaps.
Best quip(s): I rarely LOL, of course, though Topsy offers exceptions by the handful. To wit: Whenever I hear Dinkler’s jolly response to the meek protestation that classmate Jeremy and Louise have been assigned the same topic: “You can both do Edison, moron! There’s enough of him to go around!” Banished to the basement to await his big moment by walkie-talkie, Teddy lies firmly in the grips of creeping cabin fever, momentarily disregarding Louise’s frenzied orders to throw the electrocutioner’s switch in favor of wistful attempts to connect to anybody on a human level again: (“HIT IT!”) “Louise, is that you? I’ve been down here so long.” (“TEDDY, HIT IT!”) “Are people still the same, with their funny ways?”
- Christmas In The Car (Season 4)
An eleventh hour expedition to buy a new Christmas tree goes alarmingly wrong when the family runs afoul of a hostile mystery man stalking them in a Candy Cane-shaped diesel truck.
Nutshell: The greatest of Bob’s Burgers’ many, many, many holiday episodes is also the most straightforward of any description on this list, lovingly structured like the road horror movie (think Spielberg’s Duel, with a dash of The Hitcher) it is at heart. Linda’s zealous insistence on getting the holiday season underway as early as possible ends up claiming not one, not two, but three overdecorated live trees by the time Christmas Eve finally rolls around. When Bob, having just officiated his third arboreal funeral in as many months, suggests they might just do without this year, he faces predictable outrage from his wife and kids. Soon, the family is bound for the snowy country, where a tree farm proprietor has ensured Linda they’ll have the pick of the runts. The tree they settle on is itself fairly incidental except as a symbol, noteworthy only in what fresh hell it unwittingly unleashes. Backing out of the gravel parking lot onto the messy highway, Bob accidentally cuts off the driver of a candy-cane shaped diesel truck, then sits helplessly, wheels spinning in the slush, as the disgruntled driver rains down a barrage of angry horn blasts at him. To his horror, Linda counters by volleying back an impromptu performance of “Jingle Bells” on the car’s own horn (“Stop! He just hears honking!”) before the truck finally storms off. At various points on the winding way home, this enigmatic candyman will reemerge to terrorize the Belchers – or, at least Bob, since it takes a whole lot of tangible threat to convince his family he’s not just imagining the whole thing – first tailgating, then racing, then actively trying to run them off the road. As the attacks escalate, so does the family’s panic – well 3/5 of it, as Gene and Louise act more like they’re watching a movie or maybe playing a video game – and the Belchers seem ever farther from home with each mile, eventually reduced to waiting in the woods in silence for a final showdown with the stalker-trucker to commence. Through it all, hilarity does still ensue with some regularity in the margins of what, for the most part, is a pretty faithful and effective PG thriller.
Guest voice of note: Legendary standup turned indie filmmaking provocateur Bobcat Goldthwait plays the surprisingly undersized trucker Gary, and pulls off the difficult trick of providing pathos as well as comedic payoff, if not exactly legitimate menace, when, scrawny, twitchy, and balding, he finally emerges from his festive, striped death machine ready to throw down.
B-Side Story: Though B-stories abound on the periphery of the main narrative – The kids’ elaborate plan to capture, and, presumably, ransom Santa Claus when he makes his yearly visit; Gene’s sidequest to get a yuletide novelty song played on the local radio station; Linda’s obsession with “Dutch Baby” pastry at a roadside restaurant – Car does a fairly impressive job of maintaining focus, with only one conventional sidetrack. Fearful of overcooking his famous Christmas ham (Gene: “Just bring it. Everyone loves rare ham!”), Bob phones Teddy to ask him to turn off their oven. The good-natured handyman lingers in the kitchen after doing so, only to get ensnared by a cunning refrigerator lure intended by the Belcher kids for an unsuspecting Saint Nick. As the tension continues to build out on the highway, the show juxtaposes moments from Teddy’s own deathly boring evening as, literally tied to the refrigerator in an empty house, he tries in vain to entertain himself (“That’s a dumb place to keep bowls”). Also amusing for Tina’s running misunderstanding that Bob saying he has a “ham in the oven” is somehow a coded message that he has to fart.
MVP: Bob. This one’s an emotional ringer.
