With so many new series popping up on streaming services and DVD, it gets harder and harder to keep up with recent shows, much less the all-time classics. With TV Club 10, we point you toward the 10 episodes that best represent a TV series, classic or modern. They might not be the 10 best episodes, but they’re the 10 episodes that’ll help you understand what the show’s all about.
Ever since The Simpsons’ runaway success, Fox has put special attention toward animated series, forming entire blocks of programming around the concept. This spurred shows that enjoyed success in their own right like King Of The Hill, Family Guy, and Futurama (and a few doomed from the start series like The Cleveland Show, Allen Gregory, and Sit Down, Shut Up), all of which paved the way for Loren Bouchard’s Bob’s Burgers, a sitcom that also just happens to be a cartoon about a family running a burger joint in a northeastern coastal town.
With a name like Belcher, the family at the center of Bob’s Burgers could have easily become just an animated vehicle for uninspired fart jokes. And while the show certainly doesn’t shy away from using bodily functions for a few laughs, nothing about how it gets there is cheap. The heart of the show is the strong family relationship between parents Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts) and their three children Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal).
Creator Bouchard perfects in Bob’s Burgers what he started with Home Movies, his short-lived UPN series revived by Adult Swim in 2002. His animated series co-created by Brendon Small explored complicated familial relationships with smart and funny dialogue, simple animation, and genre parodies, all filtered through the eyes of an 8-year-old aspiring filmmaker (voiced by Small). In its second season in particular, the series becomes a family sitcom in a roundabout way, without losing that crude, Adult Swim edge. Bob’s Burgers feels like a grown-up sequel to Home Movies: at times just as irreverent and utilizing similar techniques and themes, but with a larger scope and more mature storytelling. Being able to explore each situation through five very specific points of view from characters at different stages of life allows for a more meaty (no pun intended) show. One technique that sets Home Movies and Bob’s Burgers apart is Bouchard’s insistence on having the cast record together. This builds chemistry between the characters that is hard to come by when you’re not seeing actors physically interact on screen, and in turn creates a more believable family dynamic.
Much of the show’s success can be attributed to the talent of that cast. Roberts had already created the character of Linda on his own, coming in with her voice and quirks fully realized, which jump-started the development of the rest of the family. Schaal and Mirman, who have worked together in the past on television and comedy tours, feed off each others’ manic energy, balancing Gene and Louise’s cartoonish qualities with a built-in kinship that a brother and sister would have. Mintz grounds Tina (originally conceived as the family’s eldest son, Dan) with a calm monotone that requires little else than a quiet groan to get a laugh. And it’s fitting that Benjamin serves as the patriarch of the family given his long history in voice work, including Home Movies and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (which Bouchard also worked on).
The modest Belchers adopt creative measures to overcome their struggles, from keeping the burger restaurant open day to day to rescuing Bob from a watery grave. While each member of the family has their own strengths, it’s when they come together that they are the most successful—and the most entertaining to watch. The sibling relationship in particular is something special to see: The Belcher children are often able to hold court for no reason other than they have the support of each other. They’re not the cool kids—in fact they are very often ridiculed, tricked by, and picked on by the cool kids. But together they’re an unstoppable force, even against most of the adults who cross their paths.
In a television climate where humor is often found in cynics, it’s nice to have a hopeful show with characters who stick to a moral code, even if it is their own unique code. For the Belchers, that code is “family first,” no matter how strange the situation or how dire the consequences. Here are 10 episodes that demonstrate Belcher family values at their best:
“Hamburger Dinner Theater” (season one, episode five)
The first season of Bob’s Burgers is by no means its most successful, but it does quickly establish the characters’ go-to contributions. When Linda’s obsession with dinner theater manifests as an original murder mystery staged in the restaurant, each Belcher falls in line: Louise brazenly forces violence into the plot, Tina introduces romance with a quiet confidence, Gene steps up with his musical prowess, and Bob downright opposes anything that isn’t business as usual in his restaurant. The most successful performance features an actual bank robbery that Bob initially tried to stop. But instead of turning his back on his family, he sucks it up and joins in on the show. This episode starts a pattern of Bob shirking his professional responsibilities in favor of maintaining his loyalty to his wife and kids.
