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A throwaway Bob's Burgers is unsure what to do with Linda's PTA dreams

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Linda Belcher is a ridiculous human. This is true of all the Belchers, to varying extents, including her theoretically more sensible spouse—you know, the one who spends his entire B plot trying to win over a hardware store owner he doesn’t know—but Linda has the same non-existent impulse control as her kids without the excuse of being, well, a kid. So when Linda really cares about something, as she does in tonight’s “PTA It Ain’t So,” she does so with a glee matched only by her disdain for those who would stand in her way. I’d call her childish, but really the better word is earnest. What she’s doing with the PTA matters to her, so it’s all the more crushing when she encounters the petty opposition of Colleen Caviello or, as seen tonight, the sweeping corruption of Joanne. In the case of Colleen, Bob’s Burgers is dusting off a character first introduced in a side story about baked ziti way back in the first season and only seen once since, and even then only briefly. The PTA hasn’t been important to Linda for most of the show’s run, but it was established way back then that it could matter to her as the plot requires.

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Because I’m working on being a marginally less ridiculous human, I have no problem with the show not bothering to gradually, painstakingly develop Linda’s relationship with the PTA over the course of the past nine seasons, as a lot of what we see in this episode is so perfectly her. A fundraiser theme like Surfin’ PTA, complete with shark and sand, is exactly the kind of thing Linda would propose, as the mildly chagrined kids observe. It’s fun to see her match wits properly with Colleen, who is basically her own version of Jimmy Pesto, an endlessly spiteful adversary with no clear reason for disliking Linda as much as she does. It makes sense that she would borderline worship Joanne, given the remarkable sway the latter holds over the rest of the PTA. This all works, and the tale of Linda slowly realizing what Joanne is really up to and coming up with a wonderfully dramatic plan to expose her is a good story to tell in this context.

What “PTA It Ain’t So” lacks, though, is that extra something worth saying or revealing about Linda. We don’t learn in any greater detail why the PTA matters so much to her. So much of the episode is given over to detailing just how corrupt Joanne is, to the point that the conclusion ends up feeling a bit rushed. The episode is true to everything we know about Linda in depicting her as so completely slow on the uptake, but this does mean a lot of time is spent with the audience several steps ahead of Linda. The first half of the episode is stronger in this department, as it’s largely carried along by the always welcome musical interlude. But once Linda sees all the supposed fundraiser items in the trunk of Joanne’s car and at last figures out what she’s up to, the episode gets a bit fuzzier. Linda’s dream sequence in which Joanne reveals herself first as Satan and then inexplicably as Linda herself is a promising start, especially when by Linda immediately going back to sleep once Bob starts sharing his own, bird-related shenanigans.

It’s what follows that feels a little undercooked. Linda confronts Joanne about stealing from the PTA, Joanne gives a sob story about how hard she works in a thankless unpaid role, and Linda is uneasy but basically fine with this until she discovers the real, much bigger scam Joanne is pulling with her and her husband’s company, at which point she resolves to expose her. None of this feels strictly necessary when the episode has already established Joanne as corrupt. I guess what she’s doing with the marked-up science equipment is worse, in that it’s actually misusing funds as opposed to more softly abusing power to get free stuff, but I can’t believe Bob’s Burgers expects me to parse the minutiae of PTA governance like this. The episode has already established to the audience’s satisfaction that Joanne is bad, so what the next phase of the episode is instead concerned with is convincing Linda she’s sufficiently bad that she ought to do something.

There’s an opportunity there for some character development for Linda, especially with the episode’s evenetual reveal that Joanne put Linda up for the gig because she almost correctly assumed she was too incompetent to work out what was going on. But that would probably require Linda to talk with someone else about this. A properly awake Bob would be an obvious candidate, even if he’s busy with his ongoing parrot fiasco, or maybe an initial detente with Colleen, or perhaps the episode could have looked at the teacher side of the PTA and looped in, say, Mr. Frond. (Who I suppose isn’t technically a teacher, but close enough for the sake of the hypothetical.) It doesn’t really matter who Linda might bring her concerns to, as the real point is Linda’s entire arc is both too internal and too dry work properly. She changes her mind not because she realizes anything about herself or how she relates to others, which would open up new character beats and thus new jokes to tell, but rather simply because she uncovers a different scam than the one she already has. Linda stories aren’t easy to tell, but that feels like an unnecessarily missed opportunity.

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The climactic confrontation, at least, delivers the goods. Bringing in Mr. Branca and his band The Bleach Boys as the backdrop to Linda and Joanne’s showdown is a perfectly silly touch, as is having Colleen reveal herself as the shark waiter for no reason other than it would be dramatic. Which it absolutely is. It’s in this scene that we are told things about Linda that the rest of the episode could have shown us, as she admits she wasn’t sure if she was up to the job and had more than her fair share of mixups of commas and periods in the finance spreadsheet. Given her basically dictatorial power, Joanne is perhaps swept away a tad too quickly here, but her full-on villainous breakdown sells that well enough. Besides, I’m always willing to judge a Bob’s Burgers moment by the punchline, and here the payoff is pretty good, with everyone voting out Joanne but no one wanting to take on cleaning up all the sand. That moment is beautifully handled, with the pauses just long and awkward enough to feel both funny and relatable.

“Say It Ain’t PTA” is one of the more throwaway Bob’s Burgers episodes, content to take a moderately off-kilter scenario and play it out for 22 minutes. Until the fundraiser, Linda is more along for the ride than doing anything to drive the action, and that’s just less interesting than stories where the characters make more active choices—usually bad ones—and have to deal with those consequences. Maybe this is the danger of putting the kids and Bob off in an entirely separate plot: There’s no one around for Linda to bounce off of when she’s having her non-nighttime crises of conscience. Instead, the episode stays inside Linda’s head, and that proves not nearly as funny—or as enervating, as the case might be—as it ought to be.

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Stray observations

  • Teddy believing the guy at the hardware store who calls him “Todd” is doing it as a friendly nickname is a real contender for saddest Teddy moment. I mean, it’s not going to win, as this is Teddy we’re talking about, but that’s rough.
  • Comedian Jaime Moyer takes over as the voice of Colleen in this episode, but you’re never going to convince me that the voice actor is anyone other than Jamie Moyer, extremely long-tenured baseball guy who somehow both pitched for the Colorado Rockies this decade and turns 60 in a few years. Honestly, I’m just glad the show’s casting gave me an excuse to remember Jamie Moyer.
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