All-Star Contributor(s): Gene, Teddy, Linda
Best pun: No Burger of the Day in this one, which is just as well, since choosing between the “Nog Nog Who’s There?” eggnog emporium and “Sugar & Spice and a Lot of Dead Mice” pest control was already difficult enough.
That secret ingredient: Relegated to a greek chorus role in the back seat, Gene nevertheless provides a disproportionate amount of Christmas In The Car’s abundant holiday cheer. He essentially spends the entire episode on hold with the local radio station in hopes of requesting the bongo-heavy yuletide novelty “Jingle in the Jungle”, (“Maybe you’re not ready…‘Jingle in the Jungle’ pushes the limits!”), a running gag with two, no three, separate payoffs: first, when his efforts prove to have killed Bob’s cell phone battery at a particularly inopportune time; second, when, despite never having gotten through to the station, the DJ plays the surprisingly catchy tune anyway (“It’s a Christmas miracle!”); and, finally, that when we do hear it in full during the end credits, “Jingle” proves to honestly be a stealth holiday classic. Gene also unsubtly undercuts his father’s argument by randomly asking the state trooper to whom Bob tries to report their harrowing close encounter with the Candy Cane Trucker, “Why do they call you ‘the fuzz’? Is it because of your head?”
Best quip: Gene, again, whispering as the suspense nears unbearable limits and the candy-cane truck slithers up the lane past the otherwise still car: “Could I just say one thing? (“No, Gene.”) I think I have the best legs in the family…and the smoothest bottom.”
- Housetrap (Season 5)
When the family runs an errand at a luxurious beach house for which Teddy is caretaker, Linda and Louise’s innate fascination quickly turns to snooping, and they become convinced the owner, a wealthy young widow, was responsible for her husband’s untimely demise.
Nutshell: It’s not that I have misgivings about the eventual Bob’s Burgers movie. For fans, any extended time you can get with the family will by default be time well spent. It’ll be goofy and sly and dependable fun, just like the mothership show, and I’m excited by the possibilities. I do, however, wonder what sort of plotline Bouchard and his intrepid writing team might deem worthy of filling ninety minutes of screentime. And, again, it’s not because I doubt their skill or moxy, but, rather, because Bob’s Burgers has, throughout its run, proven rather exceptional at condensing complex, or at least multilayered, adventures both home and abroad into a space of approximately twenty-two minutes without sacrificing depth to achieve a certain abbreviated length. When you look back at this list in progress, its entrants so far haven’t exactly lacked ambition. Housetrap is a woefully underappreciated season five gem that, at first glance, seems to be just the sort of episode that might have benefitted from a more expansive palette – that is, until we realize that snappy pacing is among its greatest strengths, and something that, at any rate, would be difficult to approximate at feature length without risking blowing the tone all to hell. Here, tone is of the utmost importance. A modern day update on the sort of locked drawing room mystery Agatha Christie once specialized in, the episode has intrigue to spare, plus a colorful setting, a deliciously enigmatic antagonist, and even some legit menace in its denouement. Intoxicated by a closer inspection of how the other half lives, the Belchers innocently take advantage of an unlocked patio door to check out the interior of Teddy’s latest caretaking job, a gorgeous vacation house that is, as an incredulous Linda reminds us, “on the frigging beach”. (According to Tina, breaking and entering is okay if it’s done “as a family”.) Soon, what started as a stolen glance turns into full-on, competitive family squatting, with a magazine-reading Bob kicking up his feet on the living room sofa and indulging his just-discovered passion for luxury boats, while Linda studies a treasure trove of displayed heirlooms and family photos with the diligence and attitude of a gossip columnist turned crime scene detective. Everyone, it seems, develops a theory, or at least deeply held opinion, on the house’s owner, Helen, who came into wealth after her playboy husband took a mysterious and fatal tumble off the roof one dark and stormy night. Bob is sympathetic, Teddy is infatuated, Tina and Gene are mostly oblivious, while Linda and Louise, nose deep in an evolving cold case, convince themselves she is a widow of the black variety and set out to solve a crime that, so far as we know, only exists in their heads. This, of course, is all before Helen herself emerges from the shadows menacingly, then, a beat later, jovially offers the family hot chocolate, pain meds (it’s a long story), and shelter from the storm outside. (Teddy:) “What a fun, terrifying joke! Isn’t she a hoot?” Housetrap includes some truly great character shading hitherto untouched upon in the show’s history, as we are able to plumb the depths of a snooping Linda and cheerleading Louise, in real time and under pressure, to consider what makes them tick. Holmes and Watson they are not, but they do definitely seem to be onto…something.
