The “holiday episode” of a TV show tends to work in one of three ways. It can be a celebration of an idealized form of the holiday—you know the kind, where people come together, have some tension, then learn the True Meaning of Armistice Day or the like. Sometimes the holidays are primarily used to dress up a fairly conventional episode, as in “Full Bars” a few weeks ago. And very rarely, you get the episode that will subvert the meaning of the holiday—yet even those, which may appear transgressive, often end up idealizing the holiday in a weird way.
Holiday episodes are often at their best when they manage to combine all three. Classic Simpsons provides a great model for how to both subvert and respect common television tropes. Bob's Burgers continues that, and you can see a lot of influence of great Simpsons episodes in “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal.” Bob's obliviousness to his family's ambivalence toward something he loves, his caddishness when he doesn't get what he wants, the family's easy corruptibility, and the resolution of them embracing their weirdness over that corruption are all quite recognizable.
But there's a side to Bob's Burgers—its embrace of its characters' weirdness even when that's bad—that makes it stand out. Most shows have some kind of celebration-of-quirkiness, yes, but it's the sort of quirkiness that makes the focal characters smarter, funnier, and just plain better better than “normal,” non-focal characters. Bob's Burgers takes more of a warts-and-all approach. The kids are funny, definitely, but they're funny in a way that makes it very difficult for them to make friends or be respected by their teachers.
I think it's demonstrated most, however, in the show's approach to drug use, as opposed to abuse. Linda's treated as someone who loves alcohol (without quite being an alcoholic), and Bob seems to pretty easily overuse drugs he has access to, like absinthe in this episode, or his painkillers in “Burgerboss,” or even crack back in “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?” But these things aren't judged and pushed toward conventional morality, which even The Simpsons has done with its portrayal of alcohol use. This isn't to say that Bob's Burgers celebrates substance abuse. Bob's overuse of painkillers in “Burgerboss” is hilarious but it's also clearly understood by the characters and the audience that he's gone too far. But it is treated with sympathy instead of judgment. Overdoing drugs is something that Bob happens to do, not something he can or even should transcend simply by trying really hard.
Bob's overuse of absinthe in “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal” is even a net positive. Mr. Fischoeder offers five months rent if the family pretends to be his family. This corrupts the parents for rent money, and corrupts the kids by gamifying their fake love of Fischoeder love when he offers them prizes to be the best children. Bob doesn't like this, but it's only when the absinthe kicks in that he actually does anything about it. Bob's fascination with drugs is weird and hilarious and honest. And its honesty is what gets his family out of trouble. The true meaning of Thanksgiving on Bob's Burgers is that family is important, but so is inebriation—“Hey mom, are you hallucinating yet?” “Not yet. I need more.”
- Of course, all that sympathy works especially well when the jokes land. Bob starts us off by describing his last rent payment: “I know I used a lot of pennies, but…”
- “Season Premiere of Game Of Thrones” is one of Gene's favorite holidays.
- “Just like I'm going to get into Shelby's parts. Her ladyparts.” “Which are the ladyparts?” “The vagina and the heart.” Tina has grown wise.
- “If you teach me to shoot, I'll teach you to regret teaching me to shoot.” Louise drives a hard bargain.
- “What's he saying!” “I don't know! He's murmuring!” The way insanity becomes contagious is one of the series' best joke forms.