This is a damn fine Bob’s Burgers episode, in the way that most every Tina Belcher episode is. Implicit in that sentence is the main reason this review is posting a bit late, honestly: There’s a not whole lot to say about “The Hormone-iums” I haven’t said in previous reviews, and an unwary reviewer can fall into the trap of conflating a lack of new things to say about an episode with the actual quality of the episode. (Don’t worry: I’m going to be self-indulgently meta for, like, two more sentences, then press on.) There are four main ways a Bob’s Burgers episode can distinguish itself: through well-constructed storytelling, through emotional character work, through mad ambition, and through just being really flipping funny. That last one probably ought to be the most important criterion, and it is in the minds of most fans, yet it’s also the trickiest to write about, given the whole “comedy is subjective” thing, which is why I tend to be most drawn to the episodes that push the boundaries of what the show can be.
“The Hormone-iums” doesn’t really do that, representing instead the next micro-phase of Tina’s evolution. I’ve said this before—that’s the whole reason I’m struggling with this thing!—but it’s always amazing to remember the initial conception of Tina, a terminally awkward, impossibly shy preteen whose love of Jimmy Jr. and all things butts was the only real hint she would ever emerge from her shell. Seeing Tina gain confidence and belief in herself over the show’s run has been the show’s most sustained character arc—and probably its second most satisfying, trailing only the more rarely explored arc of Louise developing human compassion, mostly for Regular-Sized Rudy—and it’s another remarkable step to see a Tina who isn’t just willing to be the soloist for the Hormone-iums, but actively craves the role. Given how far Tina has come, it’s oddly remarkable just how unremarkable the episode treats her quest for stardom. This is just the new normal for Tina.
As such, a lot of the character beats in this episode play out in more minor notes than those of Tina episodes past. It’s a lovely touch to have Bob volunteer to take Linda’s place when Tina runs off to her room. Bob is such a dad here, quite understandably taking a break from the heart-to-heart chat to diagnose what they’re going to need to do with the spaghetti-covered sheets, yet he’s also Tina’s friend in an understated, low-key sort of way. Again, just compare this Bob with the man we first met six years ago, the man who didn’t want to hear about his daughter’s itchy crotch. (Which, fair enough, I suppose.) Here, by contrast, he just straight-up tells Tina that boys will still want to kiss her, and she will get to kiss boys again, no problem. Particularly sweet is his utter unconcern that Tina wants to go to a party where the kids will be playing spin the bottle, which is then nicely complemented at the episode’s end when he matter-of-factly informs Linda of what Tina is off to. There’s also some subtle progressions in how Tina relates to her peers. Tammy is still positioned as a bit of a nemesis for her, as she’s the one who convinced Jocelyn that she had to uninvite Tina from the party, but Jocelyn herself is basically just Tina’s friend at this point, albeit in that delightfully shallow Jocelyn sort of way that would allow her to forget at a moment’s notice. We also appear to be creeping ever closer to Tina recognizing Zeke as a legitimate rival with Jimmy Jr. for her affections, given she is pretty into the two of them competing for her in her dreams.
There are also some really worthwhile messages in the midst of all the reliable fun. Understandably, “The Hormone-iums” sets up the episode’s central conflict in the terms most meaningful to Tina, with her balancing out her desire to be a solo singer with her even greater desire to kiss as many boys as possible. Making her the face of Mr. Frond’s predictably insane anti-kissing campaign adds a nightmarish tinge to Tina’s story here, yet the episode ultimately pivots away from just being about Tina navigating this mess. Instead, the story wraps up with Tina pointing out that kissing isn’t dangerous, but misinformation is, with her even taking the time to spell out in painstaking detail the precise threat mono might pose. Throw in Bob’s advice that she has complete control of her mouth, both in terms of who she kisses and what she says, and there are some quietly important, fairly sophisticated points that “The Hormone-iums” looks to make. It’s not easy for a show to make points about scientific literacy and agency without being preachy, yet Bob’s Burgers manages the feat by spending most of the episode showing these as issues only in the background, waiting for the very end of the plotline to tell us in brief why these are issues worth considering.
While Tina’s storyline is just solid through and through, the rest of the family’s subplot is where a lot of the episode’s most wonderfully silly gags are to be found. A common refrains in the site’s comments sections is that one particular line or moment is brilliant enough to earn an episode a certain grade all on its own. I typically resist that thinking on the grounds that any review should be a more holistic appreciation of an episode’s merits, but yeah, screw that pretentious claptrap, any episode that features Bob waxing lyrical about Marshmallow’s eternally free spirit is an instant classic in my book. It’s almost enough for me to forgive the episode for not actually involving Marshmallow in the story. Almost. The wine shoes business is also a lot of fun in how it plays with the character dynamics of the family. Louise in particular can move from ridiculous schemer, her every idea betraying the fact that she’s, you know, nine, all the way to level-headed planner, as she and Bob are equally gobsmacked and annoyed when Linda totally fails to understand the significance of the Fischoeders to her burgeoning business. The whole thing ultimately goes nowhere, as most of Linda’s ideas do, but it provides a lovely opportunity for four of the Belchers to hang out and bounce off one another, which is really all an episode needs to be successful.
And that’s the big takeaway from “The Hormone-iums,” really: This episode doesn’t do anything especially revelatory, but it doesn’t need to. At this point, Tina is probably the show’s best character for the purposes of solo storylines, so it makes sense to isolate her from the rest of the family while they pursue one of the family’s stupider quickie dreams. The episode is judicious in how it has the other Belchers intersect with Tina’s story, bringing in Bob for some endearingly plausible emotional support just at the moment Tina needs it most. Beyond that, though, the episode has a lot of trust that Tina is strong enough, both in and out of universe, to carry a story all by herself. The fact that Tina can be exactly that is now the most normal thing in the world is the greatest achievement on display tonight, even if it was first accomplished long before this.
- If I have one nitpick here, it’s that Mr. Frond is maybe getting a touch shrill as an adversary. Which, yes, is very much the point of Mr. Frond, but I wonder whether always having him play this particular note is dulling his effectiveness. It might be good to pull him back a little bit and have him be a bit more of a person again, then let him really ramp up the crazy.
- Tina kissed Zeke! Tina kissed Zeke! Sure, it was in the context of Spin the Bottle, but both looked pretty into it! I’m now all-in on Zeke, Courtney, and Regular-Sized Rudy as the kids’ future relationships, even if it were just for a one-off flash-forward episode or something where we see them in high school, maybe. Except Louise and Regular-Sized Rudy. Those two are forever.