Guest voice(s) of note: “We are in the tastefully decorated house of a killer!” It’s Always Sunny’s Kaitlin Olson is terrific as the anything but one-note Helen, modulating her attitude and vocal delivery according to whom she happens to be threatening, placating, or cozying up to at any given moment. It’s to her credit as much as to the writers’ that not only are we not sure by the end whether or not Helen is a murderer, either outcome seems eminently plausible.
B-Side Story: Like more than a few of the best Bob’s, the intricacies of Housetrap’s plot don’t naturally allow a secondary story sufficient room to flourish, although the episode benefits mightily from checking in periodically on the smitten Teddy, who idly fantasizes while waterproofing the kitchen about being pulled into Helen’s bedroom for the night as the “little spoon”, and seeks to prove his worth to his unrequited love by overdoing his job at every turn, even eventually standing up for her under what he perceives is unfair cross-examination from the investigative mother/daughter firm of “Guilty as Hell”. When the extent of his true feelings for Helen come pouring out in a flood, the results are…surprising, and pleasantly so. At another point, flustered at Linda’s implication that the two should have dinner at the restaurant as a couple, and at Helen’s eager agreement to at least the “dinner” part, he blurts out, “Great! I’ll go there now and wait!”
MVP: Linda. Part Liz Smith, part Miss Marple, part Marion Crane; she goes on quite the journey.
All-Star Contributor(s): Teddy, Louise
Best pun: I’d say the prize here goes to “The Baiting is the Hardest Part”, which was surely the late, beloved Tom Petty’s preferred exterminating service.
That secret ingredient: “I have a suspicion that you didn’t all go poop.” With those ten ominous words, Housetrap’s doozy of an endgame begins. Linda has so thoroughly talked herself into Helen’s guilt that, finally, she stops trying to prove her theory and thinks instead in terms of saving her family from their homicidal host (“It’s okay! We’ll all swim home!”). Helen heads her off and herds a clearly intimidated Linda up onto the roof’s catwalk (a.k.a. “widow’s walk”), from which her late husband met his demise. The scene unfolds wonderfully as a stuttery sort of macabre dance. Helen takes a step forward, Linda takes a step back, and real estate is limited. Helen relishes exercising the power that comes along with her reputation, and Linda’s facial expressions are all that is necessary to prove that she believes the hype. There’s real suspense in how the scene plays out and where it’ll end up. Great murder mystery climax, cartoon or otherwise. On a lighter note, I also love how Bob, stoned and semi-conscious on Helen’s industrial strength prescription pain medication after wrenching his back, not only lets Linda’s suspicions slip to Helen in the first place but keeps mistaking the various household members with whom he interacts for his, I think we’ll agree, unmistakable son. (Louise:) “And why would you tell her that?!” (Bob:) “Because we’re friends, Gene!”
Best quip(s): Again, almost too many choices to do justice, though I saved the best for last. Linda and Bob share a lovely Hallmark embrace, watching the sunset together from Helen’s beachside backyard. (Bob:) “I feel really poor right now.” (Linda:) “Yeah!” Conversely, Helen and Louise share a overly hearty introductory handshake: “You’re making a lot of eye contact there, little girl.” Gene has a rough go of things in general, failing conclusively in his turn as contributing inspector. (Linda:) “She must have loosened the railing!” (Gene:) “With what? Magic? What could possibly remove a nail from wood?” As it turns out, he also isn’t allowed to have cologne anymore until he proves he “can be responsible with it”. After dramatically fingering Helen for the crime, Linda leads the kids on a little additional supporting character assassination as they scrutinize the would-be killer’s perfectly normal, smiling face in a family photo: (Linda:) “Look at her shifty snake eyes!” (Louise, covering the bottom half of the picture with her hand:) “Yeah, and if you take away her warm smile, she’s got the icy cold stare of an ice cold murderer!” (Tina, covering its middle:) “And if you take away her nose, she looks really weird!” (Gene, randomly covering one side only:) “And if you take away half of her face, she’s like ‘HALF-FACE!’”
