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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A Bob’s Burgers season closes with a pair of lessons for Louise

Illustration for article titled A Bob’s Burgers season closes with a pair of lessons for Louise

Tonight’s season-ending doubleheader of Bob’s Burgers episode is most likely an unintended pairing, a quirk of scheduling just like last year’s dual capper of “Hawk And Chick” and “The Oeder Games,” but tonight’s episodes share a key common thread. Both “Secret Admiral-irer” and “Glued, Where’s My Bob?” make Louise question herself, with the former focusing on her youthful cynicism and the latter turning its attention to her wanton destruction. Taken together, they tie into a general trend of recent Bob’s Burgers stories, as it’s the littlest Belcher who has received the most consistent character development. With “Secret Admiral-er,” it’s easy to see how a version of that episode made a few seasons back would focus on Tina and her own maturation, and the opening scene with Jimmy Jr. suggests Tina’s matchmaking for Meryl is a stand-in for her own romantic struggles. Which, sure, it probably is, but that doesn’t prove to be much of a focus of the episode, as you could delete that opening bit of business with Jimmy Jr. and lose very little from the rest of the episode.

In the second and third seasons, Tina was the show’s great project, the character who received the most careful, sustained development. Now, she’s pretty much a finished product, secure in herself and her beliefs in how the world works, and the arrival of the real admiral at the end affirms all of that. By contrast, Louise isn’t just proven wrong by the admiral’s appearance and the discovery of the missing pearls, but Tina actually confronts her sister about her wrongness. What we get is hardly the biggest Louise character beat in the show’s history—that’s probably something that happened with Regular-Sized Rudy, her obvious soulmate—but that’s kind of the point: “Secret Admiral-er” isn’t really a Louise episode at all, yet it’s still able to maneuver toward Louise being the character most affected emotionally by the conclusion. Considering Louise began as more of a chaotic force of nature than a character in her own right, that’s a remarkable progression for the show. Bob’s Burgers doesn’t do serialized storytelling, but it does appear to put a greater focus on one character for a couple seasons or so, and let that character shift a little as a result. Tina is consistently more assertive and capable than she once was, to the point that it’s not even necessarily worth remarking on, and the show is gradually now moving to that point with her sister’s flashes of genuine humanity.

Still, “Secret Admiral-er” is a Tina episode, and perhaps it’s because Tina’s character arc has flattened now that her stories aren’t quite as consistently amazing as they were a couple years ago. The main story is solid, especially since the show gives itself a relatively high degree of difficulty with how it plays Meryl’s senility. There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing a nonagenarian’s mental state for laughs—well, I suppose you could argue there is, but I’m looking to keep my amoral, value-neutral reviewer pose going, you know?—but this is slightly harsher material than Bob’s Burgers usually goes in for, and it takes a little finesse to balance the various comedic targets. Meryl spends much of the episode alternately confused and bored by Tina’s presence, with her little asides suggesting she would be perfectly fine with Tina finding some new after-school activity. “Secret Admiral-er” pulls everything together nicely, though, as it finds just the right mix of comedy and pathos in Meryl’s heartfelt thanks to Gene, who she is pretty sure is Tina. Meryl describing Bob’s fake admiral as too old for her is also a nice touch, letting her still have some standards even as she’s only variably aware of just what’s going on.

The best Bob’s Burgers episodes are those that combine a well-constructed story with a strong character arc—with both generating their fair share of laughs—and “Secret Admiral-er” offers the former but only some of the latter. As I mentioned, Tina doesn’t really end up learning anything about love she didn’t already know, and Louise’s own arc only kicks in relatively late, once she concludes the admiral is fake and the grand-nephew stole the pearls. The episode ends up being one of those Bob’s Burgers stories that’s basically just a bunch of fun stuff happening, which is perfectly fine. If anything, I’d say the richer of the episode’s two stories is the largely off-screen tale of Bob’s debauchery with a bunch of hotshot local chefs, a storyline that recalls his taxi-driving days from the great but awkwardly named “Sheesh! Cab Bob.” As Bob explains in one of his many dazes, he’s finally found his people, only his people sound forcibly fun to the point of just kind of being bullies. There’s more of an arc to play out there, though as the episode indicates, there isn’t really an ending to this story beyond Bob hiding in the dark until they go away, whereas Tina’s story brings the whole family together to give Meryl her dance with the admiral… right up until the actual admiral shows up.

