If there could be a Bob’s Burgers spinoff series focusing on one of the many misfits and oddballs that populate Ocean Avenue and its outskirts, I think I’d have the most fun watching one about Nat Kinkle the limo driver. That might be a bold statement to make about a character who’s only appeared in two episodes before tonight, but it speaks to what an impact she’s made in those outings. Between Jillian Bell’s assured performance, and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneux writing both her previous episodes, Nat’s already a fully formed individual who becomes more likable the more time you spend with. She’s an agent of chaos with a rare (for Bob’s Burgers) level of competence, game for every situation and someone who always knows someone that can help in that situation.
It already felt like a bonus to get two Nat episodes in one season, but “Just The Trip” goes the distance to cement her place as an all-time great Bob’s Burgers character. Once again she’s involved in a Belcher family adventure, but this time there’s no important goal to it: no crazy revenge scheme like “V For Valentine-detta” or desperate attempt to find a lost anniversary gift in “The Ring (But Not Scary).” This time, it’s just a simple road trip with the entire Belcher family along for the ride. And somehow, those lower stakes keep it on par with those earlier outings—and make it one of the best episodes of the season.
What also separates this episode from prior Nat episodes is that while previously she was pulled into the family schemes, this time she’s literally driving the action. She’s running an errand out of town to her ex-girlfriend’s animal sanctuary to return an item, and she offers to let the Belchers join her. The kids and Linda immediately say yes—because honestly, who’d turn down a chance to go on on adventure with Nat, leak in the ceiling or no?—but Bob hesitates beyond simply the financial concern of closing the restaurant. Mainly because he recalls the last time the family took a road trip together and they had to ban those trips, because it ended with everyone vomiting in or out the car and a big bottle of pee. (Great flashback scene by the way. The bottle of pee was Gene, because of course it was.)
That teaser lets you know what we’re in for this week, as “Just The Trip” is one of those Bob’s Burgers episode that’s all about Belcher family interaction. Episodes that focus on the five main characters are always some of the best installments of the series, ones that are able to fall back the heaviest on the lived-in rhythms of the family. We get an early taste of that energy as Bob tries and fails to have a private conversation with Linda—and then tries and fails again. (Bob: “Kids, can we have some privacy?” Louise: “No way. You had us. That’s not how having kids works.”) A road trip is a perfect setting for that dynamic, taking it outside the familiar confines of the restaurant and the apartment while still contriving to keep them in a confined space. And even the predictability of Bob’s ground rules isn’t to its detriment, but rather a series of footballs that you’re just waiting to see yanked away at the last minute: Tina reading in a car and throwing up, Louise making them stop at a roadside attraction, Gene peeing in a bottle.
Only one of those winds up not happening, but it’s because instead of a bottle of pee we get something even better from Gene: his reaction to seeing what Nat’s transporting to her ex-girlfriend. I’m glad I rewatched season three’s “It Snakes A Village” a few weeks ago because it’s the first time we learned that Gene has a crippling fear of snakes, so potent he even put it to music. (Though to be fair, there’s nothing Gene won’t put to music. Even breaking up with music.) If a discouraged Gene paid dividends once or twice this season, a terrified Gene is even better comic potential, bolting from the limo faster than he’s ever run before and screaming at the top of his lungs. It’s a hilarious early curveball that gives “Just The Trip” some early momentum, that even if you’re expecting the trip to go wrong it won’t go wrong in the ways you’d expect.
And the predictable ways things go wrong are excused because of just how satisfying it is to see Louise execute her plan. Going back to this family knowing everything about each other, Louise can set the exact right honey trap for her sister, writing up a fake journal belonging to Guy Handsometeen. (I suspect she has several of these written up for just such occasions.) And she can time the trap perfectly, giving Tina five exits for her moral sense to be overwhelmed by butts, get absorbed in reading about butts, and then losing the contents of her stomach just as they’re pulling up to the front of Madness Castle. While it’d be easy to see Louise as the bad guy here, the low stakes to everyone involved keep it from being as upsetting as it was when she forged a $1,000 check a few episodes back. And truly, Tina has no one to blame but herself (and her hormones) for letting it get as far as it does.
Louise timing her scheme is only half the comedic payoff, as Molyneux-Logelin and Molyneux (keeping their Nat track record going) just keep knocking over comedic dominos. Once Linda makes Nat roll down the window to pull over the car, you flash right back to her promise to Gene that he’ll be safe in the front seat—and then her more half-hearted promise that Steve sleeps through road trips. Seeing the snake crawl over Gene and him desperately trying to extricate himself from the limo is gold, a sense of mortal danger without any danger that even Bob gets caught up in. And the payoff is a new flavor of Gene in “numb with terror” Gene, a series of Eugene Mirman deliveries that are hilarious and unsettling to hear: “I’m fine. I’ll just never go in a car, look at a car, or leave the house, or get out of bed again.”
