This has been building all season, but it’s official: Louise has gone soft on us. The once fearsome force of chaos is now firmly on the side of good, pantsing a bully in an attempt to aid Pocket-Sized Rudy—not even Regular-Sized Rudy, her one true love! To its credit, Bob’s Burgers hasn’t asked us to accept some radically different version of the littlest Belcher. Rather, the show has let Louise’s conscience grow gradually, with her channeling her natural mischievousness toward helping others while also occasionally recognizing when others’ needs should come before her own. She’s gone from troublemaker to budding rebel, and in Mr. Frond and Wagstaff’s coterie of jerk students she has people absolutely worth rebelling against.
More than anything else, this willingness to shift basic characterizations—before this, it was making Tina more confident—should probably be the enduring legacy of Bob’s Burgers, as it’s something no other network animated show can really claim to have accomplished. The Simpsons has kept its characters the same throughout, with any episode-specific shifts reversed by the next week. Ditto for Futurama and all the Seth MacFarlane shows. This show’s spiritual predecessor King Of The Hill had its child characters cross into puberty to varying degrees, and it altered certain aspects of the status quo like having Nancy Gribble stop cheating on her husband, but the Hank, Peggy, and Bobby Hill of season three are the same as those of season 10. While there’s always going to be elasticity in the characterizations on Bob’s Burgers, especially when a character isn’t the focus of an episode—I fully expect Louise to be an agent of destruction again sometime soon—a Louise-centric episode now just isn’t going to play out in the same way it would have in the second or third season.
That ability to mix up characterization has helped keep this season of Bob’s Burgers fresh, even if the show isn’t quite as consistently hilarious as it was a couple years ago. “Thelma And Louise Except Thelma Is Linda” is a case in point: A lot of what goes on tonight is fine. The Bob and Teddy subplot is decent enough, with its success in a viewer’s eyes likely predicated on how much they enjoy Teddy being obnoxiously, ridiculously unhelpful—I’ll admit my tolerance for such behavior is low, especially when it appears likely to impact Bob’s ability to make the most of a rare opportunity to bring in some serious cash.
This needn’t be just a question of personal preference when it comes to storytelling, as this also informs the kind of jokes we get. Most of the gags in this subplot involve Teddy being over the top while Bob tries desperately to soldier on. As it happens, a lot of this story passes without lines from the customers or even much of any reaction from Bob. Considering Bob and Teddy scenes work best when H. Jon Benjamin and Larry Murphy just improvise with each other at some length—we get a little hint of that kind of chemistry at the end, as Bob refuses to say Teddy’s presence helped at all, but that bit still sounds scripted—and so it’s not necessarily the funniest course to keep their interactions to a relative minimum. For what they are, the Teddy jokes are all right if familiar: His bit about creating a complicated, rhyme-based scheme to remember orders is a bit of a spin on a familiar gag, but the moment where his other senses supposedly sharpen to compensate for his blindness is fairly rote. It’s fine, but it’s nothing special.
The same can be said for the sliver of a C story featuring the other Belcher kids. It’s sweet enough, as Tina and Gene try to deliver notes of comfort to the suspended Louise but face minor, easily solvable obstacles at every turn. The moment in all this that is both funniest and most unexpected—two things that are often interconnected—is when Zeke and Ms. Schnur have a moment out of nowhere. Ms. Schnur is probably the MVP of this episode anyway, with her openly not caring about anything Mr. Frond does evoking some big laughs, but it’s just so delightfully out of nowhere for her and Zeke to be on such friendly terms. It’s a pairing I would never have considered in a million years, yet the show’s willingness to shine a light on it, however briefly, tells us something we didn’t previously know about this weird little world. It’s also eminently plausible that the school’s gruff secretary would have a bit of a soft spot for a rowdy but basically good-natured kid like Zeke, even if having a soft spot doesn’t extend much beyond asking him whether those are new shorts.
And that brings us back to Louise and Linda, whose interaction here is a far cry from the tension that has frequently defined their shared stories. For once, Linda isn’t going to absurd lengths to change Louise’s undesirable behavior, but rather to equally absurd lengths to make her daughter realize it’s worth doing the right thing, even if it sometimes gets you in trouble. That already is such a fundamentally heartwarming motivation for Linda that it’s easy to excuse her latest stupid stunt—this is more or less the exact opposite of her ruining Tina’s night on the field trip a few episodes back. Indeed, that departure from the standard formula is already enough to make the episode feel refreshingly different, but “Thelma And Louise Except Thelma Is Linda” also lets the mother and daughter bond over their shared love of righteous pranking before Louise—Louise!—offers to sacrifice herself so that Linda can keep her beloved bake sale.
Tonight’s episode is another solid edition of Bob’s Burgers. Both of last week’s entries were a cut or three above this one (though if you found the Teddy subplot funnier than I did, that would rather be a bit of a difference maker), but this remains a fun, rewarding watch even if the jokes don’t land quite as forcefully as they have in previous weeks. That’s because the show is willing to keep expanding what it can do, and sometimes that’s as simple as putting characters in unusual situations or pairings and letting the stories play out. That this is accompanied by a deeper shift in how some characters are portrayed means Bob’s Burgers has a far greater ability than most shows to keep shuffling its storytelling deck deep into its run—and, while seven seasons isn’t much relative to a behemoth like The Simpsons, that’s still plenty long for a show to start getting a bit long in the tooth. This season of Bob’s Burgers isn’t exactly like, say, season three or four, and episodes like tonight’s are a good reminder why that doesn’t have to mean anything bad.
- Mr. Frond’s mom was a hoot. She seems way more fun than her dink of a son. Let her and Ms. Schnur go tear up the town together!
- No, seriously, Teddy really needs to start working out.