Photo: Fox

Bob’s Burgers handles sentimentality well. It’s easy to root for the Belcher family, so when thing turn out well for them it doesn’t feel unearned. Yet the family and the world they live in are whacky enough that things never get too saccharine. That balance is perfectly struck in the first-ever hour-long episode of Bob’s Burgers, “The Bleakening.”

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The stage is quite literally set for a quality send-up of old-school Christmas specials with an opening musical number starring Linda (John Roberts) singing about the Christmas of her dreams. In typical Linda fashion, she ends up hijacking the family business and inviting everyone in town over without consulting Bob or the kids. Meanwhile Teddy tells Tina, Gene, and Louise about the Bleaken, a Krampus-style Christmas monster who the kids immediately believe is real. When Linda’s Christmas decorations get stolen from the party, the two storylines collide and a search for the thief (who the kids believe to be the Bleaken) begins.

This episode highlights a lot of the similarities between Linda and Louise. Both are hard-headed and somewhat selfish, stopping at nothing to get what they’re looking for. In this case, the goal is the same even if the journey is different. Linda goes about finding her stoken tree and ornaments like a standard detective, searching for clues and interviewing suspects, all while keeping clever quips going. Louise embarks on a dark adventure, in total search and destroy mode. She’s going to find the Bleaken, eliminate it, and walk away with all the Christmas riches she can get her hands on.

For all its whimsy and ability to suspend disbelief, Bob’s Burgers is always grounded in a semblance of reality. So when there are moments that the Bleaken starts to feel very real, it keeps you on your toes, and it raises the stakes to a place that makes the episode all the more compelling. “The Bleakening” is an episode akin to “Wonder Wharf” or “The Belchies”—as impossible as it seems, the Belchers find themselves in a seriously dangerous and frightening situation. There is no reason that Bob and Linda should let the kids continue on in a dark warehouse potentially inhabited by a mystical anti-Santa. In fact, once they realize that the warehouse is actually just a location for a secret Christmas rave, there’s potentially even less reason for three middle-schoolers to stick around. But it’s having the cheesy Christmas special family moments in those settings that takes the sap out of the moment and makes the Belcher feel even more like a real family, flaws and all.

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The Belchers are a very accepting family throughout the entire series, and it’s episodes like this that remind viewers of that. Yes, they are a working-class family who seem to uphold traditional-ish values in their own lives, but during the holidays they invite an array of different people into their home and end up celebrating without reservation at a makeshift gay nightclub. As Sergeant Bosco says, people are terrible and Christmas makes them worse, but the Belchers make everyone they meet just a little bit better. 

Stray observations:

  • Burger of the day: “Ebeneezer Bleu-ge Burger”
  • Linda totally did drugs at that rave.
  • “You wrap like a drunk, blind bear.” - Linda “That’s how I live.” -Bob
  • “I’m just asking for experiences this year, the Bleaken can’t steal a Korean barbecue dinner for two.” -Gene
  • The Wiggle Room is closed down in part for having more than one illegal see-saw.

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