Bob’s Burgers showrunner Loren Bouchard breaks down the show’s third season (Part 1 of 5)

Bob’s Burgers showrunner Loren Bouchard breaks down the show’s third season (Part 1 of 5)

The first part of Bob’s Burgers third season is technically the second part of its second season: The 12 episodes from “Ear-Sy Rider” through “Broadcast Wagstaff News” (along with episode 14, “My Fuzzy Valentine”) were originally created as part of the 22 half hours Fox ordered from creator Loren Bouchard and his team in late 2011. That’s just the time-intensive nature of prime-time animation—in which an entire year can pass between the writing of an episode and its first broadcast—at work, but it makes the consistent quality Bob’s Burgers maintained in its third season all the more remarkable. That quality shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Bouchard’s knack for character-driven comedy, wry punchlines, and the occasional toe-tapping musical number, attributes he previously brought to Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist; Home Movies; and Lucy, Daughter Of The Devil. In a series of phone calls, The A.V. Club spoke to Bouchard about helping to craft the third round of animated adventures for the Belcher family: restaurateur father Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), brassy mom Linda (John Roberts), butt-and-unicorn crazy teenager Tina (Dan Mintz), wannabe musician Gene (Eugene Mirman), and tiny terror Louise (Kristen Schaal). This initial installment covers the first five episodes of season three, “Ear-Sy Rider” through “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal.”

“Ear-Sy Rider” (September 30, 2012; written by Dan Fybel and Rich Rinaldi, directed by Anthony Chun)

Louise cashes in the family’s one favor with a biker gang to retrieve her most prized possession—her pink bunny ears—from a teenage bully (Kurt Braunohler).

Loren Bouchard: The nice thing about “Ear-Sy Rider” is that there was no question it was going to be eventful. We almost didn’t do it because it was too much. Right away we were aware, “This is a big deal. This girl wears her ears everywhere she goes. She wears them to bed.” She’s seen in them—or at least in a hat—as far back as her infancy. We started to realize, if we’re going to treat these characters as grounded and real, we had to talk a lot about what the ears mean to her.

The A.V. Club: When did the ears become part of Louise’s character design? What was their inspiration?

LB: Right from the get-go. We knew we wanted to do that with her, partly inspired by this anime called Tekkonkinkreet—there was a kid who had this little bear hat, and I liked that weird combination of kid and animal where they become an animal by always being seen wearing these little ears. You get a little cognitive dissonance where you experience [Louise] both as a little girl and Bugs Bunny at the same time.

AVC: With regard to the bikers, do the Belchers have more in common with these types of characters than they do with their neighbors and the townsfolk?

LB: The neighbors and the general townsfolk are pretty weird, too. There’s a high level of tolerance and acceptance on the show. If you create a character and they’re weird—let’s say they’re a biker or a transvestite or whatever—and the comedy is derived from [your main characters] calling out the differences or being freaked out, that seems really dated to me. That’s the Archie Bunker school of comedy writing—it’s fine if that’s what you want to do, and if you want to have your character learn something by the end, Archie Bunker-style. I’m not knocking it. That’s kind of the TV trope that you and I might have grown up with, but it also seems really played out and not that funny.

We took great care in pretending they were real bikers, pretending there was this threat of violence, assuming that they were, if not involved in drug trafficking, that they were at least familiar with the possibility of cooking meth and selling it. By doing that, you end up having to see almost every character as human and dimensional, just because you’re trying to find out what else is funny about them, besides the fact that they’re bikers. I think that ends up converting all of your characters into tolerant people, because they’re not going to comment on the thing that’s just the surface attribute of this guest character. What I like about that is that you just skip over that stuff and end up, by definition, accepting them on some level.

AVC: And the bikers bring the episode full circle, since it begins with a biker death and ends with a biker birth.

LB: The same goes for Logan—and even to some extent his parents, who are a great surprise in that episode. We wanted to introduce this teenage villain, and we knew we wanted Kurt Braunohler to play it because he’s Kristen Schaal’s comedy partner—and, as you would imagine, they were so great together. They could immediately get to a higher, funnier, and more amped-up energy level and, of course, improvise. [Logan’s] a villain, but in a way he bests Louise, and we liked the idea that this is not something that happens to her every day, so she has to respect the characters that do get one over on her.

