Gene episodes remain the toughest nut for Bob’s Burgers to crack. We’ve discussed this before, in reviews for episodes like “Gene It On” and “Best Burger,” the latter of which was far more successful than the former in revealing what makes the Belcher boy tick. In that case, the episode really benefitted from connecting Gene’s struggles to pay attention with Bob’s efforts to win the burger competition. To really succeed in that story, Gene needed somebody that he actually care about letting down, and in that particular instance—this certainly isn’t always true—his father provided just that. (In another instance, a talking toilet also sufficed.) But without some kind of external goal to drive him forward, Gene is trickier to write for. That’s because he’s essentially the human boy version of Futurama’s Hedonismbot: There’s that old, Kurt Vonnegut-approved chestnut that every character in a story should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water, but all Gene usually wants is the greatest possible short-term enjoyment. How do you get a character to strive for something when he rarely wants anything that isn’t immediately in front of him?
Tonight’s “Itty Bitty Ditty Committee” explores the most obvious answer to that question, which is that Gene’s self-absorption makes it more or less impossible for him to play well with others. As this episode suggests, it’s not so much that Gene wildly overestimates his own talent as it’s that he never even really considers it. He loves music, and he loves the concept of musical stardom, and he doesn’t really grasp the necessity of any further connective tissue between the two. To Gene, music is all about attitude, and he’s more or less designed his thoughts on attitude so that they align with his natural laziness: Not wanting to sound too rehearsed is kind of a thing bands should worry about, but it isn’t really a problem for someone who only sort of knows three chords and whose favorite parts of practice are all the various breaks. Only rarely does Gene’s behavior come close to tipping into rudeness—Gene assuming his bandmates are practicing without him because he’s twice as good as they are, pretty much all his interactions with the music teacher—but none of them actually feel directed at anyone in particular.
It’s just that Gene exists in his own private Gene World, and he doesn’t really know how to handle it when everyone else’s reality impinges on his. And, to the episode’s great credit, Gene’s world is just hilariously specific. After all, he doesn’t just dream of becoming famous—he’s already built in the subsequent fall and miraculous rebirth, declaring that only then is he just going to see what happens next. But consider also just how he defines fame and obscurity: The former is hearing one of his songs play in a Hyundai Elantra commercial, while the latter is having to go report to the Miramar Naval Station in Miramar, California. Those both suggest a very particular kind of worldview, a fundamentally innocent understanding of life’s highs and lows that are almost certainly formed by watching way, way too much television.
The episode doesn’t really work toward any big realization for Gene, at least not in the same way that “Best Burger” did. And that’s fine, honestly, because this is all so fundamentally silly that it would be kind of ridiculous to turn this into some teachable moment. No, all we really need to know is that Gene’s guiding principle in life is to have fun, and, while that epicurean commitment to his own enjoyment can occasionally be a bit much, on balance his sense of fun really is infectious. As a sheepish Darryl, Rudy, and Peter Pescadero admit, the band is just no fun without him. Which, considering we’re talking about a bunch of 11-year-olds, really ought to be all that matters. There’s maybe a moral on the margins here about Gene recognizing that having fun in the moment is more important than the more aspirational fun of becoming a mega-famous rock star, and that it’s at least worth recognizing that he’s not actually willing to become a “proper” musician, but … eh. That part doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is how this episode further develops the relationships within the Belcher family, and it does so in really, really funny ways. As I mentioned in my “Speakeasy Rider” review—and probably elsewhere, as this has been true pretty much since the show began—Gene is kind of the odd man out in the Belcher clan. Bob and Linda have each other, and sisters Tina and Louise are closer to each other—even if that closeness is sometimes more adversarial than anything else—than either is to their brother. That arrangement is basically formalized here, with Louise declaring her and Tina the A-team to their parents’ B-team, which, yes, that’s completely accurate. Their successive efforts to make Gene feel better spotlight the differences between the two sets of relationships: Bob and Linda are too easily distracted by the need to assess the relative comedy levels of Gene’s banana-based gags—I can totally see why the banana penis would be a little easy—to really focus on their son’s problem, whereas Louise and Tina both have a child’s ability to take anything just ridiculously seriously. If that means pretending to burn Gene’s keyboard to snap him out of it, then so be it. There’s a sweetness to the kids’ interactions in “Itty Bitty Ditty Committee” that serves to deepen what otherwise might be a somewhat flat Gene story.
Bob and Linda’s b-plot is also a wonderful bit of silliness that works well to highlight the love the two share. On the one hand, Bob rather understandably can’t resist making jokes about Linda’s newly unleashed armpit hair, naming the pits Hairy and Sally—overriding Louise’s suggestion of Laverne and Curly—and noting that they would need a lumberjack or a hedge trimmer to cut it all off. But he also doesn’t want his wife to suffer anymore with that rash, and his plan of action—to go watch some doubtless horrifying internet videos that will nevertheless give them the help they need—is so legitimately heartwarming, particularly in the supportive way that H. Jon Benjamin delivers Bob’s lines. This is the kind of subplot that serves the Belcher parents particularly well, as it economically reminds us that Bob especially is still most concerned with trying to turn something even vaguely resembling a profit, yet he’s also always going to prioritize his wife’s wellbeing over that of the restaurant. I mean, he’d ideally like to have both of those things, hence the occasional trip out to the alley to reapply the topical cure, but it’s the thought that counts.
After a lengthy hiatus, “Itty Bitty Ditty Committee” feels like Bob’s Burgers just sort of easing back into things. It’s a reliably funny, charming episode that builds to a terrific crescendo, with the kids’ storefront concert actually bringing together usual Belcher nemeses like Edith and Jimmy Pesto’s lackey Trev in support of the kids. Taken with the reprise of “Burgers And Fries” over the closing credits, it all adds up to a fine reaffirmation that Bob’s Burgers just doing what comes naturally represents one of the most enjoyable half-hours on TV.
- You know, I never really considered Rashida Jones’ attitude toward tank-tops, but that does sound accurate.
- “I’m all drama!” Knowing what I know about Peter Pescadero, I can believe it.
- “Now I can focus on my solo straw work, like drinking liquids.”
- “What! It’s well past dinnertime! Sorry, just … feed your children.” Irate Tina is the best Tina.