Perhaps this is the comedy equivalent of “mythology” for dramas. As a show progresses, it collects characters, explanations, history. Complications, in other words. But while these complications can weigh down a drama that may feel like it needs to answer questions unintentionally raised, it's much more positive in a comedy. Here it's a deep bench of characters, who have been fleshed out enough that they can be the focal point of an episode more than the Belchers themselves. This isn't some new and shocking development for Bob's Burgers—it's clearly been building its as-yet-unnamed town and side characters up—but it is, perhaps, most notable here in “Nude Beach.”
The critical character here is Hugo, Linda's former flame, and Bob's nemesis as the health inspector. He investigates a nude beach and discovers that it's quite to his liking, which leads him to take a leave of absence from the health inspector patrol. His replacement, Tommy, is even worse, and so once the Belchers realize this they have to get Hugo back, the episode hinges on Hugo's choices, not Bob's or Linda's or Tina's or Gene's or Louise's.
This is often a good thing, and it's a great way for a show to have more variety, but it also requires that the side characters be worthy of their plots. Hugo? No, Hugo's not quite strong enough for that. He's cartoonish in a way that bothers Bob, but not so much that you get the hilarious crazy Bob. Nor is Hugo hilarious on his own—he's also annoyed by Bob, but likewise not so much that he's funny.
Bob's Burgers seems to get this, so the bulk of time is spent on Hugo's replacement, Tommy, voiced by the ubiquitous Fred Armisen. But he's clearly too good to be true, and quickly revealed to be so—he's abusing his position in order to get a stage for his music. The songs are fairly amusing, but the storyline doesn't do much that's surprising. Tommy only really interacts with Bob, and his escalating blackmail for a venue exists only to lead Bob back to Hugo.
What's most frustrating about this is that the kids are sidelined in a b-plot that has them selling tickets to the nude beach. This is a plotline that should work really well, especially when Aziz Ansari's DRL joins the fray for the first time since “Burgerboss,” as does Jimmy Jr. and his over-violent buddy. But this plot doesn't really go anywhere. They crack jokes about the denizens of the nude beach, which is particularly amusing when Bob joins to beat Hugo at the Nudecathalon, but has no real staying power, let alone a resolution. The prospect of DRL and Louise going toe-to-toe in ideas to exploit teenaged boys is briefly flirted with, but nothing comes of it. I can't help but wish that the kids' b-plot was the a-plot, and a little less time had been spent on Bob, Hugo, and Tommy.
All this is not to say that “Nude Beach” was a bad episode, though it might have been slightly below the increasingly high average that Bob's Burgers has set for itself. But it's the sort of episode that demonstrates that the show has a core backbone that it can rely on for steady episodes generally, and perhaps even better than in the cases where the balance works.
- “Hi. I'm Andre Royo. I played Bubbles on the critically acclaimed tv series The Wire. But today, I'm talking about a different kind of bubbles. Soap bubbles.” This is how you do reference humor right. At least, I think so. I wonder how people who haven't seen The Wire took it.
- “I've seen my neighbor across the street put on her bra and girdle hundreds of times.”
- “So either you join me in nude brotherhood, or kindly return to your…clothed country.”
- “I think Dad looks pretty good considering he's had three kids.” Tina has easily the best line of any of the kids tonight.
- Last week a college friend of mine noted that the plot about a young woman taking control of her body image, with Tina wanting to shave then keep her leg hair, was something rare and interesting for network TV. I think the relative lack of judgment bestowed on the people on the nude beach continues that—the kids weren't exactly respectful, but apart from Jimmy Jr.'s one comment, quickly assuaged by Louise, the episode treated nudity as weird because it's socially abnormal and not because the human body is inherently weird. I'll be keeping an eye on this, as something that goes along with Bob's Burgers weird-but-sweet vibe.