Bob’s Burgers is in a similar position now, as it winds down its fall episodes, as it was half a year ago at the end of the spring. In both cases, it’s focusing its episodes’ attention on the individual Belcher children. Happily, this time it’s doing better than the somewhat disappointing “Bad Tina” and “Beefsquatch.” I don’t think tonight’s Gene-centered episode is quite as strong as last week’s great Tina episode, but it’s a more satisfying whole than the screaming “Beefsquatch.”
As with “Tina-rannysaurus Wrecks,” “The Unbearable Like-Likeness Of Gene” derives strength from pushing one of the kids, oh so gently, to grow up. In this case it’s Gene, who gets confronted by a group of girls who want him to “go out” with one of them, and suddenly finds himself trapped in a relationship with a girl who annoys him, just because he has no experience in rejecting people at such a level.
I don’t think it’s merely a joke that’s Gene’s response to the initial demand is to freeze and say “ehhhhhhhhhh.” By virtue of not being Tina’s age or the oldest child, he’s been largely free of the puberty attack she’s faced. But it makes a certain sense that all the Belcher children would respond to the onset of semi-adulthood with paralysis. They’ve been raised in such an odd way that of course they do what they want, and of course that rarely gets them in significant trouble. But that would also call enough attention that they might have someone get a crush on them. So even if Gene’s not ready—and he may never be, let’s be real—he could have readiness thrust upon him.
There are a few other implications here that I quite like. First, there’s the idea that Tina, just a year ago, may have been as crazy as Gene and Louise are now, and it’s puberty and not something inherent to the character that makes Tina so relatively withdrawn. This opens the door to the chance that we might someday see Tina as an agent of chaos like Louise and Gene (perhaps in a flashback or forward episode?). Second, I think Bob’s Burgers has laid the groundwork for the idea that Gene is just starting to hit puberty and thinking about these things, particularly in the episode where he got an extremely confused crush on a puppet manatee.
“Unbearable Like-Likeness” also does well in depicting the difficulties in breaking up with someone even when you know you need to. I suppose for some people this might be easy, but for me and many others, actually telling someone that you reject them romantically can be incredibly difficult. Gene’s inability to stand strong, then growing resolve, then utter failure in resolve upon discovering that something related to the girl—her father’s keyboard collection and job—is something in which he too is interested, is all too real.
But being “real” is also one of the episode’s bigger weaknesses. I worried a little bit last week that focusing on the kids growing up might cause them to lose some of their anarchic power, and that’s certainly the case here. I found “The Unbearable Like-Likeness Of Gene” to be fairly sweet and subdued for a Bob’s Burgers. This isn’t a bad thing. But I’m not sure it plays to Bob’s chaotic strengths, like the scene where the kids charged into the bedroom last week, or pretty much all of “Art Crawl.”
- The first time I had a girl say she liked me, I’m pretty sure I pushed one of my friends in the way and ran off. So Gene’s arguably more emotionally mature than I was! Although I was probably more like 9 or 10 when it happened.
- “Where did you get all this stuff! Did your parents buy it for you?” “Ha ha ha. Yep! They did!” Great, silly line to discuss retro-fetishization.
- “You used me!” “I prefer to call it networking!”
- Linda’s diet story doesn’t really go anywhere interesting, does it? At first it seems like there might be a mother-daughter connection that could tie her plot to Gene’s, but no. Just Linda trying a fad diet and failing.