AVC: You mentioned the dynamic between Schaal and Braunohler—how many people are recording their vocals simultaneously in a typical Bobs Burgers session?

LB: As many as possible. There will never be a time where we say, “Oh good, let’s get that guy by himself.” We are forced to sometimes, but it’s never a virtue. Actors interacting with each other are always going to give a better performance. It’s hard to quantify, and good actors can give you that even when they read their lines by themselves. They can get there, but why count on that?

It’s a pain in the ass. We had Ben Garant coming back to play Critter; we had Kyle Kinane as one of the bikers; we had Wendy McLendon-Covey as Mudflap. We had Kurt, Lindsey Stoddard, plus all our regulars, and that is a real pain in the ass to schedule and to record. You’re going to have people bleeding onto each other’s mics, but it is always worth it to us. A certain believability and liveliness to the performance is so much the goal that I would sacrifice all kinds of other comforts.

“Full Bars” (October 7, 2012; written by Steven Davis and Kelvin Yu, directed by Boohwan Lim and Kyounghee Lim)

In which the kids achieve a major milestone—their first solo trick-or-treating excursion—while Linda and Bob find thrills of a different kind at Teddy’s apartment.

AVC: Are there plans at all to age the kids as the show goes on?

LB: No. We knew we wanted to do that 13th birthday party for Tina in season one, and then we swore to ourselves and to anyone who cared to listen that we won’t age anybody else.

That said, it’s really fun to tell coming-of-age milestone stories. Your first Halloween trick-or-treating by yourself just seemed like such a nice one to do. Such a natural and interesting thing to think about for our characters—but from that point on, you can’t do that story again. You can’t reset the clock. In that respect, they’ll age, but it’s going to be subtle. In a way, you have to live in this ever-present now for animation. It’s tough. But the alternative is worse. What are we going to do? Draw them older and older and have them grow up before your eyes? It seems like not what animation wants to be.

AVC: There’s an authentically childlike quality to the kids’ excitement about the “full bars” given away on King’s Head Island. Was that something that came from a writer’s real-life experience?

LB: I don’t remember specifically where the full bars thing came from, but for me, what’s nice about writing for these characters—especially Louise and Gene, who are still prepubescent—is to remember that time when candy was the most important thing in the world. There’s something so great about forgetting sex, forgetting money, giving yourself this kind of self-hypnosis and trying to remember, “What was I thinking about when I was 9? I was thinking about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I was trying to get to the store with my 50 cents and get my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.” So I think the show has done a nice job of that a couple times. We’re not true to childhood. We’re not trying to give these guys an absolutely, 100 percent accurate childhood. If we were, we would have cast kids, and it would be a different show. I like having these precocious and weirdly almost-adult intelligences stuck inside the bodies of children—but I sure do like it when they get excited about candy.

AVC: “Full Bars” is the first time we see this island, which is home to the city’s wealthy elite. As you were preparing your second order of episodes, was there an effort to grow the world of the show?

LB: Whatever combination of childhood trauma and various other incidents and accidents that lead to doing this job, you’ve got to be the kind of person who wants to grow the world. If you’re lucky enough to get past your first 13 episodes, your world’s going to grow. You just start doing it. I think if no one had ever seen The Simpsons and even if there weren’t any network executives, I assume you’d still end up growing the world. There still would be a King’s Head Island, because it’s just so fun. The pleasure of that as a viewer is not lost on us. We know there’s a value we’re bringing to the table when we add a new geographical feature or a new character or just a new layer to the world. It’s nice to mature the show that way for the audience.

AVC: Is there anything deeper to be read into the costumes that any of the characters ended up choosing in that episode?

LB: It was mostly just fun to see people dressed up that way. We tried to pick the right ones for the right characters. The biggest thing that came out of that was this idea of “Summer Frankenstein.” That was a pitch in the room when we were talking about the part when Teddy is going through his closet—the idea of Summer Frankenstein just tickled everybody so, so much. Around the office, Summer Frankenstein was all we could talk about.

