It’s a shame that Bob’s Burgers was spring-only for its first two seasons, because there aren’t any good holidays in the spring. Maybe you could swing a New Year’s episode, but Easter and President’s Day don’t have the same weird, fun oomph of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Kids and adults look forward to those holidays for different reasons, and the latter two are especially good for family traditions. Bob’s Burgers is perfect for this combination, thanks to its kids and parents being good as smaller groups, but even stronger as a whole.
Bob’s Burgers also has the ingredients to make the best kind of specifically Christmas episode. Its characters care about and understand one another, so the necessary sweetness is there. But they, and the show itself, are also weird enough that it can subvert the form and keep the story from being too saccharine. Bob’s Burgers has a special advantage in that its sympathy toward weirdos, malcontents, and the mentally unstable creates a space for both sweetness and weirdness. In this case, Zach Galifianakis guest stars as Chet, a man who believes he was once a mannequin, which is as weird, yet oddly sweet as Galifianakis usually is when he’s at his best.
The family discovers Chet when they inherit a storage unit. Linda, in the spirit of the holiday, wants to invite him to stay with the Belchers for a while, while Bob digs in his heels. This storyline could easily go bad. Bob and Linda falling into familiar masculine-rational and feminine-compassionate roles has occasionally led to weak and predictable episodes. But “God Rest Ye Merry Gentle-Mannequins” manages to avoid that, partially by making Chet both sympathetic and amusing, but mostly by making Linda the funniest character of the episode. She’s not trapped by being in the nice role because she’s as weird as the others. “Aww. Uncle Ernie’s dead? But it’s Christmas!” Linda complains, with both absurdity and humanity.
The entire episode also showcases just how comfortable Bob’s Burgers has become with its characters. When a comedy has established its relationships and its people, little tiny nods to the viewers’ understanding of the show can become the funniest things. Perhaps the funniest single moment in “God Rest” comes when Chet introduces his mannequin friend, Sal. Gene replies with “If you wanna give Sal something, he needs a penis!” which is an obvious joke. But there’s also Tina on the other side of the screen, giving a little nod to Gene’s request. Three seasons of Tina’s bizarre budding interest in human sexuality all combine, turning a few simple frames of animation into a great joke.
Similar forces make a later scene, where Bob and Linda fight, equally genius. Here, it’s not necessarily the audience’s comfort with the characters that makes it work, but the characters’ expression of comfort with one another. As soon as Linda starts getting angry and ordering the kids away, Bob knows what’s happening, and desperately tries to use the kids to squirm out of a fight. It’s hilarious as well as being an example of the kind of basic human pettiness that doesn’t go away just because someone has children. Then, Linda stomping off, saying “Don’t. Bother. Bringing. The. Mistletoe. To. Bed. But. Do. Bring. Me. A. Snack. Chocolate.” Sure, they’re fighting, and sure, she’s pissed off, but she knows she needs a snack anyway.
The entire episode hits that sweet spot between sweet and weird. Even the moment where Chet goes a little crazy and makes a horrifying window display is oddly endearing, thanks to the ketchup bottle squirting “blood.” That’s clever, weird, but also impressive. That’s Bob’s Burgers, and I’m happy that the show is getting a chance to apply its impressive clever weirdness to the holidays.