Bob’s Burgers has been a low-key national treasure ever since its premiere in 2011. Like many others on Fox’s adult cartoon roster (The Simpsons, Family Guy, King Of The Hill), Loren Bouchard’s series follows a working-class American nuclear family. But what sets it apart from the rest is that the Belchers are anything but dysfunctional: They may be what society would brand losers, but they love each other unconditionally. And considering today’s TV landscape is largely populated by families who’d sooner sell each other up the river than share a hug, Bob’s is a welcome reprieve.
Earlier this year, the series leveled up when it got the big-screen treatment. So there’s a good chance that, in its first season since it went cinematic, Bob’s will get an influx of new viewers. And thanks to the show’s episodic nature, newbies won’t have a hard time hopping in at any point in the story.
And they might as well start with the season 13 premiere, “To Bob, Or Not To Bob.” Scripted by sibling writing team Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin, the episode is a Bob’s Burgers classic that combines some of the series’ trademark elements: financial anxiety, mutual support, frustrated ambition, theater jokes, and, of course, Louise fantasizing about edge weapons.
And like the series’ best installments, the stakes are objectively low but personally high. Because when you’re a struggling restaurant owner who’s managed to make rent on time for the first time in years, it doesn’t look like much from the outside; but anyone who’s ever been cash-strapped knows that from the inside, it means a whole lot.
That’s the case for the Belcher clan at the start of the episode, as they watch the latest flash-in-the-pan business next door close up shop. And since Bob’s Burgers is just barely solvent (for the moment, at least), Linda has an idea: Why not expand into the empty storefront?
Enter the Belchers’ flamboyantly wealthy landlord Calvin Fischoeder, striding through the door with an elaborate scheme. Years ago, he lost a trophy that his father won for “Best Businessing in the Bay,” and he’s convinced that his brother Felix stole it. Each year on the anniversary of the trophy’s disappearance, Fischoeder tries and fails to get Felix to confess. But he’s got a new idea this year, inspired by a production of Hamlet he saw by mistake: He wants the Belchers to act in a play he’s penned about the supposed crime, hoping that watching it will provoke Felix into revealing his guilt, Claudius-style.
Fischoeder offers to waive a month of rent if they help him out; but Linda proposes that instead, he could let them use the empty storefront for free for a month. Fischoeder says yes, but Bob, who’s never seen an opportunity he isn’t at least a little afraid of, nixes the idea.
That night, a ghost (the sheet kind, complete with badly cut-out eye holes) visits Bob in a dream, which is what happens in your unconscious when you half-hear the plot of Hamlet. The ghost warns him that Bob is murdering his own business thanks to his lack of ambition. So the next morning, Bob caves and tells Fischoeder that the deal is on.
Now it’s time for rehearsal, which I was almost as excited about as Linda is about directing the play (hilariously entitled Hamlet, But Good This Time). In the 20 minutes of rehearsal time they have before the restaurant opens, we get a delicious glimpse of the Belchers as a theater company—involving, among other things, Linda negging Bob’s acting skills; Tina stumbling around half-blind in a homemade eyepatch; and Louise contributing her Kuchi Kopi toy (in a wig, of course) as a prop version of the pilfered trophy.
That night, Bob is still vibrating with anxiety about the expansion. In his dreams, the ghost shows him a vision of the high-end restaurant he could open next door, complete with a classed-up version of himself sporting chef’s whites and a full head of hair. But a burger patty forgotten on the grill pleads with him as it burns to ash: “Don’t you love me anymore?”
And then it’s the day of the show, y’all! The tiny house is packed with Fischoeder’s tenants who he blackmailed into coming, plus Felix and the always-supportive Teddy. The costumes are a regional theater kid’s dream (particularly Tina’s mini-Fischoeder suit and Gene’s “buxom German maid” getup), and the dialogue is as plummy as you could hope (“Come, my largest and best son!”).
But Bob’s mind is a million miles away from the performance. like Carmy in The Bear, he’s a chef torn between his love of food and his fear of success. And standing onstage in a plastic crown and fright makeup, he blurts out his own confession: He doesn’t want to expand.
Fischoeder finally gets an admission of guilt from Felix, who dumped the trophy in “the swan pond.” As the brothers exit, pursued by the audience, Bob apologizes to his wife—both for ruining the play and for his lack of ambition. But Linda tells him she only pushed the idea of the new space because she thought he was excited about it. Bob says he loves what the restaurant is now, and he doesn’t need it to be more. And as they spit in the face of capitalist dogma, the Belchers continue to have the most supportive marriage on television.
There’s also a throwaway B plot (but why on earth would you want to throw it away?) about Louise trying to convince Bob to let her use the restaurant’s knife sharpener, complete with a vision of the youngest Belcher sitting on an Iron Throne made of kitchen knives. She eventually pressures Tina into showing her the ropes, and Louise uses her new skills—and a blade that’s sharp in “places you wouldn’t expect”—to carve a mustache on a tomato effigy of Bob. The kids present it to him as a trophy for “Best Dad Who Is Also Pretty Good At Business,” and the Belchers (and Teddy, of course) share a family hug.
- Burger of the Week: We get four! The I Like Walnuts and I Cannot Lie burger, the Dirty Rotten Tendrils Burger, the Cauliflower Me Maybe Burger, and the All the World’s a Sage Burger.
- Store Next Door: Tan in Real Life, a shoutout to one of the great forgotten mid-aughts rom-coms.
- Pest Control Truck: The Merchant of Vermin, one of this episode’s many Shakespeare references.
- Guest Actor of the Week: Tony-nominated stage and screen vet Adam Godley voices the ghost who haunts Bob’s dreams. He was once was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company—where, ironically, he never did Hamlet.
- The massive sinkhole that opened up in front of the restaurant in The Bob’s Burgers Movie makes a brief appearance in the opening credits timelapse. This business has been through a lot over the years, huh?
- Past tactics Mr. Fischoeder tried to get Felix to confess to stealing the trophy have included hypnosis, spanking, and lacing his food with LSD.
- As usual, every Linda line is gold: “That’s what Hamlet is about? I thought it was about Romeo and Juliet.” “Was it the dream about the soccer ball with penises all over it?”
- No one in this episode has a better time than Gene. He jumps at the chance to go onstage in German maid drag and shake his “bazongas,” prompting Linda to affectionately dub him her “pretty little booby boy.” (Gene’s delight in bucking gender norms—and how supportive his family is about it—may be Bob’s Burgers’ loveliest contribution to the pop culture landscape.)
- “To Bob, Or Not To Bob” joins a grand tradition of Bob’s Burgers episodes revolving around theater—“Topsy,” “All That Gene,” “Hamburger Dinner Theater,” and “Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl,” to name a few.
- Jay Johnston, who voiced rival restaurateur Jimmy Pesto Sr., was ousted from the show last year after it came out that he was part of the January 6 Capitol Riot. The character wasn’t in season 12, and he didn’t speak in the movie. Will we see the return of Bob’s nemesis with a new voice actor this season?