Last week, we saw the lovable Bob’s Burgers. And I love the lovable Bob’s Burgers for more than just its tautologies. But there is a Bob’s Burgers that keeps at least the bulk of that charm, while adding the sublime and the ridiculous. The heart of the show remains intact, along with several moments of uncontrollable laughter (we call that “the Parks & Recreation effect”).
Bob’s Burgers hits that immediately, less than a minute into the episode. Linda mentions that Gene stayed in womb “past due,” and Gene says he wishes he’d never left. “Lemme back in there!”And suddenly, there’s total hilarious chaos.
That chaos for comedy is a stable of farce in general, and Fox Animation specifically. Both Bob’s Burgers and American Dad, probably the two best shows in the bloc right now, deploy it to marvelous effect. But they do it differently. American Dad thrives on the “anything can happen” feel, where maybe that character will get stabbed, or make out with an alien, or both. Bob’s is more grounded that that. It’ll get weird, but that weirdness is always something conceivably real, with the totally surreal stuff taking place in imagination or dreams. No, Bob’s thrives when it does chaos because its characters are chaotic.
This is what happens in families of three children, close enough in age to be friends. The Belchers are also weird: Both Bob and Linda have shown how easily they can be taken by flights of fancy. Their kids all demonstrate that, and with Louise as a ringleader and Gene and Tina as very easily led rings, it only takes one little push to lead the entire family into screaming, crying, dancing, fighting, grabbing, whatever. The best of these moments comes a few minutes further in, as Bob gears up to deliver his burgers into a hostage situation. Linda grabs him. Then the kids do. And then Bob can’t move, trapped by their ridiculous, heartfelt, chaotic anxiety. That’s what makes the show work.
There’s also a technical reason that Bob’s does so well with its chaos. Having the actors record their sessions live allows them to step on each others’ lines, so it sounds chaotic in addition to looking like it. If you compare Bob’s Burgers with, say, Archer, you can see the difference in the comic styles. Archer is built on one-liners, with characters clearly shouting their fantastic lines. In Bob’s Burgers, you probably couldn’t make out most of the lines in the scene where the family all grabbed Bob, but the context of the scene, the visuals, and the characters keep it amusing.
And yet, as funny as those two moments are, they’re probably not even the best part of “Bob Day Afternoon.” That would be Gene’s imagination taking him off to robot college, a deliriously funny little montage of how robots would deal with all the tropes of college movies.
“Bob Day Afternoon” is also structured to build and maintain humor. Bob tries to get his loan restructured at the bank across the street, which starts the episode off on a simple, strong emotional core. Then a robber comes in and takes hostages, which builds tension, adds a bunch of stressed out characters, and makes the middle third of the episode about the difficulties of communication, which is traditional comic gold.
Although the episode slows down a bit as it goes on, it’s still a remarkably confident half-hour of comedy. One of the big questions with Bob’s Burgers a year ago was whether “Art Crawl” heralded a permanent shift towards a new, great show, or if it was just an inconsistent show getting everything right for an episode or two. Based on these first few episodes of the second season, it’s looking far more like the former than the latter, and that’s good news for everyone watching.
- “Dad, if you die, I’ll have to write my report on Genedad.”
- “We’re cool. We just shoot sometimes.” Hope this not-so-cool cop can become a recurring character, he’s a nice archetype for the show.