One of the most significant indications of a maturing series is the increase in specificity. Comedy or drama, serialized or procedural, every story told in episodic form will keep adding traits to its characters and setting, and those will help to create more stories. The Bob in the pilot of Bob's Burgers was a television sitcom patriarch, more mustachioed and quick-witted than most, to be sure, but nothing surprising. In “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?” he received the specific character trait that's done the most good for the show since: his fond over-indulgence of mind-altering chemicals, which has led to fantastic episodes like “Burgerboss” and “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal.”
In “The Kids Run The Restaurant,” Bob is given a new specific trait. Turns out he faints at the sight of his own blood, which makes sense, as he's revealed to be a hemophiliac. A slice of his finger-crotch leads to the two halves of the episode. The cut sends Bob and Linda to the hospital, leaving the kids to do what they want in the restaurant. But this new component of Bob's character has ramifications beyond that. It means that every episode from now on, Bob can't get cut without the storyline changing dramatically, or that in every episode, the writers always have the option of making Bob bleed to see what happens.
Alternately, they could just forget about it. It happens. Back in the early episodes of the show, Tina had a very specific pubescent fantasy of zombies making out. This may have been the funniest component of those weaker early episodes, in fact. But that has largely disappeared, as Tina's anxieties have become more external than internal. On the other hand, ever since “Food Truckin',” Tina's had a new quirk of reinventing herself according to whatever job she's in. Her specific trait of being boy-crazy is more subdued now, with her adolescent willingness to play with her identity taking over. In this case, she's playing a cocktail waitress at the casino—it's not a huge role, but it's funny enough.
Some of Tina's adolescent sexual angst has shifted over to Gene, who began the series mostly as a fart joke generator. That's still there, but his attraction to gender-bending and putting on costumes has also become an important component of his characterization. In charge of entertainment at the casino the kids put together, he decides he wants to make a girl group. The girls in the group are non-entities—it was always going to lead to Gene putting on a wig singing his “girls being girls” song. This is consistently funny and even sweet, making it one of the better character shifts the show has undergone.
Louise's love of money has been around for most of the show's run, but over time, it's shifted from happy byproduct of her urge toward chaos and become one of her primary motivators. Conceptually, I'm not sure that it's as good an idea to make her greedy more than chaotic. But in practice, it's given us episodes like “Art Crawl” and “Mother Daughter Laser Razor,” so I'm not going to complain too much. Here it's on display as she has the idea to build the underground casino when the parents are out, and when she can't stop taking Mr. Fischoedor on in Rock Paper Scissors, even as he puts her $5,000 in debt. I do feel like it was a bit of a lost opportunity to not spend more time with Louise as she lost at her own game, but the episode was rather stuffed.
Finally, there's Linda, who's always been the character the show has struggled with. She was introduced as an enthusiastic, if less competent than normal, sitcom mom, and that's largely where she's remained. Her two main points of added specificity have been her near-alcoholism (which is funny but a little too close to Bob's drug enjoyment—note how they're rarely present in the same episode) and making up terrible songs to describe her feelings. She's not a drag on the show, but she is often the least dynamic character. Here, her enthusiastic mom-ness leads the way, which is amusing when she's encouraging a new, incompetent doctor, but it's otherwise not a strong Linda episode.
As Bob's Burgers nears the end of its third season, the specific traits it adds to characters and setting will necessarily become critical parts of the stories moving forward, as will figuring out a way to balance the quirks of the characters with freedom of storytelling in each episode. But that's part of the fun of watching a show grow.
- You should always take an episode's grade with a grain of salt, but especially so this time: The screener I had was incomplete in some frustratingly important facets.
- “Give me back my son. I need to breathe life into him!”
- “I only floss on my birthday, so I can look back at the past year and remember what I ate.” Dr. Yap would be disappointed, Tina.
- TOP Butt BURGER (your face Looks Like a butt)
- “You can keep the money, friend, or you can keep your nurple. But ya' can't keep both!” Zeke's been less than amusing for a few episodes now, but this was a good return to form.
- This is my last episode as the regular Bob's Burgers reviewer—I felt like I've said about all I could over 40 episodes. It's been fun writing for you all, and I hope you enjoy the smooth pop-punk stylings of one Pilot Viruet moving forward.