- Bob Actually (Season 7)
Love is in the air as Bob and the Belcher kids seek to maximize their respective romantic returns on a fraught and frantic Valentine’s Day.
Nutshell: You can tell a lot about a person simply by what he or she thinks of Valentine’s Day. To Linda Belcher, of course, it is a high holy day, and, generally happy in her life as wife and mother, she is practically an evangelist for the abiding power of love. To her youngest child, Valentine’s Day is a cynical and, point of fact (remember, she’s nine), stomach-churning exercise in separating rubes from their money. Louise sees Zeke selling giftable “love weeds” to lovelorn schoolmates for a buck apiece and despises the rank sentimentality at play even as she admires his business acumen. In between these two poles, Bob wants only to do right by his rose-colored bride but basically still sees the holiday as something to endure and hopefully escape unscathed, while Gene is so detached he probably saw no distinction between it and Cafeteria Pizza Day for years. Tina Belcher has served as the show’s overheated, high alert romantic engine from its earliest days, and, unsurprisingly, her dogged, just as often frustrated as fulfilling pursuit of Jimmy Pesto, Jr. has factored prominently in every one of Bob’s Burgers’ numerous Valentine specials so far (five by my hurried count). The agreeably busy and incredibly fun Bob Actually breaks with established form in that it finds/makes room for all the Belchers romantically, even, or should I say especially, the ones you might not expect. Despite her better judgment and against her every instinct, Louise finds herself entangled in frustrating romantic intrigue with previously platonic friend “Regular-Sized” Rudy. Tina has a breakthrough with Jimmy, Jr. that is threatened by her violently upset stomach. Don’t worry, it’s way sweeter and not (really) as disgusting as you might think. Gene develops an unexpected crush on the Italian substitute lunch lady, even deigning to eat dark chocolate (“So dry! So bitter! Why?!”) to curry her favor. Bob decides to take a last second dance class to surprise Linda, but is nonplussed when the Ballroom teacher’s absence (“He just waltzed right out of here”) forces him to learn Hip Hop dance from an aggressively Caucasian suburban soccer mom (“There’s gonna be some profanity coming at you, so cover your ears if you can’t handle the ‘B’ word!”) and her ridiculous son instead. Heck, even the random roller-blading speedo guy outside finds a comely, unicycle-riding (?!) mermaid on the boardwalk to woo. Maybe there just is something special about this day after all.
Guest voice(s) of note: Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s marvelous Stephanie Beatriz plays Regular-Sized Rudy’s unrequited love, the mythic Chloe Barbash, who, as legend has it, exhausts the contents of an entire shampoo bottle each day in the course of her morning hair care regime. Comic Daniel Van Kirk guests as the dance instructor’s poseur son, and in this case the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This leads to my second favorite line of the episode, in Bob’s bemused response to the kid’s belligerently gangsta introduction: (Flips:) “They call me Flips Whitefudge.” (Bob:) “They do?”
B-Side Story: Like the movie it unsubtly apes, Bob Actually is a convergence of multiple subplots instead of a traditional A-side/B-side equation. As in Love Actually, most all of the wildly different scenarios are at least somewhat affecting, though some of the attempts stick the landing better than others, and a couple are technically superfluous padding. Every tributary has at least one solid payoff moment, or in the case of Bob’s attempt to learn “hip hop dancing” as a romantic gesture, two – Bob’s aforementioned close encounter with Monsieur Whitefudge and the improvised intro to his hip hop dance performance for Linda (Bob:) “Hey there Teddy, nice boombox.” (Teddy:) “Hey Bob, dope pants.”).
MVP: Louise. Wow. Just wow.
All-Star Contributor(s): Tina, Bob, Gene, Teddy
Best pun: With no opening title sequence to provide either a new tenant or exterminator, we’re left with Bob’s underwhelming Valentine’s Burger of the Day, the oddly holiday-agnostic “Andrew Diced Carrots Burger,” which “comes with pickles and diced carrots.”