After that comedic outburst, “Just The Trip” settles into a more comfortable vein of heaping further indignities on Bob and proving all of his worst-case scenarios for the trip correct. He has to pay for overpriced clothes to replace everything covered in vomit, and then overpriced tickets so they can enter the Madness Castle and find the snake. He has to keep said snake around his neck because it’s fallen asleep, and remain that way for the rest of the drive—a drive that goes from 90 minutes to five hours. And then at the end, he doesn’t even get the monkey and baby lion he was promised, as all the Shaw-Shank-Tuary Animal Sanctuary has to offer is more snakes. (“So this is just how it is now, huh,” Gene says in the same distressingly numb tones.)
It’s a lot to dump on Bob even by Bob’s Burgers standards, but it’s necessary to get him wound up to the extent he is—only to be deflated by the reveal that everyone kind of enjoyed how off-kilter the day went. “Just The Trip” displays a true understanding of why we as a society continue to romanticize the concept of the road trip, that the fact that you’re getting out of your comfort zone with the people you’re the most comfortable with. The smell of the vomit/cinnamon air freshener and the cold panic of the snake skin will fade away, to be romanticized as a “Remember that crazy day?” story, and everyone in the family is able to appreciate that. Even Bob gets a memory all to himself, the novelty of driving a limo and having a conversation with Nat’s garter snakes after everyone else falls asleep.
Nat fades a bit into the background for most of the road trip—ironically taking a backseat while she’s driving—but the climax of the episode brings her back in force. What’s distinguished Nat so much in her prior appearances is her level of equipoise, confident in her quirks and willing to roll with whatever direction Linda or Louise was willing to go in. Now Nat’s off her game, uncomfortable around Theresa (Akilah Hughes) in a way we haven’t seen her be before, going into a spontaneous proposal and awkwardly backing out of it. It’s a great performance by Bell, and it winds up adding to the character even as it removes some of her natural mystique. And some level of her equipoise remains as she’s grounded in her quirks, here her belief that “hot dog with extra-dry crust” is a real kind of pizza.
It’s a slightly down note to close the episode on with Nat driving away in tears, but the fact that Nat’s now confirmed as single just means that there’s room for Bob, Linda, and the kids to play matchmaker on a future episode. Hopefully, it’s one that will come sooner than later. “Just The Trip” is an incredibly solid episode of Bob’s Burgers, proof that despite all logic and reason the Belchers are always better when they’re together. And despite the cohesion of that family unit, if it’ll make things a little more interesting, they can always make room for one more weirdo.
- Burger of the Week: The Hollandaise Ro-O-Oh-O-Oh-O-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oll Burger (comes with Hollandaise sauce on a Kaiser roll)
- Store Next Door: You Walkin’ To Me? Physical Therapy.
- Pest Control Truck: Sorry Gnat Sorry Pest Control.
- All of this doesn’t even touch on the equally hilarious action back at the restaurant, where that hole in the ceiling is not getting fixed. Teddy takes advantage of being left alone to live out a few fantasies, ranging from cooking his own burger to imagining a life where he marries Linda and adopts Bob. It’s a wonderful one-man show by Larry Murphy as Teddy goes deeper and deeper into his inner fantasy world, playing multiple roles and walking the fine line between too much and way too much. And Linda agreeing to let him sleep on the couch after catching him sleeping in their bed somehow makes the sweet ending all the sweeter.
- Shoutout to H. Jon Benjamin’s other currently airing iconic animated role, because when I read this episode’s title the first time, my first thought was “What, are we not doing ‘phrasing’ anymore?”
- Again, the little details about Nat across the episodes matter so much to fleshing her out. Her love of reptiles, the consistency of her limo’s horn, the way she calls Bob by anything other than his name, here going with “Robert” or “Big B.” (He reciprocates by calling her “Natalie.”)
- I got some serious Gravity Falls vibes off the Madness Castle, especially the triangle in the window at the end of the Hallway to Nowhere. I’d love to see a road trip where the Belchers stop at the Mystery Shack, Louise in awe of Grunkle Stan’s ability to fleece anyone of their money. Unfortunately, Louise and Mabel meeting would probably cross the streams.
- Nat on Theresa’s sanctuary: “She’s got an alligator that one of the Big Bangs kept in a hot tub. I’m not gonna say which Big Bang, but it’s not the one you’d think.” Teddy: “It was the one I thought. Just cause they’re smart on TV, doesn’t mean they make good decisions.”
- “It’s okay, Tina, happens all the time in limos. It’d be weird if someone didn’t barf.”
- “Britney Spears, give me strength!”
- “If he starts to wake up, move as quickly as possible or stay still. One of the two.”
- “It’s a bag of snakes.” “Of course it is.”