There is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” Bob’s Burgers has been quite good about keeping a balance between its characters’ flights of fancy and connections to the real world. Just once or twice an episode, we get a dream or imagination sequence that takes Bob’s from its fairly grounded lower-middle-class existence and lets the animators go wild. And it’s usually great. Last week, Gene’s dreams of “Robot College” were probably the best part of a great episode (which is why I nominated it for “Who Won TV?”).
Tonight’s episode had far more than the normal amount of these fanciful extended cutaways. And they were all, by and large, good. Bob’s visions of floating off into happyland based on his new soft-serve machine were good stuff, as were the kids’ remembrances of gym class (especially Tina getting hit in the head with a ball). There were just significantly more than usual. As a one-time thing, this could work. As a strategy for the show moving forward? I’m not so sure.
Back when Family Guy first aired, its cutaways were fresh and funny. They immediately felt new, creating an animated sitcom that took full advantage of being, well, animated. Now? Those animated cutaways are considered somewhat beyond passé and are the single most commonly-used signifier of the supposed laziness of the MacFarlane shows and their style of comedy. Why? Overuse, primarily. There’s a reason why our current Family Guy reviewer keeps track of the cutaways every week.
Bob’s Burgers has a similar sort of danger. Its extended, imaginative cutaways tend to occur so sparsely that they’re consistently surprising. The show is normally so grounded in something approximating reality that the surprise is compounded, making those fanciful “Butts” songs or Cyndi Lauper moments so fantastic. By having them early in the episode, and having them over and over, Bob’s negates one of its strengths.
Which is not to say that this episode is bad. It’s a consistently amusing effort, built around the kids’ attempt to make the world work the way they want it to. They don’t like their gym class, so they try to get out of it by manipulating the guidance counselor, then their mother, into letting them do an independent study in “synchronized swimming.” But Bob’s been noticing that Linda’s been over-helping the kids with school, and when she realizes that he’s right, she gets pissed off and stops.“Time to let my little birds fly! My bratty little baby birds fly with their crappy little wings.”
It’s also a good way to see one of the show’s strengths, the steadily escalating insanity of the children when grouped together. Obviously it’s Louise who takes the lead, as ever, and she gets good and shouty. Perhaps her best moment comes when trying to get out of the synchronized swimming demonstration. Her first two attempts are pretty predictable and terrible—and then she literally drops a deuce in the pool. Bob’s reaction is initial amusement and what appears to be a kind of pride, which makes it so much better.
And in the end, Linda saves the day, or at least presses the reset button, by going back to what appeared to be a throwaway gag from the beginning, with her doing pregnancy yoga. “And lift up the baby. Nurse the baby. And…jazz hands.” And that new soft-serve machine? Its light introduction has me hopeful that it’s being saved for sunny day in the future.
- “I could read it, but I retain it better when Mom tells it to me.” Louise’s finely honed bullshit-creator is a crucial part of her charm.
- “Gene. Boogers.” “That is good stuff. Uncut!” Gene’s total lack of the same, likewise.
- “You’re judged from the day you’re born til the day you die.” “Summer school!” “Yeah, what next? Summer church? Summer dentist?” “Summer visit grandma?” I love how the kids view all these things as similar. Both funny, and, I think, an accurate depiction.