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“Bob Fires The Kids” (November 4, 2012; written by Lizzie Molyneux and Wendy Molyneux, directed by Boohwan Lim and Kyounghee Lim)

Bob worries that he’s robbing his kids of their childhood, and the release of Belcher family friend/convicted felon Mickey (Bill Hader) gives him the excuse to lay off Tina, Gene, and Louise—who promptly go to work making secret pot deliveries for a pair of aging hippies (Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman).

AVC: When you’re writing a guest character like Mickey, are you hoping that you can bring them back in future episodes?

LB: Oh, yeah. For me it seems best to let that happen naturally. You want the character to earn their spot. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself. I think you could jinx the whole damn thing, and you’ll end up with too much pressure on that character or that actor. So, for example, Mickey goes to prison [Laughs.] in the end of “Bob Day Afternoon.” You can tell we didn’t exactly write ourselves the most easy, obvious way for him to recur, but he’s so funny. Bill Hader’s such a pleasure to work with, so of course we were willing to write this quick-and-dirty explanation for why he’s out so early.

AVC: Megan Mullally is in this episode as well. With a voice as distinctive as hers, is there a point where you can’t write any further characters for her?

LB: I’m always surprised when people with very distinct voices have this other voice. It’s a great discovery. For us, we suddenly have a new way of using somebody that we like. We’ve also even done the thing where we once said we weren’t going to do, which is bring an actor back doing the exact same voice, like Ben Garant, and just let it be. We realized, “You know what? The audience is going to go with us.” Just like hopefully they go with us when they watch Archer and Bob’s back to back. A good actor doesn’t need to [Nasal voice.] hold their nose or do some gimmicky thing to their voice.

AVC: Was the idea of booting the kids from the restaurant for an episode born at all out of a feeling that they needed more kid-like plots? Maybe with the thought that having them at the restaurant so often strains the show’s credulity?

LB: No! If we got tired of that and had to kick the kids out, then, yeah, we’d have real premise problems. 

That Bob realizes he had a shitty childhood was very appealing to us. He is a second-generation guy, he grew up doing it, and he suddenly realizes that he’s doing it to his kids—or so he thinks. He acts on that urge and then comes to a second realization, more importantly, that he’s not his father—these kids are not being put on and abused by working in this restaurant. They’re not being kept from their childhood. That was just something that Bob suffered through as a kid, so we got to learn a little bit about him and have this fun, almost premise-affirming episode where the kids don’t want to go out and do stuff during the summer. They don’t know what to do with themselves. What are they supposed to do? Jump rope? I liked that idea: These kids are indoor kids, you know? [Laughs.]

"Mutiny On The Windbreaker" (November 11, 2012; written by Kit Boss, directed by John Rice)

When the family is invited to be the guests of a luxury ocean liner, Gene discovers true love with a manatee puppet, Louise finds a new way to channel her wild side, and Bob finds he’s been taken captive by the ship’s mad captain.

AVC: So who in the writers’ room had an inappropriate crush on Miss Piggy or Madame and translated that into the manatee in this episode?

LB: [Beat.] Everybody. Who didn’t have a weird, sexual Miss Piggy kind of thing going? We thought it was also a nice way to have Gene have his first crush without it being in Tina’s territory. Tina lusts after actual boys. The idea that Gene gets that tingly feeling for a puppet just seemed so appealing, we couldn’t let go of that one, so we started following that course.

AVC: Were the big, long nails that Louise gets on the boat a callback to her Edward Scissorhands costume, or was it another extension of the feral quality of the character?

LB: The latter. We were excited to see what this kid would look like through the whole episode with these claws and the ears. Then Kristen brought that adorable “clackety-clackety-clackety” thing to it where she does her own sound effects, which we’ve done with Gene and various other kids in the past. We’ve had actors accidentally read the reader that’s in the script—when they say like [Emphatically.] “Throws himself” or something like that, it always tickles me. So Louise with her claws was just the natural evolution of Louise, the creature. 