“The Belchies” (season two, episode one)
This send-up of The Goonies (complete with a Cyndi Lauper song over the ending credits) follows the kids as they hunt for treasure in an abandoned taffy factory while Bob and Linda are trying to spice up their scheduled sex night. Physically moving the characters out of their element and separating them gives a new perspective on their relationship. When Louise is trapped in a pit inside the factory, it takes only mere minutes before she craves the companionship normally offered by her family, resulting in the humanization of a giant lump of taffy. Similarly, Bob and Linda without their kids are unsure what to do, so they wind up saving Tina, Gene, and Louise from being crushed during a building demolition. It’s not that the pair doesn’t have a relationship outside on their own—if anything their shared desire to join the children on an adventure (and save their lives) shows that they are a strong couple because of their similar family values.
“Bob Fires The Kids” (season three, episode three)
Throughout the series we peek into Bob’s childhood, showing how it has affected the way he treats his family. In this episode, that glimpse comes through an old box of toys that depressingly only contains a scouring pad, a rusted spatula, and a dog-shaped bar of soap. Bob grew up in a working-class family and had a job as far back as he can remember, and he realizes he’s doing the same thing to his children. The difference, however, is that his kids enjoy spending their time at the restaurant and look up to their father. When Bob fires his kids for the summer, he thinks he is setting them free and making them happy, while the Belcher kids see it as their father rejecting them. Not to be without some strange incident, Tina, Gene, and Louise end up spending their summer as accidental marijuana mules. For as odd as the Belchers can be, there is always someone a little more bizarre in their path, like the hippie farmers who hire the kids or Mickey the ex-con who fills their role at the restaurant. It’s those kinds of weirdos who often push the main five back together again.
“An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal” (season three, episode five)
As a family man and chef, of course Bob Belcher loves Thanksgiving. It’s the best of both worlds as far as he’s concerned. So whenever his family goes against his Thanksgiving plans, he sees it as the act of ultimate betrayal. In this case, Linda and the kids abandon Bob’s carefully orchestrated holiday traditions to pretend to be the family of their landlord, the white-suited, eye-patch wearing, inexplicably rich Calvin Fischoeder (the always delightful Kevin Kline). The series of traditions in and of themselves reveal a lot about the relationship Bob has with his kids: He and Gene play football with the turkey, he and Tina break the wishbone, and he and Louise predictably pretend the turkey has been brutally murdered. It’s supposed to all end with Bob’s toast, a shining moment for his family to admire and respect him. What we get here instead is a look at what the children might be like if they were raised by someone else, and how deeply it cuts Bob to see them acting differently. Bob only goes along with the ruse to get a discount on rent and in turn provide for his family, but in the end his desire to keep familial traditions alive (and an entire bottle of Absinthe) causes him to lash out and risk financial security for the adoration of his wife and kids.
“Carpe Museum” (season three, episode 22)
It’s clear that every member of the Belcher family is a little odd, and Bob recognizes and accepts that, but he especially relates to and understands Louise’s oddities. When Bob tags along on a school field trip to a museum, the bond between the two is clear: neither wants to be there, and they both ridicule the other students (including Gene and Tina) behind their backs. When given the chance to break the rules and seek adventure, Louise easily coerces normally straight-laced Bob into rebellion. One of the sweetest moments in the series comes when Louise lets down her abrasive front to admit that she hopes to run the restaurant one day—she and Bob have even more in common than what lies at the surface. And it’s because of Louise that Bob gathers the strength to swing through the tall trees of the museum’s “Amazon room” to save Louise’s classmate regular-sized Rudy from an asthma attack. The Belchers’ support of each other often comes across as a group of enablers encouraging bad habits, but “Carpe Museum” shows that in certain pairings the Belchers can actually push each other to be better versions of themselves.
“The Equestranauts” (season four, episode 17)
As easy as it is for Bob to understand Louise, when it comes to Tina he couldn’t understand less. And why should he? Fathers can rarely relate to their teenage daughters, especially a blue-collar dad like Bob, whose daughter has an encyclopedic knowledge of My Little Pony parody The Equestranauts. But because Bob will do anything for his kids, he pony-suits up. Tina discovers that the network of fellow fans are actually middle-aged men and gets duped into giving her prized pony to Broconious (Paul F. Tompkins), a delusional, power-hungry Equestranaut. Once again, the peculiarity of Tina’s obsession is normalized when held up against a 40-year-old dressed as a pony who organizes sex parties and believes that equine figurines hold the power to immortality. Bob bravely infiltrates Broconious’s inner circle, nearly getting a tattoo of a horse on his back, all just to retrieve a toy that Tina, in the end, realizes she has little interest in at all. Even after being such a stern taskmaster to ensure that Bob fit into the world of the Equestranauts, homemade horse costume and all, she still demonstrates the fickle interest of a teen, and it’s with a deep sigh that Bob realizes he’ll likely be entering into another precarious yet pointless situation soon to defend his family.
