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Bob’s Burgers got me good with last sequence of Bob coming home. After an episode’s worth of burnout and generally manic behavior, the Belcher patriarch has a well-earned moment of clarity, as he walks home singing about how he may love to work, but he loves his family more. The moment where he turns the corner to see Linda and the kids standing outside the restaurant waving is genuinely affecting. I might have even teared up a little at the sight of them—at least until I remembered why they would be standing outside. That “Roamin’ Bob-iday” brought me to that point at all is a tribute to the strength of the show’s foundations. The conclusion Bob draws from that final song is much the same one he reached all the way back in “Human Flesh,” that the struggle is only worth it if he’s got people worth struggling with. Sure, he changes his mind and fires everyone as soon as he learns what they did to his buns, but what else do you expect from a certified bread pervert?

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Compared with some of this season’s strongest entries, “Roamin’ Bob-iday” feels a slight step down. It’s got a lot of fun elements, but most feel familiar, as though the episode is content to play a bunch of greatest hits without trying for anything especially new. In particular, the episode isn’t coy about how blatantly it’s recycling the story of a pregnant biker giving birth in the restaurant. At least Easy Beaver member Goldie is experiencing doubts about her impending motherhood that Mudflap didn’t already have, though what we get fits squarely with the formula the show has mastered for any One-Eyed Snakes appearances. There’s a lot of impromptu action, plenty of gross biker lingo, and frequent reminders that the bikers live a lot harder than the typical Bob’s Burgers character. The main new bit of business here is to have Linda bond with the women bikers, and I can only argue so much with a subplot that finds a biker giving Linda the approving nickname “Two Boobs.”

I feel similarly toward the Mr. Fischoeder appearance. This is one of the rare occasions where it just feels like Bob’s Burgers is happy to cash in on the fact it can get Kevin Kline to come in and either say or sing whatever ludicrous thing they ask him to. His paean to the joys of never working is the distillation of all the non-villainous aspects of his character to their absolute essence. He’s a lazy weirdo who is so bored he has to plumb depths of tedium previously unimagined, which is how we end up outside his cousin Grover’s snail wrestling ring. While the show has in the past generated a bunch of stories from the obvious differences between Bob and his eccentric landlord, tonight is unusual in that there’s not a financial motivation for the two to spend time together. As such, we get an especially clear view of how much these two men are essentially space aliens to each other.

“Roamin’ Bob-iday” is a standout episode for Bob forming weird, borderline inappropriate relationships with food. As soon as his burnout kicks in, an argument with a burger feels inevitable. Sure enough, we get Bob taking a burger to task, showering it in mustard to teach it a lesson. What’s so great about all this—beyond the fun of hearing H. Jon Benjamin perform both sides of an argument between Bob and his food foe—is that there’s such a thin line between Bob the passionate restaurateur and Bob the deviant food weirdo. This is laid especially plain when he tries to explain to Patricia that he isn’t a bread pervert, even if he did get himself locked in the back of a delivery truck so he could smell and touch the bread. (Through the plastic! Through the plastic!) It’s oddly sweet to know that, even when he’s lost in burnout, it’s easy to see just why Bob so loves what he does. His may be a strange, sometimes overly anthropomorphic love, but he can’t help but love food.

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There’s a moment early on in his time with Patricia where it feels like the episode reaches a momentary crossroads. For once, Bob is on the other side of the counter, eating somebody else’s food, and he is loving the experience. He tries to pay Patricia a compliment and ask her a question, but she’s too slammed with other customers to give him her attention. For a moment, I thought the episode might be preparing to subvert Bob’s traditional role, to have him discover what it’s like to be the demanding customer instead of the put-upon cook, and maybe even to like something about that alternative experience. Instead, he recognizes Patricia is way too busy and offers to help, both because he’s a fundamentally good person and because he’s way too excited to start making food again. At that point, Bob is back on track as himself, and the episode stops even slightly nudging him off his usual course.

The way I phrased that suggests a criticism there, but I’m not sure: I don’t think that’s a flaw in the storytelling in and of itself, but it might be symptomatic of why this episode feels a step down from stronger entries we’ve seen recently. Certainly, the episode takes the more straightforward route with Bob working at Patricia’s 77 Sandwiches, and it does help guide Bob toward the realization that he shares with Patricia about making sure to not let life be entirely defined by food. Bob gets to remain in comfort zone of working in a restaurant, even when forced to take a day off, and the episode isn’t really interested in him drawing any lessons about that—instead, it’s just good for him to recognize he shouldn’t totally lose sight of why he’s doing this in the first place. That’s a nice message, and the episode executes the nascent relationship between Patricia and Steve well, especially when Patricia sets Bob straight by telling him that it’s her fault she stood up Steve yet again. It’s just that, again, this isn’t really advancing the show any from what it established about Bob in the first episode. Episodes can be familiar, and that’s not an inherently bad thing, but I’ll admit a definite preference for stories that take bigger risks or push the characters—and the show along with them—outside familiar territory.

There’s plenty of good stuff in “Roamin’ Bob-iday”: Bob losing his mind temporarily, a couple fun songs, a Mr. Fischoeder guest turn, the return of Mudflap and a bunch of bikers and the elevated if gross reality they bring in any of their visits. But the episode can’t quite pull these elements together into a more coherent whole, with the business with Mr. Fischoeder especially feeling like a digression to fill out an episode that is otherwise a little thin. If Bob’s Burgers is going to coast a little, there are worse ways to do it than to throw the likes of Kevin Kline—to say nothing of the female half of the One-Eyed Snakes and guest voice Tiffany Haddish as Patricia—and a bunch of absurd Bob behavior at the wall and see what sticks. “Roamin’ Bob-iday” does a fine job of reminding us why Bob’s Burgers is so fun, even if it can’t add anything new to the pile.

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Stray observations

  • So, uh, what was going on with that finger that wasn’t Steve’s thumb? I’m debating whether that was a very convoluted joke about cartoon characters having four fingers on each hand or if that was just a bit of random silliness. Probably the latter.
  • Is “Roamin’ Bob-iday” the show’s most wonderfully, brutally convoluted episode title? I’m immediately putting it in the top five.

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