AVC: This one seems more plot-based than the average Bob’s Burgers—there are little character moments throughout, but there’s also Captain Flarty’s plan that weaves in and out of those moments. Can you talk about the balance that was struck while you were writing this episode?

LB: Let me speak generally a little bit, separate from “Mutiny On The Windbreaker”: For me, writing a good story or being a part of a team that writes a good story is very satisfying. However, story-driven writing can be a recipe for disaster—especially in a half-hour comedy. Not that “Mutiny” was in any way a disaster. But what I fear when we have a story-driven idea is that our main characters will have to do something where the motivation is not easy to understand or isn’t relatable. And that is often the case, I think, when you have a story-driven concept—by definition you have to move the pieces around on the board, and when you have a family of five plus guest characters, you start to need to justify things. “Well, you know, you have to get Character X into this room, so why would he want to go in there?” And you start backfilling and writing backwards, and I fear it terribly because I see my most important job as being a guardian of these characters. And it is mostly an easy job. The writers are very, very, very talented, and the actors are also watchdogs and can make a line be in character.

I would much prefer episodes that come from a character wanting something relatable and getable and simple. You can imagine it’s a bigger challenge when it’s this story about a ship captain that wants to take Bob hostage [Laughs.] because he likes his burgers so much. It’s such an unusual premise. In the end, what I like about “Mutiny On The Windbreaker” is that our characters seem like they react exactly like our characters would. So it’s a bigger concept, but, in a way, the reactions to any given moment are still very human and small. I think the Duval character humanized the whole thing—Dave Herman as this chef who’s already been broken, kind of like the Dennis Hopper character in Apocalypse Now.

“An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal” (November 18, 2012; written by Lizzie Molyneux and Wendy Molyneux, directed by Tyree Dillihay)

In a harebrained bid to reunite with an old flame, eccentric landlord Mr. Fischoeder enlists Linda and the kids to play his family on Thanksgiving Day. Stuck posing as Fischoeder’s personal chef, Bob winds up downing some absinthe and bonding with the main course.

AVC: “Mutiny On The Windbreaker” makes a good companion piece to the episode that follows it, which is also premise-driven. The Belchers each take on different personalities within the fake Fischoeder clan, but they still act like the Belchers.

LB: Thank you. [Laughs.] I mean, yeah, that’s what we were going for. And on top of that, it’s also like a play. It doesn’t change locations very much, and there’s a small cast of characters. I’m so happy with that episode. I just loved it from the beginning of when Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux were pitching it and breaking it, to the end when we were designing the wallpaper and just seeing how that house looked. The music… I just enjoyed that episode so much.

AVC: When Lizzie and Wendy pitched the episode, did they have that seed of, “We want to present it like a play”?

LB: I don’t know that they were describing it that way, but they knew that it could be big and small at the same time. They had that in its DNA from the get-go. 

AVC: The idea for Bob giving a voice to the turkey—was that born out of a need to give Jon Benjamin someone to talk to in that episode?

LB: It certainly helped in that regard, but what’s nice is that we’ve been doing that since the beginning, but it doesn’t always make it in. When we were doing the demo before the pilot, we had Bob go to the walk-in and talk to a potato, and we loved that idea. I love what Jon Benjamin does when given that little—his character making this voice and pretending to surprise himself. He’s just got a gift for it. So we’ve been looking for opportunities to do that ever since. We have him talking to Keanu Reeves in the “Weekend At Mort’s” episode. In an upcoming episode he talks to a zucchini about killing Jimmy Pesto. The zucchini says, [Bob’s companion voice.] “You should kill him!” And Bob says, “What?!” [Voice.] “Kill Jimmy Pesto!” And Bob says, “Yeah! How will I do it, zucchini?” And zucchini says, [Voice.] “With me!” [Laughing.] And Bob says, “It’s the perfect murder!”

AVC: It’s almost like he’s living on the other side of the portal that allows Jon to voice a can of vegetables in Wet Hot American Summer.

LB: It is. We fooled around with this possibility that Louise has it too. We like this idea that we have her talking to some guacamole. I don’t know if it’s going to make the final cut of that episode. It’s such an appealing attribute for someone to have, to give voice to inanimate objects.