Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bob’s Burgers tries to be bland, succeeds more than it should

Illustration for article titled Bob’s Burgers tries to be bland, succeeds more than it should

Even in a fairly indifferent Bob’s Burgers episode, it’s possible for the show to attain a perfect moment. Such is the case when we learn precisely how awful a kisser Tina’s new quasi-boyfriend Jordan really is. Every last detail is perfect. There’s the way that Jordan shows his first signs of definable passion as he reveals how Tina makes him feel, throwing himself into a parking meter with utterly misjudged abandon. There’s how his idea of a kiss involves, as Tina notes, just saw of clamping his mouth onto the lower portion of Tina’s face. There’s his total failure to take Tina’s feedback about his kissing approach. And then there’s that noise. That noise! Jordan is quite literally sucking Tina’s face, and the noise he makes is so perfectly, endearingly gross in its absolute lack of romance. He is hungry for Tina, and I really wish I meant that as more of a euphemism than it actually is. If not for the fact that it’s one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever seen, I could stand to watch an entire episode of Jordan doing what he apparently really, seriously considers to be kissing, it’s that silly and hilarious and—always important—true to the character the show sets up.

Beyond that perfectly gross bit of business, though, “The Land Ship” never quite comes together the way it ought to. One big reason takes us back to a familiar critique of the show’s lesser entries: The episode features precious little of the entire Belcher family interacting together. While the kids and the parents do share some scenes in the restaurant, they largely occupy separate storytelling spheres, with the only real intersection coming when Tina falls asleep at the breakfast table. Not coincidentally, that’s one of the funniest moments in the episode, as Bob briefly considers making the practical decision to free himself and drop his own daughter back into the cereal before realizing that he’s just going to have to let her sleep as long as she needs to. That’s the kind of really specific interaction that only Bob’s Burgers can provide, as this is one of those scenes where Bob is a sweet if misguided enabler of his daughter. The show can absolutely get a ton of mileage out of Bob interacting with Linda or all the kids bouncing off one another, but it tends to find its most distinctive and most disarming moments when it brings the parents and the kids together.

Even then, Gene and Louise remain on the periphery for a large chunk of this episode, as Tina seeks a little spiciness in her life by going off and tagging with Jordan. I’m not sure Bob’s Burgers has ever quite so perfectly matched Dan Mintz’s energy as Tina than by bringing in Nathan Fielder, who previously played another one of Tina’s weird non-boyfriends way back in “Beefsquatch.” While Fielder’s earlier character matched and amplified Tina’s own proud freakiness, Jordan starts out as a more straitlaced character, his only outlet for wildness coming in the form of the Ghost Boy graffiti. Louise at one point realizes that she was wrong to think that Jordan and Tina represented the bland leading the bland, but that actually kind of is what their dynamic is. The joke of so much of “The Land Ship” relies on just how monotone and dull Jordan is, how resolutely devoid of spice he truly is.

The payoff, which comes mostly in the form of that kiss and Jordan’s weird understanding of what passion entails, almost makes the journey there worth it. But the issue is that it’s hard to devote quite so much time to a pair of characters who are intentionally presented as flatly and dully as possible without the episode feeling, well, a bit flat and dull. It’s not just that Jordan is boring, but that he’s boringly oblivious to Tina’s objections to tagging the sail of the land ship. As a gag, Jordan’s lack of awareness can be funny, but it’s also limiting, in that it comes dangerously close to locking Tina in a story where she’s effectively talking to herself. And, in fairness, Tina talking herself into a frenzy has a long tradition on Bob’s Burgers, so it’s not like this couldn’t work. But this all feels familiar, and Jordan is the opposite of an emerging presence, by design. His lack of, well, anything is a meta-joke that works well in small doses, but there comes a point where the show would benefit from Tina having more of an opposing presence to bounce off of, particularly when Louise and Gene take active roles only in the final third of the episode.

Bob’s quest to rid the restaurant of porta-potties, by comparison, is a pretty minor subplot, but it works better because it keeps giving Bob characters to interact with. A lot of this story is delightfully silly, with the jokes ranging from endearingly old-fashioned—the obtuse deliveryman telling Bob he obviously wouldn’t eat at a restaurant with porta-potties in front of it—to goofily improvised—Bob and Teddy detailing what songs are playing on the phone, with H. Jon Benjamin briefly cracking up mid-line—to absurd yet totally sensible in context, as Linda takes the directive to wear dark clothing as an excuse to get dressed up in her nicest black outfit. Again, this is all pretty standard Bob’s Burgers material, which is by no means a bad thing. It’s just that the episode never quite locates what might set this story apart. The lore of the land ship itself could well have offered something more substantial; as it is, the land ship is really just a plot device, and any similarly large and important surface could have worked as well as the sail. But then, I’m the world’s biggest fan of “Lisa The Iconoclast,” so I’m always going to advocate for shows delving into their fictional town’s histories.

As it is, “The Land Ship” is fine, a standard slice of Bob’s Burgers fun enlivened by a couple brilliant moments. Tina’s quest to make herself more interesting doesn’t necessarily offer much that we haven’t already seen of her, and Jordan proves too intentionally featureless to offer much beyond a smattering of meta-jokes about how boring he is—his going off with an equally bland girl who immediately shows interest in him is a great parting gag—but it does at least get the episode to a strong ending, as the Wagstaff Elementary gang revises their initial judgment. Zeke, Jocelyn, Tammy, and Jimmy Jr. all have personality to spare, and the different ways in which they process how Tina can be both reckless and responsible makes for some great gags to close out the episode. In particular, Bob’s Burgers gets back to one of its best recurring character gags for Jimmy Jr., as he reacts to a boy showing even the slightest interest in Tina by getting weirdly, dorkily possessive. “The Land Ship” represents Bob’s Burgers telling a story in an intentionally minor key, and that choice left the show with less margin for error than usual. The result isn’t bad, but it’s definitely not the show at its most memorable or most energetic.


Stray observations:

  • “The night of the attack was humid and full of tension.” “Just like my farts!”
  • “See you soon, baboon. Spice it up, spice it up. See you soon, bitch! Oh, too spicy.”
  • “That was my first kiss.” “I couldn’t tell at all. It had a lot of the things that real kissing has.”