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A serviceable Bob's Burgers stumbles on the ice

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“Land Of The Loft” is a solid enough episode of Bob’s Burgers, but it feels like it’s missing something. It certainly has plenty going for it, including lots of buns, abs, and frankly spectacular pickles at Pickles, the town’s finest male strip club. But even if that destination is an unexpected pleasure, the path the episode takes there is just a little too familiar. We’ve seen Linda and Bob feel intimidated by cool adults before, and we’ve seen the kids talk Jen the babysitter into going along with something she definitely shouldn’t. Setting the episode during an ice storm adds some distinctive complications, but even then “Land Of The Loft” doesn’t mine that unusual weather for material nearly as much of some of the show’s snowbound episodes have. This is what we might call Bob’s Burgers going through the motions, which, yes, sure sounds like a pejorative. But maybe it doesn’t have to be—perhaps this is better understood as a standard episode of the show, something to calibrate its riskier outings against.

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So what do I actually mean by that? The biggest thing is that none of the Belchers have much by way of an arc this episode, emotional or otherwise. Bob and Linda know they are losers, go to a party that confirms this self-belief, and rush out to find their lost kids after putting on a performance that is indifferently received at best. Louise got in a whole season’s worth of introspection with last week’s “The Hawkening: Look Who’s Hawking Now!” and is back to pushing the story along through sheer force of will. Gene, as is his wont, mostly farts or talks about farts. Tina comes the closest to having something with her wavering between responsible teen and carefree kid, but that’s throwaway as Tina stories go. Bob’s Burgers doesn’t require that any of its main characters go on a journey over the course of an episode, but it’s one of the more effective tools in its storytelling arsenal. Not only can some character development take the pressure off the episode’s joke-writing, but also it can open up new avenues for humor. Here, all the Belchers are in their expected lanes, so there are fewer surprises to be found in the funny things they say.

The whole story with Becket and Maya is a tad undercooked. An artsy, vaguely wealthy couple unburdened by kids makes sense as a counterpoint to Bob and Linda. It’s a tribute to the show’s fundamental kindness that “Land Of The Loft” accepts these characters for who they are, without feeling the need to introduce some unexpected reason their cool alternative lifestyle isn’t so great after all. But without any of that, their part of the story lacks punch. More importantly, it lacks focus. Details like Becket making the whiskey real strong and Bob drinking a lot of it feel like they could lead somewhere—Bob acting differently because he’s super drunk, basically—but are just used for a quick gag and discarded. Now, not every joke needs to inform the larger story. Teddy’s open jealousy of the artsy interlopers is a good example of something that could mean more if this were a Teddy-centric episode, but also serves its purpose admirably as just a source of a few laughs in his one scene. But without any strong choices in either the comedic plotting or the characterization, Becket and Maya and their whole party’s worth of guests just exist as these two-dimensional artist types.

Again, maybe this would be that extra level of engaging if the party were a backdrop for Bob and Linda to push themselves in some unexpected way. There are a lot of theoretical permutations for the scenario of the two of them having to perform in front of the other guests. They could be awful, they could be great, they could be one but think they’re the other, they could both care way too much about this, Linda could care while Bob just wants to get it over with, Linda could care initially while Bob gets way too into it halfway through. (Even when listing all potential possibilities, it feels hard to imagine a version where Bob cares from the outset.) What the episode chooses is the most predictable version, with neither caring all that much beyond being resigned to how bad they sound, give or take Bob’s short-lived belief that he might actually have something with his Bobby McFerrin noises. There’s still some stakes to their performance, if only because I’ve had to bluff my way through enough impromptu public speaking to feel sympathetic anxiety for their plight. At best, their shambles of a performance does prompt them to admit to the other partygoers that they are not cool enough to be there—but then, that’s not an issue that anyone other than them was considering, as far as we know. All this sets up the amusingly abrupt mid-performance shift to worrying about the kids, but it’s not strong enough to offer a clear comedic contrast to Bob and Linda’s new priorities.

At least we still have Jen in all this. When in doubt, and even in weaker episodes, Bob’s Burgers can rely on its deep bench of weirdo side characters to help the story along. The family babysitter is in fine form tonight, picking locks and driving ice cream trucks with monotone gusto. She really is one of the show’s strangest characters, and in an episode that leans heavily on the one-off gags, that’s a real asset. While “Land Of The Loft” doesn’t exactly explore her relationship with Tina, it does have a lot of fun pointing out their similarities, including the fact that they are both the kind of characters who have no confusion when presented with a concept like “hot cousin.” Tina actually getting to go inside Pickles when a show is underway feels like the culmination of a whole decade’s worth of character-building, and it’s entirely appropriate that it would be Jen who is the reason for her being there. I was going to say that such a momentous occasion deserves a more fully developed episode building up to it, but then I remembered I’m talking about Tina inadvertently visiting the town’s pickle-themed strip club. On that point and literally that point alone, maybe I shouldn’t overthink this.

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“Land Of The Loft” isn’t a true misfire or anything—10 seasons in and still the only example of that I can readily think of is “Pro Tiki/Con Tiki”—but it does feel like a bunch of missed opportunities for the show to push itself a little harder or try something a little weirder. The ice storm is a unique enough backdrop and an artsy loft party an intriguing enough setting that it’s surprising that this episode is as low-key as it is. A risk-averse Bob’s Burgers episode may not be a bad thing, but it makes me appreciate what else this season has already offered all the more.

Stray observations

  • For the record... I agree with Bob. I think he had something with the Bobby McFerrin noises. They just had to really commit to the bit!
  • I do understand the point of the party was for Bob and Linda to feel overawed by everyone around them, but if there were ever a crowd that might be legitimately impressed by Bob being an independent restauranteur, regardless of financial success, this might have been it!
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