Few things are as reliably funny on Bob’s Burgers as Bob caring deeply about something stupid. And yeah, that’s pretty much everything Bob has ever cared about—if you don’t want to count the restaurant as stupid, that’s nice of you, but I’m guessing his kids would disagree with that assessment. Tonight’s pair of episodes show Bob getting far more invested than his normal, worn-down self would allow, and what’s fun about this accidental pairing is that each episode takes a completely different path to the same basic destination. In the opening “Zero LARP Thirty,” Bob thinks the time spent at Downton Abbey—sorry, sorry, the Winthorpe House—is, if not stupid, exactly, then something to be endured for the sake of Linda. It’s only when Bob encounters his one weakness, which several past episodes have consistently established as “literally any drug or alcoholic beverage,” that Bob cuts loose and has the time of his cigar-chomping, brandy-drinking life. He needs no such convincing in “The Laser-inth,” as he makes a mostly doomed attempt to share the joys of a laser rock show with his son.
Bob suffers in both episodes, because it wouldn’t be a Bob’s Burgers episode without Bob dealing with some manner of indignity. But this is, on balance, one of the happiest hours Bob has ever had, and it’s a joy to share in his excitement. Our hero is ever so slightly compulsive, in that he never really goes halfway with a passion: The second he gets into the joys of the Winthorpe House, he’s there all the way, with the tulip bloom (pre-bloom, if we’re being technical) exciting him more than I would have ever thought possible. Part of what’s so endearing about Bob’s behavior is he’s the only person in the house who doesn’t come across like he’s pretending. While everyone else is alternately miserable or tyrannical because of the role they have been given to play, Bob is just having a blast doing stuff: He’s having fun not because he’s pretending to be someone from the turn of the century, as the others are, but because he’s smoking cigars and shooting clay pigeons. He’s the only person on that weekend who is enjoying himself the way a sane person would, barely bothering to commit to Linda’s revolt for fear it might mess with his awesome schedule of fun activities.
This is a clever spin on the standard way an episode uses Bob. He’s consistently the voice of reason, which in the real world means he’s typically the killjoy as Linda and the kids—also Teddy, oftentimes—spiral out of control. Here though he doesn’t have to worry about real life, so he once again is the one person acting logically. “Zero LARP Thirty” is a bit of a slow starter by Bob’s Burgers standards, with relatively few moments eliciting full laughs from me in the early going, but it picks up as the absurdity of the situation mounts. In this regard, Bob’s merriment is the perfect comedic counterweight to Linda’s understandable frustration with her pretend lot in life. I’ll also follow the show’s lead and spare you all—at least this once—from some big, whingy lefty diatribe on how this episode is a trenchant commentary on class politics or whatever the hell, as the episode’s end punctures any possibility of serious satire with Bob just casually letting slide Linda’s remark that we now live in a classless society. There are some bigger ideas here, sort of, but it’s mostly about two sort of sad people getting way, way too invested in having a convoluted dessert. When Linda’s nemesis starts claiming there was never a time before the house, it’s a safe bet Bob’s Burgers is just going for full-throated silliness, and it’s a delight.
“The Laser-inth” proves a similarly strong showing. Structurally, Bob’s story here recalls a lot of episodes in which he is repeatedly forced to part with money because of some family member’s ridiculousness. The show has taken Bob’s fiduciary woes seriously enough for such stories to be legitimately difficult to watch. All the pieces are theoretically here for that tonight, especially as Gene remains perpetually on the verge of chickening out even after Bob spends 45 dollars to get them back in the theater. But this show—and, importantly, the experience of sharing that with his son—is more important than the money. It’s a small tweak in emphasis, but it makes it easier to focus on the low-stakes fun of a scalper selling the password to a secret entrance, Nick at the concessions stand revealing he messes with said scalper by pretending to be two people, Bob and Gene racing to the back of the planetarium in breathtaking defiance of how out of shape they are, and Gene saving the day by pushing the discarded Pluto out of the dumpster.
The subplot with the Belcher women and the dolls also works because of the unexpected way the show divvies up who cares about what. These reviews have, among other things, served as an ongoing record of Louise’s transformation into something other than a total sociopath, and “The Laser-inth” feels like a bit of a milestone. It’s not that this is the first time she’s genuinely cared about something, but this may well be the first time where she cares about something—in this case, her dinner doll’s survival—without the episode feeling compelled to make a big deal about it. She doesn’t wildly overcompensate by doing something out of control to mask her true feelings, nor is she forced to begrudgingly admit she’s invested in something’s welfare. She just cares about something, with even her concession to Tina’s feelings at the end playing not as some great breakthrough but just the sort of thing Louise would naturally do. I don’t imagine this is some lasting new status quo, but it’s a useful, unique setup for this particular storyline, letting the show streamline the action to fit a subplot’s running time while playing some different character beats.
Seven seasons in, the challenge for Bob’s Burgers is just to find ways to keep things fresh. Just looking back at the reviews for this season, my suspicion is this season as a whole hasn’t been quite as strong as previous years, but episodes like “Zero LARP Thirty” and “The Laser-inth” suggest a show with little interest in resting on its laurels. The former episode works a more outlandish premise without getting completely untethered from some sense of basic reality, with Linda and Bob’s divergent reactions to their weekend providing a character-driven backbone to the wackiness. And “The Laser-inth” technically just trots out a couple character-focused storylines, but by letting characters care about unexpected things—not just Bob and Louise, but Gene and Tina as well show unusual investment in their parts of the story—the episode feels fresher than it might otherwise. And hey: Tonight, we got to spend an hour with Bob at damn near the happiest he’s ever likely to be. That’s a rare and special treat all on its own.
- Also worth noting are the innovative “camera” angles on display in the first episode’s Teddy subplot, with quite a few scenes shown from an aerial perspective. Bob’s Burgers is consistently one of the best directed animated shows, which can open up visual gags other shows might miss out on.
- I’ll be honest: I was pleasantly surprised Bob didn’t betray the servants to hang onto his cushy gig as hanger-on to the pretend rich and famous.