That secret ingredient: I’m a big fan of the flash epiphany that occurs after Gene samples Isabella’s famed dark chocolate (“I never thought I’d go over to the dark chocolate side!”) and spontaneously fantasizes a montage of pictures from their future life together – on a beach vacation, at the wedding altar, in front of the family chocolate store. In the end, of course, she saunters off to her own beau, though not before hugging her crestfallen junior suitor goodbye (and leaving him with the mixing bowl spoon to kiss). Of course, this episode wouldn’t even qualify for “honorable mention” status if not for the surprise (to both of them) climactic moment of romantic truth between Louise and her own unlikely suitor, Regular-Sized Rudy. I’m a sucker for any split-second in which Louise, who normally guards her more tender emotions like a marauding Brinks truck, displays the least bit of vulnerability, and her increasingly insistent hand-wringing over the prospect of being ripped out of a comfortable “friend zone” against her will becomes an altogether different sort of fretfulness once she learns that not only wasn’t she Rudy’s first choice of valentine after all, but that the actual lucky lady doesn’t reciprocate. All roads lead to a perfectly calibrated action, response, and subsequent counteraction that square with (almost) all we know about Louise and Rudy, yet still stand as an exquisite extended moment preserved in amber. Lest you worry that I’ve somehow spoiled it for you with these ramblings, I have about two-dozen dedicated viewings – each with a dumb, albeit knowing, smile on my face – that strongly suggest otherwise.
Best quip: Gene, overwhelmed by Isabella Kitchen-Substitute’s raw Mediterranean sexuality: “I don’t know what you’re saying, but it makes me feel like I felt that time I sat on the dryer!”
- The Oeder Games (Season 5)
The neighborhood mobilizes to protest a rent increase and takes their concerns to Mr. Fischoeder’s door, where he entices them, on the promise of half-priced rent for the victor, into participating in an epic, all-out water balloon battle across his sprawling estate.
Nutshell: We end our countdown on an episode that succeeds in large part not because it spotlights a single character but because of its inclusiveness. The Oeder Games opens on a snapshot of a neighborhood in crisis, with the Belcher restaurant playing capacity host to the complaints of every small business owner on Ocean Avenue in the announced wake of Mr. Fischoeder’s latest wholesale rent increase. “What are we supposed to do,” rages Edith, “jack up the price of yarn?” There’ll be riots! Again!” Teddy, dejected, interjects, “I’m starting to think that Mr. Fischoeder only became a landlord for the money.” Bob – who, despite his hot and cold personal popularity level at any given moment, seems to fall into these ad hoc civic leadership roles more often than he would prefer – seeks to rally to common cause those assembled entrepreneurs who definitely want to avoid living through the nightmare of the The Yarn Riots of ‘85 again. Bob proposes that they answer a “rent hike” with a “rent strike”, and, galvanized and united for the moment, the community marches off to Mr. Fischoeder’s sprawling if not-exactly-palacial estate to present their demands. Mr. Fischoeder has anticipated the move, however, and meets the petitioners at his front door with a tray full of “Welcome Mojitos” and an elaborate plan: the neighborhood residents will forego their strike for the opportunity for one business owner to win a permanent rent reduction by half. The winner will be the last man, woman, or child left standing from a massive water balloon fight stretching the length and breadth of the Fischoeder complex. Can Bob simultaneously stay dry and keep his fragile coalition alive, or will the various baser motives of his compatriots win out? Jimmy Pesto summarizes the dilemma succinctly: “We didn’t come this far to not throw balloons at Bob.”
Guest voice(s) of note: Kevin Kline’s Mr. Fischoeder is a highlight of most any episode in which he appears, but never more so than here as the glib, interfering master of ceremonies; Zack Galifianakis isn’t often given too much to do as the temperamental, possibly bipolar younger Fischoeder, Felix, but is great here as a powerful, unexpected ally to the Belcher kid cause who still can’t help waxing rhapsodic about a dainty antique dollhouse at exactly the wrong moment; Sam Seder, as Harold, displays surprising vulnerability just before the kids hit him where it hurts.