“Glued, Where’s My Bob?” is the stronger of the two episodes, which is fair enough given its status as season finale and official 100th episode. (This is actually the 107th episode aired, but it’s the 100th going by production codes. Just let Fox have this one, guys.) It’s the kind of episode that could easily work as a series ender—which it isn’t! Bob’s Burgers is coming back!—as the story uses Bob’s escalating predicament as an excuse to bring back as many townspeople as it can cram into the restaurant for the big climactic moment. The story fits into one of the show’s bedrock formulas, and it’s the one that is easily most divisive among the show’s fans: Something nice is just about to happen to Bob, and then it all falls apart in the cruelest, most ludicrous ways imaginable, and also Jimmy Pesto is an ass. What makes this one work is that the episode is set in motion by celebrity chef Skip Marooch recognizing the greatness of Bob’s cooking—another parallel with “Secret Admiral-er,” come to think of it, and another sign that Bob is at least making some progress—and that, after all that pain and misery, Bob ends up getting what is, on balance, a pretty damn positive magazine profile. Well, allowing for the photograph of him stuck to the toilet, at least.

The episode doesn’t even pretend it’s going anywhere other than where you think it is, with Louise’s overly precise promise not to set any new goop traps in motion confirming that, yep, some awful prank is about to befoul Bob at the worst possible time. I took “Pro Tiki/Con Tiki” to task for being similarly predictable, so to allay those of you demanding rigorous intellectual consistency from your Bob’s Burgers reviews—which, since this is the internet, I assume is all of you—let me clarify that predictable storytelling is fine as long as it gets on with it. To borrow a phrase from another Fox animation stalwart, “Glued, Where’s My Bob?” wastes precious little time in getting to the fireworks factory, and the fun comes from seeing the townspeople’s various absurd attempts to extricate Bob from the toilet once he inevitably gets stuck there. Teddy’s presence is obvious enough, but bringing in Doctor Yap is a more unexpected move, one entirely justified by his suggestion that they rip Bob’s butt off the toilet like a loose tooth out of a mouth.


In a move that I feel like is a mainstay of Bob’s Burgers finales but I guess only previously happened in the “Wharf Games” two-parter, we get a big musical number as first Bob and then Louise sing about how, against all odds, everything is going to turn out exactly as they hope. While all the Fox cartoons like their musical numbers—even the much-missed King Of The Hill had the Dale Gribble Bluegrass Experience’s trip to BransonBob’s Burgers is unusually targeted in how it uses its songs, pretty much exclusively using them to reveal characters’ inner monologues, or more specifically how the characters want to see themselves against all evidence to the contrary. On some level, “Glued, Where’s My Bob?” ends up being a variation on the series-opening “Human Flesh”—and maybe throw in the first season’s “Burger Wars,” so that Jimmy Pesto is involved too—as Bob’s stress-induced freak-out ends not with Bob seeing the error of his own ways, as he really did nothing wrong this time, but rather Louise finally acknowledging that she had done wrong and challenging the rest of the town to stand up for Bob for once. As brutal as the show can be to Bob, and as hard as that can be to watch sometimes, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying, heartfelt ending that also prominently involves Bob unsticking himself from the toilet.

I’m not sure how much sense it makes to look at Bob’s Burgers in terms of specific seasons, given how episodic its storytelling is, but now seems as good a time as any to throw caution to the wind. My sense, both from my own reactions and those of the commenters, is that season six has been a slight step down from years past, with not quite as many all-time classics and a few more partial (and at least one outright) misfires than we’ve seen before. Broadly speaking, this has been a more experimental year for the show, which is probably what it ought to be doing six seasons in, and some of those experiments just haven’t really worked. Plus, just looking back at the 19 episodes that aired this season, I’m not sure there’s a really great Bob or Linda in the bunch, with most of the best stuff going to the kids. But that does mean we’ve seen some terrific development for Louise—and, in more targeted instances, for Gene—so I’m not too bothered by this, nor am I about to declare Bob’s Burgers is in any sort of decline. This remains one of the best, funniest, and sweetest shows on TV, and I see no reason that isn’t going to continue for the foreseeable.


Stray observations

  • I’ve been binge-watching Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated lately, so I was extra-excited to hear that show’s recurring guest voice Gary Cole as Sergeant Bosco. I also love that Bosco is, for whatever reason, about the only adult in animation who has a green light to strike whatever kids he wants.
  • I love that Bob goes out of his way to greet Marshmallow. I think it’s high time we get the Bob/Marshmallow story we’ve all been waiting for.
  • Bob getting the last laugh in the goop war was just about the greatest thing ever. If the show had ended right there, that would have been a damn near perfect way to bow out.
  • Well, that just about does it for another season of reviewing Bob’s Burgers. As ever, it’s a pleasure kicking off the conversation with you guys.