“The Handyman Can” marks the return of a beloved episodic structure for Bob’s Burgers, a semi-recurring segment that I’ve dubbed the Trilogy of Error. (No, not that one.) It’s the episodes where the basic narratives are thrown out in favor of letting each of the Belcher children take over the story and offer their own versions of events, shot through with their highly specific views on the world and individual diets of pop culture. “The Frond Files,” “The Gayle Tales,” “Sliding Bobs,” “Mom, Lies, And Videotape,” and “Bed, Bob, And Beyond” all fall into this category, less regular than the holiday episodes but all the more appreciated for their random appearances.
These episodes would all be seasonal highlights if only for the way they turn up the pace of pop culture homage, but Bob’s Burgers has gotten progressively smarter about the way it deploys them. After a somewhat shaky justification in “The Frond Files” the stories have graduated to have a specific aim in mind: trying to convince someone of their worth, covering up for disastrous circumstances, or discussing a significant moment in family history. Adding those through lines draws a clearer point on how Tina, Gene, and Louise individually perceive the world—or more likely, what they watch on TV—and how they react to other people. Even if their motives for telling these stories are ultimately just in getting what they want, they still betray an affection for the people they’re telling them to, and—in their own way—show how they can be smarter about people than most of the adults in this world.
The adult they have to be smart about this time around is Teddy, in the throes of a crisis of confidence after Reggie’s gazebo burned down thanks to a faulty wiring job on the ceiling fan. (Apparently gazebo ceiling fans are a thing, so I learned something today.) Doubting that he can even perform a simple wiring job in the walk-in freezer, Bob agrees they may have to pay a professional at an exchange rate of 2.5 Teddys, and as a result the kids won’t be able to go to the trampoline park I Gotta Take A Jump. (Which as wordplay goes, chef kiss.) The setup is almost identical to the setup of “The Gayle Tales,” but what it loses in repetition it gains in context. Teddy is a far more beloved character than Gayle—both by the kids and by the audience—and he also falls into the group of Bob’s Burgers characters who somehow possesses a measure of competence. There’s real stakes to the story beyond the kids’s selfish desires, and we want them to succeed as much as they do.
Louise kicks it off with a glorious homage to Waterworld, wherein the world has succumbed to a hundred-year storm—her nine-year-old-brain unable to comprehend the idea of climate change—and it’s only thanks to Teddy’s grand skill in transforming the restaurant to a floating barge that the Belcher family literally and figuratively stays afloat. One of the best things about these episodes is the rare window you get into an alternate Bob’s Burgers universe, and the visual design on this one is pretty fantastic. From the way the restaurant is converted into a barge to the post-apocalyptic character redesigns to the various cameos of other cast members, the animation department puts so much on display that you want this flood to carry over into the rest of the show for a few episodes. How could you not want to see Mr. Fischoeder channeling Dennis Hopper, Hugo’s health inspection van turned into a hovercraft prowling for citations, or just what pirate empire Marshmallow would rule over?
But all of those details are secondary to Louise’s storytelling, which in keeping with her direct nature is the most straightforward. As the youngest sibling she’s not interested in symbolism or narrative flourishes, and it shows in her storytelling. Her characters wind up repeating lines as soon as she narrates them, and every reassurance about Teddy’s abilities comes out with little context beyond being there to get the point across. She’s more interested in telling an action story where Teddy’s abilities are the means to the end, a delivery for her to have fun and pay homage to Mad Max: Fury Road. That said, you can still see her humanity peeking through the gaps of the post-apocalyptic narrative in the best ways: of course she saves Regular Sized Rudy to join them on Candy Island, and of course she defeats Logan to do it.
Tina, by contrast, has her head in the clouds—literally, as she transforms him into a hero with a scenario that’s part Up and part Studio Ghibi. The most important celebrities in the world are trapped at the peak of Mount Everest, and in Tina’s world those celebrities are Boyz4Now trying to make their newest music video. It’s a welcome return for Max Greenfield, who feels like he’s at his Boo Booest on this go-around (“I said we should go to a mountain! I didn’t say it should be one of the Everests!”), and a welcome return to Louise’s repeated denials of her crush on him. And it also produces my favorite part of these stories, when Bob vainly tries to bring logic into it—in this case arguing that an avalanche can’t happen on the peak of a mountain. Every time he does, it hits a wall of feigned or actual ignorance from his children, and he can’t muster more than a few sentences before wearily admitting defeat.
It feels a little out of character for Tina to not be telling a grand romance for Teddy, especially as she’s previously been so invested in Teddy’s love life, but it remains well within her idiosyncratic wheelhouse. First there’s the fact that despite it being Teddy’s story she can’t help herself from being the hero of it, giving herself an unrealistic happy ending in one of the episode’s biggest laughs, as she wins an Academy Award for directing the next Boyz4Now music video. And more importantly, while she’s left out the romance she’s incorporated so many elements of a bromance, creating a world where Bob is open and friendly with Teddy to the point he’ll let his best friend sit on his lap with a seatbelt hug. It’s shrewd storytelling for Tina, recognizing that Teddy’s idealized vision of being Bob’s best friend is as valuable as his handyman competency, and that tying them closer together makes the former more likely to cheer up. Tina lives so deeply in her own fantasy world, she can see and appreciate his.
