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There’s nice synchronicity between the two episodes of tonight’s Bob’s Burgers double feature—at the very least, it’s much easier to review these two as a unit than were last year’s “Hawk And Chick” and “The Oeder Games,” which were both terrific but in very different ways. “House Of 1,000 Bounces” and “Stand By Gene” are both kid-centric stories with well-developed comedic subplots for the Belcher parents. What’s impressive is that both episodes feature extensive ensembles of neighborhood kids, yet the only overlap are the three Belcher children and Regular Sized Rudy. The opener fills out the card with Andy and Ollie along with deeper cuts like Harley from “Slumber Party,” Sasha from “Speakeasy Rider,” and Jeremy from … well, the Bob’s Burgers Wiki reminds me that he was behind the rival Thomas Edison project in “Topsy,” which, yes, I guess that was where we last saw him. (I had him down as off-brand Peter Pescadero, which is maybe the saddest thing imaginable.) “Stand By Gene,” by contrast, brings in just about every major kid supporting character: Jimmy Junior, Zeke, Tammy, Jocelyn, Darryl, and your friend and mine, Regular Sized Rudy.

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Let’s take a moment to think about why the two episodes fill out those supporting casts differently. Some of it is a function of which of the Belcher children the show has spent the most time developing friends for. Most of the kids we’ve met are primarily friends of, or at least the same age as, Tina, with Gene close enough in age to cheat up into plotlines with them when the situation calls for it, as we saw in, say, “Gene It On.” Louise can glom onto the older kids’ stories too, seeing as she’s such a force of nature, but we’ve met relatively few characters that are her age, which necessarily limits who a nine year old like Rudy can invite to his party. But it’s not just that: “House Of 1,000 Bounces” doesn’t need finely drawn supporting characters for its story to work. It’s a classic caper story, and Sasha—the only returning kid character who isn’t in Louise and Rudy’s age range—is the only one of the bunch who matters from a plotting perspective. The story doesn’t require much from the likes of Andy, Ollie, Harley, and Jeremy beyond a general willingness to go with Louise’s insane flow.

That brings me to the major emotional turn of this episode, and there’s a part of me that could be persnickety about how “House Of 1,000 Bounces” doesn’t really carry Rudy’s story through the entire episode, instead hinting at his discontent early on and then just sort of dropping it until his big explosion in Ranger Matthew Dainko’s ranger jail. If I were considering this episode as a completely self-contained storytelling unit, maybe that would be an issue. But this is where the show’s multiple seasons’ worth of character development pays off, because if there is one relationship I am genuinely invested in, it’s Louise and Rudy. Going way back to “Carpe Museum,” Rudy brings out the caring—even, so help me, the sweetness—in Louise in a way that only her family can do, and even then only rarely. In that sense, the first episode treats the bounce house theft as one big fun parenthetical in the real story, which is Louise realizing she’s ignored Rudy’s wishes on the one day they really ought to count for something, and the lengths she goes to in an effort to make it right. Kristen Schaal’s delivery of “You’re welcome, Rudy” is a note-perfect capper to what unexpectedly turns into one of the sweetest Bob’s Burgers episodes in recent memory.

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“Stand By Gene” is more complex in how it handles the kids, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in sitting down and working out all the relationships at play here. Again picking up on something played with in “Carpe Museum,” Gene and Zeke bond once more on their shared love of butts and general grossness. Jimmy Junior remains as desperate for Zeke’s friendship and approval as ever, which causes him to lash out at a perceived threat in Gene much as he had whenever he feels some other boy is stealing Tina’s attentions. Jocelyn and Tammy are mostly Jimmy Junior’s friends, but they’re also there to validate each other in their shallowness. Darryl is mostly there to fill out the numbers and serve as a kind of nerdy inversion of Zeke, but he and Jocelyn also share a nice little unexplained moment, which is fun precisely because it’s one of the very few things about this ensemble that doesn’t flow naturally from what we’ve seen before. The rest of the time, the episode effortlessly navigates this tangled web of motivations and impulses, with the focus remaining primarily on Gene and Zeke as the movers of the plotline while Jimmy Junior and Tina have the clearest emotional arcs.

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And, out of all that, we get one of the best Gene episodes in memory. I’ve talked in previous reviews about how he’s the hardest Belcher—well, other than maybe Linda—to elevate from a supporting role to protagonist duties, and “Stand By Gene” manages to make Gene the focus and the hero without really asking him to do the kind of heavy-lifting we might normally expect from such a role. Instead, the episode simply shows what it looks like for Gene to be entirely consumed by a single purpose, and how all the other characters react to that. His big heroic moment of carrying everyone through the poison ivy is enough to earn a payoff as ludicrous as the existence of an actual, honest-to-goodness two-butted goat. Let’s take a moment to dwell on that, actually: “Stand By Gene” gets its character storytelling so right that it earns a two-butted goat. Man, I love Bob’s Burgers.

As for Bob and Linda—and Teddy, who is a major player in both episodes’ restaurant stories—they don’t get material as deep as the kids do, but that needn’t matter. After all, Bob takes a bubble bath with an oil-covered pigeon for reasons we’ll charitably assume made some sense to him at the time. The two get into a crazed competition of napkin-tossing that ends with Bob remembering that, hey, Linda is his wife, so maybe he should support her. If I were feeling less generally well-disposed toward these episodes, I might say that Linda is a little more on the annoying side of her character spectrum than I generally prefer, but what the hell. As a pair of primarily comedic subplots, Bob and Linda’s stories work great, giving them suitably dumb things to obsess over while the kids do their own things. I’ve said before I’m more of a fan of episodes that intermix the adults and the kids, so it’s a testament to just how well these two episodes work—particularly in their primarily plotlines with the kids—that both stand out as season-best efforts for the show. After a couple weeks that felt an odd combination of listless and experimental, this is Bob’s Burgers leaning on what has always set it apart from its current Fox animation stablemates, namely its commitment to characters and relationships. All that’s left now is to debate which is the most perfect pairing: Louise and Rudy, Gene and Zeke, or Bob and that pigeon.

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Stray observations AKA Quotes! Quotes! Quotes!

  • “Her New Year’s resolution was to be less picky. Let’s put that to the test.”
  • “Bobby, are you decent?” “Yes, Teddy, why wouldn’t I be decent?” “I don’t know how you run your business.”
  • “Oh my God, I’m Tippi Hedren.” “You wish.”
  • “It’s a comedy-drama with two strong female leads. I was proud of it!”
  • “Yeah, my big monologue’s coming up, I ASSUME.”
  • “All cats are two-faced!”
  • “Just kidding! We’ll do what everyone else is doing.”
  • “Settle down, Robert Frost!”

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