Bob’s Burgers is apparently calling its return this fall the beginning of its third season, which doesn’t seem quite accurate in the usual sense of season divisions. It was, after all, renewed for a second season, given a 22-episode order, but then only aired nine of those half-hours. So as far as I know, the episodes airing this fall were all produced at the same time as the ones that aired this spring. Yet, there was a three month gap between the last few episodes and “Ear-sy Rider.” Using that gap as something real, I can make declarative statements, like “Bob’s Burgers might be the funniest show television! The third-season première proves it!” It’s true, in my view—the show’s chief competitors, Community and Parks And Recreation have both been a bit off, and I think it’s caught up to even the improving Archer—but this didn’t happen overnight. (Check out the superb “Burgerboss” and “Moody Foodie” if you need proof of Bob’s Burgers’ overall improvements.)
Yet “Ear-sy Rider” is also easily understood as being the third in a three-part set with the final two episodes of the second season, “Bad Tina” and “Beefsquatch.” All three of these episodes focus on a different Belcher kid, which I’ve noted is a risky maneuver. The kids derive their power from one another, and separating them from the pack, even in a theoretical focus-of-narrative sense, weakens them.
Or at least, it seemed to weaken them, because tonight’s episode is excellent; it demonstrates most everything that Bob’s Burgers does well. That success is derived in part from the focus on Louise, who, of the three kids, is the strongest character, albeit in a Sideshow Bob fashion (“Yes, it’s especially Gene. But it’s especially Tina. But espeeciiaallyyy Louise.”) She’s the one whose world is upset, as some older bullies swipe her ears, which is an excellent plot development on multiple levels. We’ve never really seen Louise unbalanced, likewise, we’ve never really seen Louise without her ears, both of which needed to happen at some point. It’s even better because its derived from Louise’s character—her irrational confidence and willingness to shove the “real world” to the side leads directly to her being put in a situation where she’s forced to deal with the fact that some people won’t play her games and engage with her on her own terms.
Structurally, this works better because, while Louise is the focus, there’s still plenty of room for Tina and Gene to work with her. The three kids together are often the best part of Bob’s Burgers, either in their interactions with one another, or acting as a bizarre Greek chorus for Bob and Linda’s own shenanigans. Here Louise is with the other kids when she loses her ears, and the three maintain a decent presence throughout the rest of the episode.
In the episode’s other plot. Bob’s Burgers demonstrates another aspect of its charm: it loves misfits. When a biker gang shows up at the restaurant, they’re the butt of jokes and stereotypes (one of the badges on their vest is given “For… not being associated with the white power movement”) but it’s never at the expense of their humanity. When there’s a confrontation between the bikers and the neighbors, it’s the bikers who seem worthy of sympathy. This is a consistent component of Bob’s Burgers—it loves the characters from the outskirts of society. The prostitutes of “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?,” Jimmy Jr. dancing it out, the bikers in tonight’s episode: each displays that sympathy. Meanwhile, the most common antagonists are either fuddy-duddies like the neighbors here and in “Art Crawl,” or Bob himself acting resistant to weirdness, as in “Sexy Dance Fighting.”
“Ear-sy Rider” may not be a traditional season première in terms of its place in the production schedule. It may seem like it’s simply the companion piece to the last two episodes from the spring. But it also acts as an extraordinarily effective traditional season première in that it demonstrates the best and most representative qualities of Bob’s Burgers. This show is already great on a regular basis, and the third season has the chance to solidify it as one of the best on TV.
- “I thought I hit a rainbow. It was terrifying.”
- Example of the kids as an insane Greek chorus: “Maybe we should cook meth.” “I want to forget my troubles.”
- “Please don’t cut off my ears. Leave them where they are, it’s a good position.”
- And, at the end, Louise returns to her traditional role as trickster goddess. “If we want a better neighborhood, maybe we need to be better neighbors.” “Booo!”