Bob’s Burgers has such a finely balanced moral universe. As the patriarch of his unruly, ever distracted brood, Bob is constantly suffering, straining to keep his family just vaguely focused on the goal of running an even halfway successful restaurant. That’s the standard setup for most Bob’s Burgers episodes, and Bob’s essentially luckless, sad-sack demeanor can make it easy to forget that this is his goal, and really his goal alone, that we’re talking about. Because he insists on chasing his dream of being an urban restaurant entrepreneur, the family always finds itself short of money, always finds itself stuck together in the restaurant when there might conceivably be other lives out there worth living. That’s the bargain Bob made with his family before the show even began—the nature of that deal is part of what drives the plot way back in the show’s first episode, “Human Flesh”—and even the destruction of Bob’s most beloved zester can only tilt the scales so much.
And yet, it still feels like Bob suffers disproportionately for his small-scale dreams. After all, he has to put up with near-constant failure and a never-ending stream of indignities from anyone with more money or more power than he has—which, for the record, includes pretty much everybody, give or take Mr. Frond—so the temptation is to say that his useless family owes him still further sacrifices. “Late Afternoon In The Garden Of Bob And Louise” tilts in that direction for the longest time; I was very much on Bob’s side right to the very end, and it was really only when Bob, stuck in a gate and bereft of whatever paternal authority he might otherwise wield, told his own daughter not to harm his babies that it clicked into place just how much Bob, not Louise, had erred. Bob was right that he was owed this little victory, but it wasn’t really his family that owed him that debt.
It’s hard not to begrudge Bob his little moments of happiness, especially when those little moments of happiness involve lengthy, if oddly faltering conversations with his anthropomorphized food and produce. And it’s easy to say that Louise and Linda ought to be willing to let Bob chase his little side fantasies, particularly when they’re so wonderfully, achingly mundane. I mean, if we’re getting right down to defining who Bob Belcher is at his core, know this: The happiest we have seen him this season comes when he puts on Linda’s sun hat and is immediately told he looks like a British lady. In terms of his animated pedigree, Bob Belcher has a lot of Hank Hill in him—credit the presence of executive producer Jim Dauterive on both the King Of The Hill and Bob’s Burgers staffs—in that both are consumed by passions for everyday things that their family and friends tolerate at best.
But while Hank tends to remain relatively reserved when it comes to his love of propane and propane accessories—I mean, he loves those things at least as much as he loves his own son, but he’s not likely to violate social mores to express that fact—Bob is far less concerned with his dignity, probably because he knows he doesn’t really have much of it in the first place. Bob is often fun, particularly when he shows an unexpected willingness to humor his children’s silliness, but it’s far rarer for him to have fun, and it’s so much fun to see him cut loose with gardening that it’s easy to write off Linda and Louise’s suffering.
Seriously, though, people, the Bushes are the worst. Whatever tiny progress was made between Louise and Logan—Logan Barry Bush, that is—and between Linda and Cynthia in “Mother Daughter Laser Razor” has been wiped clean, with the quartet at each other’s throats from the word go. As Louise so succinctly puts it to her dad, “You’re taking the only good thing about this place—its lack of Logan—and adding Logan.” The episode makes a fine case as to why Logan is the perfect arch-nemesis for the littlest Belcher. Unlike an adult, Logan doesn’t have to worry about the bad optics of mistreating a preteen hellion, but he’s still too big to have the same kind of primal fear that younger kids have for Louise. Basically, teens represent the one group that Louise can’t effectively bully—at least not without enlisting the help of a biker gang, which is kind of cheating—and Logan is the perfect distillation of everything awful about teenagers. He uses his smells for evil, not good, a fact that really should have lost him Gene’s adoration if not for their unexpected bonding over high fives. He flagrantly goofs off at the restaurant, but not to have fun, like the Belcher kids, but rather to assert his status as a cool kid to his friends.
And Cynthia, if it’s possible, is even worse. Put it this way: When the closest thing to a redeeming feature she has is the fact that she might hate her own son, she’s pretty damn detestable. More than that, she’s basically been reverse-engineered to represent everything Linda could possibly hate. Linda might not share Bob’s total love of all things burgers, but she does love the larger worldview that Bob represents. For all her flightiness, she’s an earthy, no-nonsense sort at heart, and it’s hard to imagine anything more nonsensical than striding into a burger restaurant and ordering some chamomile damn tea. Cynthia’s own reaction to Linda’s refusal—a reorder of chamomile tea before finally grasping that a place called Bob’s Burgers doesn’t serve that drink—suggests a meeting of two completely alien races, each utterly failing to comprehend the others’ most basic forms of communication. Also, there’s a lot of petty passive-aggressiveness about class and cleanliness, plus some backseat parenting, but, really, the chamomile tea is all you need to understand.
“Late Afternoon In The Garden Of Bob And Louise” is another very solid episode for Bob’s Burgers, albeit one that doesn’t end up finding as much to say about its title characters as one might hope. The father-daughter relationship between Bob and Louise is one of the show’s most stealthily sweet relationship—there may be no more heartwarming moment in the show’s entire five-year run than the end of “Carpe Museum”—but this episode ends up being far more about the conflict between them than any real moments of bonding. At this point, it almost counts as a swerve away from expectations for Louise to be more or less in the right about her bratty behavior, but it still feels like the episode never quite locates that next level of insight into what makes Bob and Louise get each other more than just about anyone else does. Still, if an episode is going to be light on character moments, the least it can do is go long on Bob talking to himself and Tina trying to extract from Logan all the secret dirt on teenage boys. As this episode delivers both of those things, it’s hard to argue too much against its charms.
“If you have to sleep with her to get in, it’s okay.” “Way ahead of you, Lin.”
“I bet when you reconnect in your 30s, I bet you get married.” Please, Gene. Louise is going to marry Regular-Size Rudy. Don’t mess this up for me!
“It would be fun to quit if I didn’t love this job so gosh darn much.” Tina is the future of the American workforce, whether we like it not.
“You’re my angel … dust. Sorry, that’s a drug.”