B-Side Story: Most everything folds into the main narrative here, with Bob struggling in vain to rally the neighborhood while avoiding elimination, though I always enjoy checking in on the action going on at Fischoeder’s “Porch of Losers”. There is also a simply terrific extended interlude, a sort of “game within the Games”, where Tina corners Jimmy, Jr. and Zeke in Fischoeder’s giant, Shining-esque hedge maze and uses the threat of deploying the single balloon among them to facilitate some frank, if delightfully self-serving, relationship talk. (Tina:) “Just so you guys know, I’m not enjoying this. It’s very stressful. But let’s keep going!”) Who will survive (and what will be left [dry] of them)? Will the two best friends betray one another in an effort to save their own skins? Who knew Zeke, when properly prodded, was such a romantic?
MVP: Bob. Love him or like him, he winds up in these reluctant leadership roles for a reason.
All-Star Contributor(s): Mr. Fischoeder, Tina, Felix, Harold and Edith
Best pun: The timely (and probably tasty) “Who Wants to be a Scallionaire?” burger.
That secret ingredient: The sequence, described above, where Tina essentially makes lifelong pals Zeke and Jimmy, Jr. turn on each other so as to avoid getting drenched, is easily the episode’s highlight, though I also appreciated the unexpected look at Felix Fischoeder’s ornate off-campus accommodations, and the candid snapshot of Harold and Edith lovingly yet grumpily sniping at one another (for a change) like the old married couple they are. Mr. Fischoeder’s closing “Landlords have problems” speech is strangely moving as well, despite being as tone deaf as it is heartfelt (“See? My golf cart loses its charge just like yours!”).
Best quip: Mr. Fischoeder, over loudspeaker, with a flippant, deflating response to Bob’s righteous demand to be heard after finally being pushed too far: “I got most of it. I can’t always understand your accent.”
Plus 5: One of Bob’s first great cinematic homages, season two’s Bob Day Afternoon, remains its arguable best. When the First Oceanside Savings Bank across the street is robbed, the restaurant is quickly snapped up as a police staging area and Bob goes from curious onlooker to harried hostage in the blink of an eye. Afternoon introduced two significant recurring characters in carefree criminal Mickey (SNL’s Bill Hader) and tough-talking, easily flustered Sergeant Bosco (Office Space’s Gary Cole). In season three’s O.T. – The Outside Toilet, perpetual loner Gene, lost in the woods, first encounters and then forms an unlikely and enduring, if one-way, friendship with a suave, stolen, space-age, talking toilet. Absurdist and affecting, O.T., which nails the obligatory E.T. references, is also somewhat prescient, in that its story of friendship with an artificial intelligence predates the introduction of Apple’s “Siri”, Amazon’s “Alexa”, and Spike Jonze’s Her. Louise’s impressive resourcefulness and unbreakable determination are on display in the season four classic The Kids Run Away, an episode that ends up teaching us an uncomfortable lot about not only Louise but also her eccentric Aunt Gayle, to whose derelict apartment she dramatically flees rather than have a cavity filled, and, indirectly, her mother Linda, who engages in mind games and sabotage in a hook-or-crook effect to get her back. Political intrigue of a sort pairs with the snappy pacing of 1930s screwball comedy in season five’s The Millie-Churian Candidate, as Millie Frock enters the race for Wagstaff class president in an effort to gain a legitimately elected nine-year-old despot’s general power (and unfettered access to Louise) and Louise counters with a hostile, cynical, hilariously flailing takeover of Jimmy, Jr.’s campaign. Finally, the best day in the history of Bob’s Burgers turns on a dime into one of its worst in season six’s Glued, Where’s My Bob?, when a kid’s prank gone wrong leaves Bob glued to Felix Fischoeder’s fancy, seatless restaurant toilet mere hours before a potentially game-changing magazine interview. As word leaks out amid increasingly desperate escape attempts, the entire neighborhood filters into the restaurant to lend moral support and/or just witness the carnage. It has the warm, expansive feeling of a series finale that, thankfully, never came to pass.
Where to watch: As mentioned above, season nine debuts on Fox Sunday, September 30. In the interim, or your spare time, the show airs in syndication in four or five-episode blocks each Monday afternoon on TBS, and two-episode blocks air each weeknight on Adult Swim, plus a standalone episode Sunday night. The entire run is streamable via Hulu.