It’s not always easy to tell whether a season-ending Bob’s Burgers episode is actually meant to serve as a proper finale. Outside season four’s “Wharf Horse” two-parter, most seasons’ valedictory episodes don’t typically look to do anything too different or crazy as a way of saying goodbye for the summer. That’s understandable, given Fox’s endless penchant for funky scheduling—this season doesn’t end with a doubleheader, but there is a random bonus episode airing on June 11, for some reason, so come back in a few weeks for that—but “Paraders Of The Lost Float” does feel like a worthy way to wrap up another solid, fun season. It’s very much a back-to-basics sort of episode, keeping the focus square on Bob and his quixotic effort to make just the tiniest bit of money for the restaurant, all while the rest of his family wants to goof off and Jimmy Pesto is there to thwart him at every turn. Unlike some of this season’s efforts, which very much turn on how far characters like Tina and Louise have come since the show began, this is an episode you could pretty much slot into the middle of the second season without it seeming out of place.

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And you know what? That can actually be a good thing. There’s something to be said for Bob’s Burgers refocusing itself like this at the end of a season, reminding us what the core idea and appeal of the show are before it all restarts next fall. Sometimes, it’s just fun to have Bob drive himself slowly mad over the course of an episode as everything goes wrong. There are times tonight when we get the show at its most overbearing. Jimmy Pesto and Teddy are both turned all the way up for this one, the former serving as Bob’s pointlessly petty adversary, the latter as Bob’s well-meaning but mostly ludicrous ally. As I mentioned in my review of “Thelma & Louise Except Thelma Is Linda,” this isn’t really my favorite version of Teddy, as his unhelpful brand of helpfulness can get a bit much—not to mention a bit shouty and rambling—but this is where one just tries to remember the inherent subjectivity of comedy and relax a bit. Either way, there are some nice little gags here, especially the callback to “O.T.: The Outside Toilet” with Teddy’s insistence on calling the restaurant “Bob Burgers,” much to Bob’s consternation.

As for Jimmy Pesto, the episode deploys him about as straightforwardly as it ever does. All Bob wants is to put together a not utterly embarrassing float, win last place by default, and get on with his life. To even get to that point, he has to put up with Edith and Harold over at Reflections, who are as needlessly mean and vindictive toward him as they ever are. Bringing in Jimmy is a natural next step there, as nobody likes going to absurd lengths just to screw over Bob quite like Jimmy does. And while Jimmy’s own actions didn’t quite hit for me that sweet spot of being so over-the-top to be really funny, he has always worked best as a kind of asshole spin on the straight man, with his senseless, single-minded hatred of Bob setting up jokes from his family’s inability to go along with it properly. Along those lines, we get Jimmy Jr. and Tina’s latest turn as the Romeo and Juliet of this stupid burger war, Andy and Ollie only barely registering that they are looking at the Belchers, and his bartender Trev recognizing the true beauty of Bob’s winning moment, much to Jimmy’s disgust.

What makes this episode work is that the focus is only briefly on Bob and Jimmy’s feud, which has always been tricky for the show to get reliable laughs out of. Instead, the emphasis is on Bob driving himself mad and the parade float way off course in a desperate bid to get to the finish line first and preempt Jimmy’s pizza bribe with some burgers of his own. This recasts the episode’s central conflict from an external one to a more internal one. Sure, Bob is fighting a losing battle against every conceivable enemy—let’s see, we’ve got the elements, his jerk of a business rival, the city’s poor urban planning and lack of right turns, a guy having his first go as a dogwalker, a barricade—but at a certain point, he’s really just fighting his own refusal to give up and enjoy the silliness with his family. This is where Teddy gets one of his funnier and definitely more poignant lines, as he tries to remind a wavering Bob that the two of them aren’t here for family, they’re here to do a job, and they have got to keep their eye on the prize, damn it!

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We have seen a version of this story several times before, and it’s striking how low-key a lot of it is. Sure, the succession of obstacles Bob faces is fairly damn ridiculous, but Bob’s meltdown ends up being more of a slow burn, something his family just kind of cheerfully ignores as they head off to party by the finish. This isn’t as high-stakes as some episodes, which legitimately call into question whether Bob is just completely off-course in his mad dream to be a burger chef. Rather, the issue at hand tonight is whether Bob is just too much of a grump. There’s no need to see him, say, lash out at that silly dogwalker to get the point across. Rather, all he has to do is keep seething until finally, at long last, with the finish line and the partying paradegoers in sight, he recognizes that, yep, he’s being a total grump. Time for him to take off his clothes and start dancing, much to Marshmallow’s approval. And really, when you’ve got Marshmallow’s approval, what else do you need?

“Paraders Of The Lost Float” is a relatively quiet way for this Bob’s Burgers season to bow out—at least until it shows up again in three weeks for a one-off, which still feels strange—but its main purpose is just to underline what Bob’s Burgers is at its heart. It’s about Bob and how his struggles to get even the tiniest bit ahead meet inevitable failure. But that’s okay, because he’s got his family, and he’s got the lovable bunch of goofballs and weirdoes that make up the town. It’s a simple, straightforward kind of episode, with more than enough laughs along the way as we see each new outlandish obstacle the cosmos has thrown at Bob. There are other episodes from this season I would point to as examples of the show at its current best—“Bob Actually” in particular was one of the very best episodes of television 2017 has yet given us. But an episode like “Paraders Of The Lost Float” is as good a reminder as any of what made me fall in love with this show way back in January 2011, and why I’m nowhere near done with this sweet, funny, delightfully show.

Stray observations

  • Does a funeral procession count as a Mort cameo? We’re so bereft of Mort these days, I’m prepared to count damn near anything!
  • In fairness to Linda, those really are some first-rate pickle costumes. I’d say they should just switch gears and become a pickle restaurant, but that would be encroaching on the territory of the nightclub Pickles.
  • I think we should all be pleasantly surprised and encouraged that Teddy didn’t completely collapse from all that unnecessary running. He is… not in great shape.
  • I guess the kids were technically trying to help by launching T-shirts at the rainy ground and throwing burger samples nowhere in particular. This is when they are at their most exquisitely unhelpful, really.

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