Bob’s Burgers thrives in the middle. Not high-brow or low-brow, not absurdist, not fiercely plot-driven—the series has carved out its own animated territory. “Ambergris” is a perfect example, as it is both about being unfulfilled and about whale poop. And being unfulfilled by whale poop. Adding some extra pop to this symphony of disappointment is Mickey (voiced by Bill Hader), the town’s favorite nice guy bank robber, back from “Bob Day Afternoon” and working at Wonder Wharf, running scams with the fried dough guy.
Right at the start of the episode, the Belcher kids, messing around on the beach, find a giant lump of… something that smells “gross-great-gross-great.” It turns out to be ambergris, which is wax-coated whale excrement worth tens of thousands of dollars (this is actually a real thing). Immediately, the kids decide to sell it and, just as quickly, find out that it is illegal to do so (also a real thing). What Bob’s Burgers’ best episodes do so well is toe the line between being a story the audience cares about, a la Parks And Recreation or King Of The Hill, and being a green screen to project the funniest jokes the writers can muster, like Family Guy or American Dad. In the first five minutes of “Ambergris,” the children have a valuable object they want to sell, but can’t. Instant narrative structure.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fischoeder’s brother, Felix, is in town after his inheritance runs out. He’s at Bob’s to do “a bit of landlording.” Responding to the Belcher’s long outstanding plumbing requests, Felix vows to overhaul the restaurant bathroom. Bob’s Burgers tend to shy away from B-stories, and it’s a little surprising the writers went for one here. Certainly, the episode needs a place for Bob and Linda among all the whale poop. But the two rarely get out from behind the counter, and the kids easily have all the best lines. That being said, exasperated Bob is my favorite Bob, and it’s great to see him play the straight man against Felix and Linda. Plus, all the bathroom talk with Felix also keeps this episode firmly in the toilet, so to speak, which was a nice way to tie the storylines together.
As the kids figure out what to do with the ambergris, Louise begins to go insane, Gollum-style, when in possession of her precious. She develops a twitch in her eye and, after finding out Mickey’s contact on the black market is the fried dough guy, cuts out the middle man to get a bigger score. The episode flirts with the tropes of heist stories with a great payoff: “This is my last job moment. This is the one I do and then die or go to jail at the end,” Mickey says. Louise tapes the ambergris to her back, since you never walk into a deal just “holding the stuff.” Unfortunately, she gets fleeced, netting $12 bucks instead of the $30,000 she was looking for.
Not atypical to this show, poop jokes are sandwiched (eww) between other gags, including an off-the-wall zinger about Steve Zahn (I actually love that guy, too). The B-story with Felix delivers some good lines, but is less satisfying narratively. It’s obvious early on that the bathroom renovation will be a disaster, and just watching Bob and Felix argue wasn’t the most interesting use of those two characters. I did enjoy the dynamic that as Felix and Linda bonded (“She’s great with Hovig”), Bob didn’t get jealous, as one might expect, but just more and more aggravated at the slow process of the bathroom renovation. Instead of a potential suitor, Felix is more of an annoying in-law (and one would assume his name is a nod to the Odd Couple).
“Ambergris” finds the sweet spot between plot, humor, and sentimentality when it’s revealed in the end that that Louise was carrying a fake rock to the deal, thanks to Tina’s last-minute switcheroo. Once again, it’s great to see clear narrative like this play out in 22 minutes. And the fact that Tina, like Samwise before her, switched out the ambergris to protect her brethren, was rather touching. Despite the absurdity of the episode, it feels like Tina and Louise really are sisters who really do love each other in a realistically begrudging way.
Of course, by the end, the ambergris is destroyed, and the bathroom is a travesty (though a very elegant one). Both outlandish dreams fail to come to fruition. It goes without saying that this episode is funny, with one-liners dropping almost every other beat. What really lands for me are the jokes that are unique to these characters. “I am like a goat,” Gene says, and the laugh comes from four seasons of goat-like behavior. Similarly, Bob’s high-pitched laugh was one of the biggest of the episode, because it was so him. It’s fantastic to see a show where the characters and their quirks are well-defined enough that the writers can let them run on a wild whale poop chase and still end up with gold.
- Hi, my name is David Kallison and I’m filling in this week. Carry on, carry on.
- “It’s like instant gratification, but later.”
- It almost feels like the entire Felix storyline was created for Linda’s golden weiner joke.
- “Can you drape it casually, like, ‘Oh, I’m a ribbon no big deal’”
- I could listen to Bill Hader say “Mickey Tank Bank” forever. Just perfect.
- So Felix caused Calvin to lose his eye. The plot thickens!