Gene gets relegated to the last slot, and as you’d expect from his showman instincts, he reacts to that by going bigger than anyone else. It’s a vision that could have only come from his overstimulated brain, merging Voltron and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to create a story where Jimmy Pesto’s old marinara sauce creates a kaiju monster named Pizzilla. (“It’s the pizza that eats ya!” Linda declares, unable to not cheerlead Gene’s creativity.) And the only thing that can defeat it is Teddy’s conversion of the restaurant into a giant robot, taking to the streets in a battle of strength and farts. Once again, the animation is terrific, the restaurant turning into a robot with so many delightful features that I want to see Bento Box Entertainment and Hasbro team up and get this toy into stores in time for Christmas.
While Gene’s story feels like the one that has the least connection to actually reinforcing Teddy feeling good about himself, that’s something that feels right for the character. There’s no time wasted in character development or motivation, just a basic setup and then right into smashing buildings. Gene doesn’t really have it in him to see a world full of self-doubt or where constant reassurance is necessary, he’s the sort of kid who genuinely believes that you can solve any major problem with a simple game of “pull my finger.” (Though he does have one subtle reassurance to Teddy if you’re really looking for it, taking those pointless long-winded stories and weaving them in as a “somewhat long and detailed, but still very helpful tutorial.”)
The resolution to the story is expected—there’s no way they’d end the episode on a downbeat of Teddy not taking their words to heart—but that doesn’t take anything away from that unique Bob’s Burgers sweetness when he admits that it’s all of their support together that’s pulling him out of his rut. Even though the kids are clearly doing this because they won’t be deprived of I Gotta Take A Jump, there’s still a sincerity to each of their stories that shines through, a desire to get their Uncle Teddy out of his rut and back to being the eccentric regular they know and love. (Or know and tolerate, as Bob’s in a particular curmudgeonly place this week.) Sure, he might burn the place down, but at least it’s him burning the place down and not some outsider who couldn’t inspire half as much creativity in his friends.
Overall, “The Handyman Can” falls into the middle of the pack on these Trilogy of Error episodes. The last three installments found some fun conceits to tie everything together—romantic comedies, school plays, or rewriting history—and it’s a return to base level for a main supporting character to be at the center of these narratives. However, the respective stories and their homages still work exceptionally well, and by linking the stories around a character as beloved as Teddy it raises itself up a few notches. It remains a welcome variety in the world of Bob’s Burgers, where even if we won’t get a full steampunk/post-apocalyptic/kaiju episode, it’s nice to glimpse that possibility from time to time.
- Burgers of the Week: The Chili-delphia Story Burger, The Deep Blue Brie Burger (comes with blue cheese and brie), The Stayin’ A-Chive Burger, The Almond Butters Band Burger (bun toasted w/almond butter).
- Store Next Door: Purple Vein: Varicose Vein Surgery.
- Pest Control Truck: Hives Out Bee Removal.
- Since I feel like doing it and I coined the term, here’s my ranking of the prior Trilogy of Errors: “Sliding Bobs,” “Bed, Bob, And Beyond,” “Mom, Lies, And Videotape,” “The Handyman Can,” “The Gayle Tales,” “The Frond Files.”
- Louise, knowing her dad better than anyone, shrewdly points out that their restaurant only works because of how balanced their tower of incompetence is, and one look from a professional would knock it all over: “You’re too poor and too proud to fix any of that.” Bob’s “Yeah, you’re right” might be his saddest delivery in a while.
- Another callback to “The Gayle Tales” in Bob hoping against all hope his daughter hasn’t watched something she’s too young for. Louise: “I wouldn’t even know how to stream that movie over and over again with Mom’s password.”
- Edith and Harold’s boat is covered in googly eyes. Guess that makes it a Couldchuck vessel.
- “I’m the opposite of a handyman. I’m a handy-sham!”
- “Also, Ken wants to solarize his party deck.” Ken mention!
- “We also did a little tubing along the way, just cause it’s fun.”
- “Himalyas? More like see-ya-latas! Get it, girl!” I do love that Tina had to insert a moment of Jimmy Jr. and Zeke talking about her favorably when she wasn’t around.
- “Teddy does all the handy jobs!” “Gene, don’t say handy jobs.”
- “I always though I’d grow old and sexy like the grandma from Who’s The Boss?!”
- “Good job kids. I guess you win and we all lose.”
- Bad news everyone: so soon after returning, we’re going away again. Bob’s Burgers will be dropped from TV Club regular coverage after this week, to return on May 17 for the season finale. Longer thoughts to come then. Until then, be safe and kind to each other, everybody.