Nothing like a trip to the mall to bring out the Belchers at their destructive best. The family splits up to take out whatever is in their path, be it a mystery author’s twist ending, a store full of Grazielda porcelain dolls, the good name of a sleeping pseudo-boyfriend, or Bob’s own pants-related dignity. “Legends Of The Mall” juggles four stories of roughly equal size—Tina gets the most time and Linda’s bit feels the most throwaway, but these are small differences—to showcase the unique weirdness of each part of the Belcher clan. Other episodes have fun revealing how the family together alternately bring out the worst and the best in one another. Here, it’s all about what mayhem each branch of the family—counting Gene and Louise as a single unit, as I believe they would want us to—can unleash just by themselves. What makes this all extra funny is how much the other denizens of the mall are willing, unwitting or not, to make themselves accomplices in the family’s trail of ridiculousness.
Take Tina’s story. The first bit is a classic variation on Tina being out to find cute boys. She finds herself on the receiving end of some rudeness from Tammy and Jocelyn, who are decked out in clothes they’re going to return and the very best in kiosk makeup. Tina’s confident clumsiness zips us through a fun collection of sight gags before we get to the main part of the story, as she spies Brian, the soccer-playing, antihistamine-taking cutie. All that is just setup to get us where her story is really going. Once the slumbering boy’s head slumps onto Tina’s shoulder, the humor comes not so much from Tina’s barely convincing web of lies as from how readily convinced literally everyone—Brian included, somehow!—is by them. Brian’s friends Noah and Skye are what pass for normal, well-adjusted teens on Bob’s Burgers, which means they will credulously believe anything a person tells them, as why would a good person like Tina ever lie to them?
This whole storyline is essentially playing with the idea that what if one of Tina’s fantasies came true, albeit in a more mundane, less butts-obsessed kind of way? She has a boyfriend for just as long as she can keep Brian asleep—she’s not above drugging him with further antihistamines, which I’m not actually sure is a thing, but Tina is clearly willing to give it a go and see what happens—and she spends most of that time being congratulated by Brian’s friends and the casually corrupt security guard for what an amazing girlfriend she is. “Legends Of The Mall” doesn’t overcomplicate this story too much, using the obvious twist that Brian already has an actual new girlfriend both as quick justification for Noah and Skye to believe Tina is legit and as a way to get them to then turn on the supposedly two-timing Brian.
When balancing four stories of roughly equal size like “Legends Of The Mall” does, following the path of least resistance is a good way to keep the plot humming along, and by the end here that means Tina can’t even convince anyone that she’s full of it. To borrow a bit of improv lingo, Tina finds herself trapped in a bit of runaway “Yes, and”-ing. Brian’s friends and the security guard are all just so invested in this whirlwind romance, with the latter offering to and then just straight-up going ahead and deciding to frame Brian for a couple of stolen pairs of shoes. Thank goodness Tammy and her ever-burning hatred of Tina are there to sort things out.
Bob’s story is the least promising on paper, as all it is at its core is a take on the hoary old observation that men are bad at shopping for themselves. What makes it work is the specificity of the masculine self-loathing on display. We have Bob, who is always keenly aware of just how weird and washed his body is. And then, gloriously, we have Gary Cole back as Sergeant Bosco, who is once more here to stride as confidently as possible through one hell of a midlife crisis. The sight gag of Bob’s awful, billowy, fully-pleated pants is a hilarious illustration of exactly how much the show’s animation style emphasizes the characters’ waists while keeping the legs relatively small, and then it kicks off the rich exploration of two guys deciding it’s high time they treat themselves to some pants they’ll love. And drink champagne. So, so much champagne, if the pants they do end up buying are any indication. Again, that punchline is predictable, but it works because Bosco and Bob are such a great mismatched pair, with the sergeant’s unearned if self-hating confidence pushing Bob out of his shame and into one of his great, wholly unearned flights of exuberant enthusiasm. Also, my goodness, those pants.
Gene and Louise also get up to exactly the kind of high jinks you would expect them to, as they rent motorized animals to ride around the mall. In fairness to the kids, I can’t really see how anyone could ever expect this to end well, even if they weren’t specifically using the list of things they can’t do as a guide to fun things to do with the animals. But then, the fact this all unfolds just as you’d expect is the point: Louise imperils Gene with an unnecessary final bump of her animal, Gene proves completely useless as he slowly zooms through the mall on a runaway catigator, and Louise has to go all action hero to save the day. This is all familiar territory, which means both characters get to play to their strengths in the limited screen time available. Speaking of which, the Grazielda salesman makes his return nearly seven years after his debut in “My Fuzzy Valentine,” and the one gag he gets—vowing to block the out-of-control animal with his body, then immediately leaping out of the way—is just a perfect bit of business. So too is the conversation Louise has with the guy at the rental counter, as she tries to figure out what it will take to stop the catigator without revealing anything is amiss. As flimsy pretexts to keep a story chugging along go, having the rental guy just be really into hypotheticals is inspired.
That just leaves Linda, who hiccups and spoils her way through a Q.R. Dunlop book reading. With this one, it’s more the premise that’s the funny bit, as the mere idea of a mystery novelist who makes wine the driving force of all his books is just so completely Linda. There’s not really enough time to develop Dunlop or any of the other reading attendees as characters, so Linda just goes into full-on ruining mode. Just like the rest of the family, she doesn’t mean to, but it’s the inevitable result of her being excited about something. Laid out like that, I suppose that could be bleak, but “Legends Of The Mall” takes joy from the fact that nobody involved learns anything from their various misadventures, apart from maybe Bob learning he really can’t be trusted to buy his own pants. As the episode wraps up, Linda is undeterred in her Q.R. Dunlop fandom even after he uses the dedication to beg her to leave him alone, Tina is ready to go find a new mall crush, and Gene and Louise are off for more economically budgeted mischief. That’s the perfect day at the mall right there.
- The show has only barely acknowledged the fact the town is located somewhere on the Jersey Shore, but as a New Jerseyan... I feel like I’ve been to that exact mall, or rather the basis for it. Which I realize doesn’t mean very much, given the whole point of malls is their interchangeability, but still, could swear teenage me had eye checkups at that precise mall. Yes, I’m aware I’m reaching, even by the casual standards of the strays.
- Sergeant Bosco’s commitment to going down a pant size every time he tried something new on is easily his most heroic trait. And not just because he’s pretty blatantly lazy and a bit corrupt as a cop. Though yes, that does help.