A lot of tonight’s episode can be a bit much. That makes sense, considering Linda Belcher is the embodiment of “a bit much.” Linda episodes are notoriously tricky beasts, taking a character who generally works best in small doses and making her inane insanity (insane inanity?) the focus of the story. “Grand Mama-pest Hotel” gives us the latest entry in a particular sub-genre of Linda episode, in which she massively overcompensates in the hopes of connecting with one of her kids. Louise was an early recipient of this treatment in “Mother Daughter Laser Razor.” Gene got a modified version of this story when Linda got obsessed with his cheerleading prowess in “Gene It On.” And now Tina’s efforts to befriend the cool proto-goth teen Dillon are stymied by her mother’s desperate need to be her best friend. The result is an episode that relies on cringe humor more than most, as it’s hard to spin Linda’s actions throughout as anything but painfully, obviously wrongheaded. The episode comes up with a neat way out of its corner with the conclusion, as Tina makes it clear Linda doesn’t really have anything to worry about, but this an episode that is going to live or die on the audience member’s Linda tolerance.
That said, there’s some definite cleverness in the construction of the episode’s story. While I often point to how Tina and Louise have gradually developed over the show’s run, Bob’s Burgers generally avoids making any truly lasting alterations to the status quo. Having Tina scorn her mother and move fully into being a teenager would certainly qualify. So the very premise of the episode almost requires some manner of reset at the end, with something happening to confirm Tina isn’t going to drift away from Linda just yet. What’s tricky about that is the simple fact that, sooner or later, Tina should want some distance from her mom, as that’s just a natural part of growing up. Maintaining things as they are in the short term can make it look like Tina is in the wrong for experiencing adolescence, which wouldn’t sit right. And since the episode wisely avoids the other obvious storyline suggested by the episode’s setup—revealing there’s something wrong or bad about Dillon—then the only option left is to do what we get here: Make it clear that Tina is totally in the right and just wants to enjoy herself with her new friend, but she can still love and want to spend time with her deeply embarrassing mother.
The only problem for the viewer is that there’s not much this episode can do with Tina. She’s so obviously correct in all these interactions that she really has to just play the grounded straight woman to Linda’s ridiculousness. Her reactions move swiftly from confusion to frustration to fury to generous forgiveness, all of which are deeply realistic but dull her typical comedic potential. Her role in this episode is as an object of Linda’s freak-out, not a subject of the story in her own right, which means we effectively get double the amount of Linda we would have in a more balanced version of this story like “Mother Daughter Laser Razor.” In that episode, both Louise and her mother had some growing to do, which meant they both needed to be featured in their own sides of the story. Here, putting the spotlight on Tina at all would require something interesting to happen—be it Dillon proving to be bad, or Tina acting out in a genuinely worrisome way—and that would undo the entire point of the episode, which is that Linda is completely overreacting.
So, all that means that Linda has to carry much of the comedy of this episode. Until the rest of the family shows up, she only has limited success on that score. Her openly not listening to Mr. Frond is a good gag, and the general overbearing sadness of Dillon’s mom offers a few good jokes. But when Linda is just straight-up wandering into her daughter’s business, the whole thing is a little too awkward to offer much by way of gags, give or take the hotel manager’s insistence on calling the fountain a water fixture. Once Bob, Louise, and Gene arrive to pick up Linda, though, we’re in business, as her husband and daughter especially offer fun counterpoints. Linda’s ridiculousness is much more palatable with dueling running commentaries, with Bob reacting as a normal human would and Louise actively egging her mother on to greater heights of lunacy. The decision to get Linda a shockingly effective disguise to sneak into Tina’s session with the astronaut gives us the inspired sight gag of the bikini shirt, and Louise’s presence just generally grounds the story with the active acknowledgment that, yes, everything Linda is doing is deeply, deeply stupid, and she’s just being enabled by her bored kids.
The final sequence is beautifully put together. Having Bernadette the astronaut initially respond to Linda with something between unease and disinterest is a realistic move, as is her eventual decision to not do what this bizarre woman in the bizarre disguise asked her to do. It’s also the right narrative choice, as it keeps the focus squarely on Tina, who kicks off the big emotional climax of the episode when she assures Linda that, sure, she’s the most embarrassing mom there is, the most embarrassing mom there ever was, and the most embarrassing mom there ever will be, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to keep being close. Dillon even gives her own mom a small smile of acknowledgment, which is enough to get her mom clambering over seats to get to her daughter—there’s generally a ton of amusing stuff here with people navigating the narrow rows of makeshift meeting rooms. And Bob once again lets something get to him in the biggest, most genuine way, with him tearfully thanking the astronaut for telling her story. It’s a lovely closing sequence, one that mixes humor and emotion to great effect, all before whisking Bob away to finish his Dad-chelor party and get married to Linda, or whatever Louise and Gene have decided is going on.
“Grand Mama-pest Hotel” suggests Bob’s Burgers still struggles to know quite how to put together fully compelling Linda episodes, because a lot of episodes centered on her just take her default wackiness and scale it up to frustrating levels. Even so, there’s far too much here that works for me to call this a misfire, and whatever comedy deficiencies there might be in the first half are balanced out by the show’s willingness to just let Tina react realistically to her mother’s overbearing behavior. As is generally the case, the episode picks up once the entire family (give or take Tina) comes together and starts bouncing off one another. Linda is nothing if not a Belcher, and she’s at her funniest when the episode recognizes that.
- I’m guessing this is all we will see of Dillon—we’re still waiting for a return appearance of the friend Louise made at that slumber party—but I wouldn’t mind seeing Tina have one legitimate friend who isn’t a sibling.
- Mr. Frond’s angry intimidating voice really is something to behold, folks. I was quaking on my keyboard.
- I commend Bob’s Burgers for its restraint in not having Teddy tag along to help pick up Linda. It must have been tempting to crowbar Teddy into the proceedings, and I think it was for the best they kept the focus a bit tighter this week.
- Everything about apple juice as booze—Gene being cut off, Teddy slamming them down to catch up—was absolute brilliance.