Tonight’s midseason premiere is driven by all the ridiculous things the various dinner party attendees want. As far as Bob is concerned, the recently divorced archaeologist Steve is the spitting image of Indiana Jones, and Bob wants nothing more than to be that guy’s best friend. For Louise, all she really wants is to maintain the status quo, and she will go to any lengths to banish Mr. Frond from Gayle’s life. For those two (seriously) crazy lovebirds, they are looking to make a connection that it’s hard to imagine them ever making with anyone else. Linda just wants her sister to be happy, especially since it significantly raises the chances that Gayle won’t be quite so much her problem anymore. As for Steve’s 10-year-old son, he just wants to steal things and kiss Tina, as he makes the rare romantic overture in which the eldest Belcher has no interest. Even floating on the periphery of this episode, you’ve got Teddy trying to prove that he’s got just as many friends as Bob, and that Bob’s new friends ought to respect him just as much as Teddy does. Oh, and Steve just wants to be left in peace to poop, which is fair enough, really.
“The Cook, The Steve, The Gayle, And Her Lover” is an especially busy version of a well-worn kind of Bob’s Burgers episode, as, other than that opening scene in Mr. Frond’s office, the entire episode unfolds around the restaurant and the apartment, where the Belchers are free to be every bit as silly as they always want to be (and, in fairness, pretty much always are). The dinner party setup forces a bunch of kids and adults into a confined space, which means the characters, give or take Gayle and Frond, can pretty much always see precisely what everyone else is up to. For Bob, his recurring bit isn’t just funny because he’s trying so desperately hard to be best friends with someone who is pretty clearly a deeply boring person. It’s also that his entire family, and Steve for that matter, is fully aware of how much of an idiot he’s making of himself, adding a delightful trainwreck aspect to his attempts to win over a guy who really, really doesn’t like being compared to Indiana Jones.
The Gayle plotline is a little trickier, if only because she flits between being fun comic relief and being a genuinely fragile sadsack. In theory, there’s a level Louise can reach at which she’s just too hurtful to her aunt for the jokes to continue to land. That doesn’t happen here, but the mere fact it’s conceivable is a tribute to the work Megan Mulally and company do in creating Gayle’s pathetic little world. In all this, the key is for the show to maintain some small semblance of hope that Gayle could find happiness one of these days without compromising on all the issues she has that make that so deeply unlikely. Building on the recent Thanksgiving episode’s reveal that Gayle and Frond are now an item, this episode lays out quite efficiently that this is both the best case scenario for those two and the worst possible outcome for the Belcher kids. It definitely isn’t ridiculous to not want your lame guidance counsellor dating your otherwise maiden aunt! It doesn’t really feel like Louise is exaggerating much when she imagines future holidays with Uncle Mr. Frond.
What’s so good about this episode structurally is that, as busy as it is, it doesn’t overload its storytelling. Linda could very easily dip back into characterizations past and care a frankly dangerous amount about the success of the dinner party, but she doesn’t care about that so much as she cares about Bob and Gayle, her favorite two ridiculous people, getting to develop the relationships they want. This means Linda can just serve to keep the plot rolling along with minimal fuss, as she warns Louise that she had better recover Mr. Frond’s gift to Gayle if she wants to avoid being grounded. The other example isn’t as narratively crucial as that one, but consider also when Linda is trying to convince Bob to calm down and stop trying so hard with Steve. It’s an open question whether that advice was actually the right call, given that Steve appeared prepared to repeat his best archaeological story, but then that’s the fun of the Belchers: They are never less convincing at being normal than when they are actively trying to be.
Balancing out the episode is Steve’s amorous son. One could certainly argue that the kid is a bit of a shameless plot device, given his kleptomania is quickly established merely to justify his stealing the dead grandmother’s shawl doll, but there are certainly worse things than H. Jon Benjamin busting out his nasal Jason voice from Home Movies to play a character obsessed with Tina. The actual resolution of all the plotlines is close to perfect, as Louise is undone just by a silently furious Tina and is forced to recognize how unfair she’s being. Making that all the better is how well the initially mooted resolution appears to work, as it gives Louise a way out of her punishment while still throwing a wrench in Frond and Gayle’s relationship, and Tina “only” has to kiss a creepy 10-year-old kid to make the whole thing work. On a show fractionally more mean-spirited than Bob’s Burgers, the show probably would have gone with that resolution on the assumption that Louise isn’t really capable of learning important lessons.
It feels a little silly to call this a “midseason” premiere, given this is only the sixth episode of the season, “The Cook, The Steve, The Gayle, And Her Lover” is a fine way to kick off 2016, as the show keeps things nice and straightforward and focused on the Belchers. What’s so fun about the show at this point in its comedic evolution is that it can do an unabashed Belcher episode that also heavily features two of the show’s weirdest characters and two previously unseen people, one of whom is intentionally an incredibly boring non-entity, for all that Bob loves Steve so. At the end of the day, Bob’s Burgers can always just go back home to the Belcher household and get laughs from having the characters bounce off of one another, especially when Louise and Bob are making fools of themselves in pursuit of what they want and the other three family members are content to just wisecrack. Well, at least until Tina had her climactic filibuster at the end there. Never before has the show been so eloquent.
- So, yeah, this review initially went up a week too early, as last Sunday’s NFL playoff game ran long and Bob’s Burgers ended up getting preempted. I was writing the review remotely using a pre-air screener, so I was unaware the episode hadn’t actually aired. (Amusingly, I came this close to making a note in this very review about how at least Bob’s Burgers doesn’t constantly get preempted like previous 7:30 shows like Futurama and King Of The Hill, which would have been the mother of all ironies.) Anyway, while this probably counts as an honest error for all involved, it’s still not a great look, and it’s pretty damn mortifying for me personally. So my sincere apologies for the screw-up, and sorry if the comments section is just irretrievably weird at this point.