When it someday comes time to sum up just what Bob’s Burgers was all about, you could do a lot worse than starting with tonight’s episode. “Pig Trouble In Little Tina” gets to the heart of all five Belchers, even if a couple of them are refracted through Tina’s guilty Halloween dreams. You have Bob, the paragon of daddish ill health, suffering through life’s daily ridiculousness while begrudgingly admitting he kind of enjoys it all. There’s Linda, suddenly and completely obsessed with the waxy Moby Dick in Bob’s ear. There’s Tina, desperate to make out with Jimmy Jr. on a haunted hayride but unable to square with her conscience what she has to do in order to score an invitation. And let’s not forget Louise and Gene, who are mostly just there to help out their sister both out of and in her dreams, though in the latter case not before demanding extra arms and to be made of applesauce, respectively.
That’s as good a place to start as any—other than the small detail it’s near the end of the episode, but what the hey—as this feels like the show trying out something new. Bob’s Burgers will frequently do dream sequences or experiment with otherwise non-canonical (non-canonical!) stories, but here the show resolves Tina’s real-world plot while she’s asleep. The dream versions of Louise and Gene are around long enough that they play as indistinguishable from the real versions, give or take the extra appendages and the upgraded deliciousness. The episode even cuts between Tina’s dream peril and Bob’s real-world screaming as Linda tries to flush out the waxy leviathan in his ear. While nothing unexplainable or supernatural happens here in the world of the show—Tina felt guilty about the fetal pig, tired herself out, and had a weird dream on a hayride while Tammy apparently farted a whole lot, and that’s pretty much it—the storytelling itself feels like a very Halloween-appropriate blurring of traditional lines between what’s real and what’s not. Tina’s overactive imagination is the gift that keeps on giving here, as she is uniquely suited for sustaining stories that exist mainly, if not wholly, in her head.
The end of the hayride makes that extra clear, as Tina wakes up and finally does what she believes to be the right thing. In this case, that’s standing up for those Tammy would dismiss as uncool, first the farmer and his skeletons doing chores, and then the fetal pig. This is Tina at her absurdly overwrought best, as she demands the other kids recognize that the pig they all have either forgotten or never knew about in the first place is, in fact, really cool and looks good in hats. This could be played as cringe comedy, with Tina somehow making even more of a fool of herself than she did when she fell asleep while about to kiss Jimmy Jr. Instead, Tina’s sheer self-belief carries the day, as she finishes her speech and pulls Jimmy Jr. close for said kiss, earning Zeke’s raucous approval.
As silly as all this sounds when laid out in one big speech, it works beautifully when played out over the course of the episode. The actual underlying issue is, as the pig points out at the end, Tina feeling guilty about succumbing to peer pressure, which is a universal worry for any young teen. She might even have worked out sooner that her issues are internal rather than paranormal if not for Louise, who immediately zeroes in on demonic animal possession as the obvious answer. The Belcher kids are great at egging each other on: Tina is older and as such maybe a touch more sensible, but she’s easily swept away by her sister’s confident pronouncements. That fact takes some of the pressure off of Louise to drive the plot forward, which means the episode can feature moments where she acts less like an agent of chaos and more like an actual little girl, like when she is suddenly squeamish about pricking Tina’s fingers to draw blood. Gene, for his part, is once more on hand just to make lots of wisecracks, many of which revolve around farts and poops. Bob’s Burgers: sweet, but also gross. So, so gross.
That dynamic is on fine display with Bob and Linda’s side of the story, as they discover Bob’s sudden onset deafness is because of a pair of massive chunks of wax in his ears. This whole plotline feels very of a kind with the bit in “Uncle Teddy” where Teddy uses his plumbing equipment to pull a massive clog of goo out of the Belchers’ drain: “You smell that? It’s vile, but so vile you want to suck it into your lungs, right?” Maybe I’m telling on myself when I admit just how deeply that line resonated with me, but then I also assume Bob’s Burgers has over the past decade cultivated a community of like-minded weirdos who totally get what that’s all about. The quest to remove the gunk in Bob’s ears is the same sort of thing, as it should be pure gross-out material but isn’t really played that way—except for the frustrated patron who is loudly thankful that Bob isn’t going to flush out the bigger bit of wax in the restaurant, but then a lot of the comedy there comes from the sudden, passing reminder of how weird it is to be so fascinated by this.
Well, maybe Teddy and Mort and even Bob are fascinated by what’s in the latter’s ears. Linda is something else entirely. What starts as a mere obsession with seeing what’s in Bob’s still clogged ear morphs into a deep, plainly sexual desire to… well, it’s a little hazy exactly what about this is turning Linda on so much, so let’s just keep it simple and say the whole damn thing. While the kids—both real and in dreams—are at least vaguely on the same page, the parents’ story is more about Bob getting just disturbed enough by whatever is in his ear to go along with Linda’s silliness. The episode is smart to delay that shift until midway through the episode, as that means we first get Linda trying to stick an ear syringe into a sleeping Bob, all while the kids start working on Tina’s fetal pig problem. Here again we get some nice touches of realism in among the porcine specters and Gene’s nighttime charcuterie, as Linda twice shows up to tell the kids to get back to sleep. Moments like that make both the family and the episode in general feel more whole, which helps the rest of the episode push even further than usual into the absurd.
“Pig Trouble In Little Tina” takes a bunch of familiar elements—Tina’s interactions with Tammy and Jimmy Jr. are minor variations on what we’ve seen many times before—and makes something special by being just a hair weirder than normal. The Halloween magic hangs over this episode, and Bob’s Burgers makes the most of its license to explore more bizarre territory. But the episode works so well because the spookier and stranger elements are all ultimately on the margins, with the Belchers rarely more resolutely themselves than how they are portrayed here—even when, say, sporting nine extra arms.
- “Sounds like my ex-wife! Just kidding. She’s great.”
- “Dad are you dying?” “Why does everyone keep saying that!?”
- “Lie down? And miss a hayride? Hay-ll no!”