Pretend, and this might not be so difficult, pretend that you were a weird kid. Now imagine what kind of parents would be great for you. First, they’d acknowledge and love your weirdness. Perhaps they’d give you subtle asides when you said something particular clever. Second, they’d be manipulable. Not necessarily easy to manipulate—oh no, you’d have to work for it. But by constructing an argument, citing evidence, making a strong claim, you could, perhaps, get them to take you out of school for a day. Finally, you’d also, in retrospect perhaps, want those parents to teach you about the world in a way that prepares you and keeps you safe. But they’d have to do it in a way that appeals to you and your weird kid transgressive sense of humor. It’s not enough to just be told “buckle up,” oh no, that’s earnest and boring. You have to have a song. A song about death. “Buckle it up! Buckle it up!! BUCKLE IT UP OR YOU’LL DIE!!!”
Are the Belchers the perfect parents for weird kids like Gene, Tina, and Louise? I feel like they are, and that this is a somewhat unexamined dynamic for the show. The show usually tends to focus on what’s funny more than anything else, so it makes sense to examine the characters in terms of what makes their comedy work, like that the show often struggles when it separates the parents from the kids. There’s definitely a strong character foundation to go along with the humor—that combination is what makes Bob’s Burgers so great—but telling the sort of stories that rely on emotional growth and learning lessons using obvious moralistic ending scenes? That’s not Bob’s Burgers’ style.
Thus I’ve rarely considered just how good Bob and Linda are at parenting. But when I heard that “Buckle it up!” song, and thought it was hilarious, I had to consider why. Divorced from context, it’s a pure gag, but not laugh-out-loud funny. Within the context of the show, though, it was brilliant. Why? Because that’s exactly what would work on these crazy children. It relies on, and expands upon, Bob’s character and his relationship with those children.
Indeed, the whole episode is built around this relationship. Linda’s too nice to call out Bob’s half-assed Valentine’s Day gifts, but the kids have no such compunction. They convince him that he needs something better, and that only they can help him find it, as long as it gets them out of school. This sets up an amusing, if somewhat overstuffed, wild goose chase for a gift that Bob manages to get wrong. Hugo the health inspector makes his villainous return and is much more entertaining than he was in “Nude Beach,” which is good to see for a recurring character that I was worried might have worn out his welcome.
The B-story, with Linda attempting to run an impromptu speed dating service, works surprisingly well given that it’s Linda on her own. Gary Cole shows up as a cop who starts to take over the speed dating by recommending that everyone break the ice by describing the worst things about themselves, on the grounds that anyone comfortable with the worst has potential to be the best, though Linda, romantic that she is, disagrees. This is actually really smart—I’ve read more than one piece about how the intense honesty at the start of a relationship can be one of the most powerful tools for sticking with someone, and also how that honesty fades the deeper people get into relationships which can be a problem. So I enjoyed the philosophical clash of ideals, even if it wasn’t examined in great depth.
This wasn’t the funniest episode of Bob’s Burgers, but it had its moments of hilarity combined with a tremendous charm. The show’s hot streak continues, holiday after holiday.
- “Tell me exactly what was wrong with the car was it a GASKET?” Schaal’s line reading here is astounding, conveying both her character’s frustration as well as her curiosity.
- “That goes in the butt-bank.” Loved the shot of the kids poking their heads into “Pickles.”
- Is it just me, or was H. Jon Benjamin particularly Archer-like in his exasperation and desperation tonight? If so, that makes Gretchen Pam, complete with splooshing.