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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bob’s Burgers: “Broadcast Wagstaff School News”

Illustration for article titled Bob’s Burgers: “Broadcast Wagstaff School News”
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There are a few archetypes that exist within comedy. The trickster, or force for chaos, is one common character form. These are the characters who can do just about anything, while remaining in character. Roger on American Dad counts for that, not only for his actions, but also his willingness to switch characters with a costume. Kramer on Seinfeld is probably the most famous example of the form, with his half-considered schemes and bizarre ideas driving that show's storylines and jokes on a regular basis.

The biggest advantage of the Coyote character: No storyline is off-limits, so long as it fits the show's world. Bob's Burgers is decidedly real-world, so magic or science fiction is out. But for Louise? She's smart and weird enough that she can say or do just about anything short of magic/aliens and pull it off. Thanks to the character's design and age, as well as Kristen Schaal's voice acting, Louise Belcher has everything she needs to be the archetypal Trickster archetype. And usually, she nails it.

Tonight's best scene hinges on Louise being a trickster. A brief conversation about which parents the kids get their traits from leads to Gene discovering that he's the spitting image of a young Bob Belcher, so Louise decides to make him look like Bob. The important thing: That decision is instant and effective. There's no time wasted on Louise trying to decide if it's good and right, or making the attempt and failing. The show demands that Gene look like Bob as quickly as possible for the maximum amount of comedy, and Louise is there to give him a bald spot, mustache, and arm hair. It's a b-plot, and in this case, that means that it exists to be as funny as possible as quickly as possible. Because of Louise, that happens.

Bob discovers that Gene is disguised as himself, and Gene starts doing his Bob impression in the best scene of the night. Everything goes right, with the family piling into the bathroom, Bob sputtering, and Gene taking an increasingly aggressive stance as mini-Bob. It's been difficult at times to explain just why the family-gathers-in-a-room-and-goes-crazy scenes have worked so well, but reading Todd's discussion of why Ben & Kate left him cold, and TV comedy structure generally, made it click for me. The Belchers are comfortable and amusing in their fulfillment of those roles, but Louise, and also Gene to a lesser extent, provide the unpredictable edge needed to make those scenes work. Something crazy happens, then the kids will escalate that craziness while everyone else reacts amusingly.

Here, Louise (and Tina) are barely even part of the scene, but Louise's actions are the premise. From there, it's all voice acting and character work. Gene doing Bob is hilarious enough, but Bob gets pissed off, while Linda gets impressed and confused at the same time, which only makes Bob even more annoyed. This is one of the best scenes Bob's Burgers has ever done, built on both predictable characterization as well as total chaos. It—and all the other scenes with Gene-as-Bob—are great, and they're allowed to be great on their own while supporting the main plot because Louise deciding to make Gene into Bob is fast and easy, because Louise is a fantastic Trickster archetype.

That main plot, which has more character depth but not as much hilarity, involves Tina trying to do investigative journalism after the official school TV channel class isn't interested in her nose for news. (Side note: Did you have school TV channels when you were kids? Or is that just a really effective/convenient TV episode plot, like the adopting-unbroken-eggs-as-children thing?) So she chases down the lead, and succeeds at exposing the “Mad Pooper” and winning the respect of her classmates.


Here's the thing: Tina's plot hinges on Louise being smart about everything and equally willing to cause trouble. She can't record her investigations without a camera—which is uncovered by Louise. She can't get airtime without Louise's semi-accidental skill at blackmail. And she can't get away from the principal's office without Louise getting in trouble to get there then springing Tina with expert manipulation. Louise's presence can smooth over any aspect of Bob's Burgers. It ain't a secret weapon, but it's a damn effective one.

Stray observations:

  • One of my favorite things about Gene is his willingness to gender-bend: “And I got your birthing hips,” he tells Linda.
  • “Back to you Andy!” “Back to you Ollie! Back to you Andy!” Amazing. Uh. May. Zing.
  • “Stop following me!” “Stop following me in front!” I just can't get over how great Gene-as-Bob was.
  • “That's toilet journalism, Tina. We do gutter journalism.”
  • “There's a lot of crowning stuff that can just be taped over. He looks like an angry softball trying to get out of a coin purse.” Louise makes a face here, which involves more animation flexibility than normal.
  • “My other car's a cat?” “That's the one!” “Gaaaggh!”