“World Wharf II: The Wharfening (or How Bob Saves/Destroys the Town–Part II)” (season four, episode 22)
The conclusion to season four’s two-part finale puts the Belchers in their most dire situation yet, and for once it’s Bob who is helpless. As often as this family has had brushes with danger, none has resulted in immediate fear of death as much as in “World Wharf II: The Wharfening.” Bob is left tied to the Warf’s pier to drown as the tide comes in, and later a gun is turned on his entire family. Linda, Tina, Gene, and Louise are left to their own devices to figure out why Bob has been gone for so long and try to save him. Again it’s Louise who offers a surprisingly sweet moment of genuine worry when the jaunt around town following clues from Bob’s attempted text messages turns from just another Bob’s Burgers shenanigan to a possibly tragedy. For all the flaws the Belchers often find in each other, when shown next to the troubled relationship between Mr. Fischoeder and his brother Felix, they are a family who truly cares for each other, with or without the threat of a final goodbye. In one of the more straightforwardly emotional moments of the series, the Belchers all clamor to tell each other how much they love each other as they bob uncertainly in the water.
“Best Burger” (season five, episode five)
The more that is revealed about Bob’s father, the more instances of Bob acting as his own father treated him. In “Best Burger,” Gene is the target of Bob’s aggression when he leaves behind black garlic, the ingredient that will win Bob a burger competition and ultimately validate his professional choices. Just as Bob always tried his best to gain approval from his father, Gene spends this episode trying to prove to not only Bob but also Linda, Tina, and Louise (all of whom give him a verbal beating) that he can be a reliable member of the family. As is the Belcher way, proving himself includes theft and trickery, once again bringing into question the actual morals of the family. But none of that matters when at the end of the day Bob apologizes for lashing out and tells Gene that he loves him just as he is. That’s what this family is all about: accepting and embracing each other as flawed humans, no matter how egregious the flaw.
“Eat, Spray, Linda” (season five, episode 18)
One of the reasons Bob’s Burgers continues to be such a success is that there’s still so much more to discover about these characters. Yes, their basic roles have been defined early on, but they continue to grow, evolve, and surprise even each other. “Eat, Spray, Linda” is a concentrated look at how well Bob, Tina, Gene, and Louise know their mother by taking a journey to a series of Linda’s go-to places. Each location provides a specific memory to a specific person: Tina at a very fancy hotel where her mom is beloved, Gene at a bakery that gives away free samples from where his mother is banned, and Louise, in another twist of sweetness, at the puppy pit at a local pet shop. Linda knows her children well and is able to appreciate and relate to their eccentricities through these secret trips.
“Sliding Bobs” (season six, episode one)
One of the greatest devices used throughout the series is a split-narrative, giving each of the Belcher children equal time to tell share their version of a similar story. It’s introduced in season four’s “The Frond Files” and is revisited in season five’s “The Gayle Tales,” but it’s in the season six premiere that the concept finds itself standing on its own with no attachment to a larger plot. The scene starts as a familiar one to any nuclear family: Bob and Linda tell the story of their first meeting, with small differing details, but the same result. Gene, Louise, and Tina see that as their opportunity to suppose alternate realities with their own spins resulting in a send-up to Robocop, a tale of moustache that just won’t stop growing, and, worst of all, a fairly realistic world in which Bob and Linda don’t end up together at all. The stories prove that these kids know their parents well, down to details about what their mother finds sexually attractive—something likely not be seen as appropriate for most pre-teens to know, but hey, that’s the Belcher way.
The greatest conflict in the episode is that the couple’s oldest daughter can imagine a scenario in which her parents don’t end up together. Even after all the real danger that the family has been through, it’s this innocent fear that sets off Tina the most. It’s the reassurance from her family, even though they’re just saying what she wants to hear, that brings her off the ledge proving more than ever that the Belchers are best when they’re together.