Of the the manic bag of personality disorders that is the Belcher siblings, I have to admit that Tina is my favorite of the three. While her younger siblings feel like expressions of unrestrained id—Louise is a sociopath with bunny ears, Gene is enthusiastic to the point of idiocy—Tina’s a character who comes across as the straight man to the others’ wacky antics, largely due to Dan Mintz’s voice almost never shifting from its clinical monotone. Despite this, I’ve always felt she’s the craziest of the bunch, with a set of neuroses and obsessions that are complicating her already awkward transition into adulthood.
Bob’s Burgers delved deeper into Tina’s psyche this week with “Bad Tina,” an episode which once again takes the show’s unique spin on reality and applies it to a traditional sitcom trope. This one uses the idea of a new kid shaking up the school’s status quo, with the introduction of Tammy (voiced by Jenny Slate, a.k.a. Stella from Bored To Death). Tina’s assigned to show the new kid around school, and Tammy’s shockingly confident manner starts to rub off on her new best friend, especially when said confidence attracts the attention of Jimmy Junior. Suddenly, she’s accusing Linda of having a “crap attack” (dramatic sting!) and inviting Tammy over while her parents are out to share her collection of erotic “friend fiction.” (Her erotic fan fiction library has already grown to include Sexy Sesame Street, Erotic Garfield and Sexy 60 Minutes.)
But of course, Tina’s approach to the outside world is so insular that when Tammy invites Jimmy Junior and Zeke over her new friend panics before too long, and the death of porcelain horse Horselain is enough to shoo everyone out. Tammy snags a volume of friend fiction (highlights including a disco butt-touching three-way with Jimmy and Chad the zombie) and uses it to blackmail Tina into further depths, chief among them a temporary dinosaur tramp stamp.
All this is well and good, but there’s a lack of focus to the episode compared to other weeks, which makes me think that centering episodes chiefly on Tina aren’t the best way for the show to go. Tina’s such a passive character by definition that her actions usually come as a reaction to her more dynamic family members, and her flashes of independence (such as alter ego Dina in “Food Truckin’”) are muted enough to be overshadowed by the characters dragging her on that journey. And in terms of figures driving the action, Tammy’s relatively tame, her corrupting influence limited to a series of portmanteaus (Prudabaga, Glamsterdam, snorgasm) that confuse Bob and Linda when Tina uses them.
The episode’s not entirely devoid of emotion though, as the reaction to Tina’s bullying is oddly touching in that dysfunctional way Bob’s Burgers is so good at. When the secret comes out, Gene and Louise—who were running their own blackmail game on Tina to make her do their chores—are outraged. Yes, they’ll be emotionally manipulative and reduce their eldest sister to a slave, but damn it, that’s their right as siblings. (As Gene puts it: “We’re Belchers, from the womb to the tomb!”) Once their manic energy turns on Tammy, it’s a simple enough matter to swap her backpack with one of the Pesto twins and free Tina from the threat.
Unfortunately, Tina’s chosen to embrace the embarrassment. After getting some misguided advice from Linda (who’s typically so caught up in the act of helping she doesn’t realize what she’s encouraging) Tina decides she’ll beat Tammy to the punch and write a brand-new friend fiction to share with everyone. What follows is one of the show’s regular descents into madness, this one a homage to Apple’s legendary 1984-themed Super Bowl ad, a split-screen affair in which Tina runs through the lunchroom in a pink leotard liberating her classmates from oppression through the power of butt-touching. It might not be “Art Crawl”’s inspired Dumbo parody (the gold standard for surreal rear-end comedy) but it’s still flashy and chaotic enough to make it the episode’s high point.
By that point there’s only a couple minutes of episode remaining, and everything is resolved in fairly anticlimactic fashion: Tammy’s threats are deflated by a poorly timed fart, Gene capitalizes on it to turn her into a social reject, and Jimmy Junior admits he kind of liked Tina’s story. It’s not out of character for a Tina-centric episode to end with a whimper rather than a bang, but Bob’s Burgers is capable of so much more than a cheap throwaway joke.
- The B-plot in which Bob finds himself oddly entranced by pattycake-based performance art felt like nothing more than filler. There are some amusing moments when he traumatizes Teddy with his new obsession, and it’s funny that his formal wear is just a blazer with his usual sweatpants—but that’s about it.
- Neighboring business name: Valley Of The Doilies. Exterminator name: The Vermin Surgeon.
- Tina’s friend fiction is very thorough, even meeting Gene’s requests. “Do the janitor and the vice principal, I believe they’d have beautiful children!” “I did, and they don’t.”
- Linda’s opinion of drinks during intermission is sound. “If they didn’t want you to pound them down, they’d give you more than 10 minutes!”
- Louise on the spectacle of Tina and Tammy: “This is like watching two monkeys at the puberty zoo.”
- Gene’s a demanding task master. “When you’re done there, change my litter box! And don’t tell Mom and Dad about my litter box!”
- Andy and Ollie appear briefly to be horrified at Tina’s makeover: “AAAHHH! Bathroom clowns!” (Runner up: “Cool, Mom packed tampons for lunch!” “Share!”)
- A sample of Tina’s magnum opus: “Chad the zombie touched the butt of that girl with frosted hair from art class.”
- Thanks to Rowan for letting me tend the grill for the week. He’ll be back next Sunday to cover the season finale, which appears to be a dignified and professional episode where Gene sports a Sasquatch mask.