Sometimes, Bob’s Burgers just likes to unleash the chaos. Many of tonight’s best bits have that looser, more improvisational quality that signifies when the voice actors—and, later, the editors putting all the tracks together and getting just the right timing—are at the absolute top of their game. Larry Murphy and H. Jon Benjamin have a long history of veering wildly off-script and ad-libbing entire minutes of extra material. That fact has been confirmed on a DVD commentary, but it’s not too hard to spot, as when Teddy threatens Bob into silence over this golf ball scheme, Teddy convinces Bob to come on the big score but is shocked he doesn’t want to go underwater, Teddy explains all the extra stuff he’s wearing that he forgot to tell Bob to bring, and Teddy finds himself incapable of going under the water. There’s a heightened energy to all those readings, a more freeform structure with lots of yelling and repetition. Words are wasted all over the place in getting across Teddy’s various shades of idiocy, and that waste is the hallmark of unwritten silliness. Given parts of this description, perhaps such exchanges really shouldn’t be as hilarious as they are, but the show is expert at building these off-the-cuff bits of silliness into examples of perfect comedic escalation.
Looking at those examples, there’s a definite pattern to how these moments play out. Teddy—or voice actor Larry Murphy, or some murky combination of the two—is typically the instigator, with an initial, halfway decent thought giving way to utter nonsense. It’s worth noting here that I don’t have a way of knowing precisely what was and wasn’t written beforehand, though I’d think it’s the crazed embellishments are on top of already mostly scripted dialogue. Not that this matters too much, as the pattern is recognizable even if I’m misreading the specific behind-the-scenes situation. Bob is the long-suffering straight man, sitting in equal parts frustration and concern as Teddy reveals the latest absurdity that somehow makes perfect sense to him. Teddy exists according to a logic that is entirely his own, and he’s just so unshakably confident that, sooner or later, Bob starts to buy into what his friend is selling. Even that doesn’t last long though, as it’s all so stupid, especially when Teddy is repeatedly gagging on his air hose. Again, part of the success of these scenes is how the episode splits the difference between fiction and reality—maybe it plays as Murphy trying to get Benjamin to crack up, or it’s Bob finding he can’t help but laugh at Teddy’s ever sillier antics. Either way, it’s both funny and endearing.
Earlier episodes have had interactions like this between Bob and Teddy, and other episodes have devoted entire subplots to this particular pair, but I believe this is the first time the show has turned such a big chunk of the episode to this kind of glorious nonsense. I mean this in the very best way: there’s an excellent case to be made that this is the dumbest subplot in the show’s history (and yes, I may have said that about another recent B story, but this one is even more delightfully stupid). Technically speaking, it’s a spin on the old get-rich-quick scheme story that struggling protagonists and their dimwitted buddies have been attempting going at least as far back as The Honeymooners. But the whole premise of retrieving golf balls from a lake at hidden depths of just nine feet is so goofily mundane, and Bob knows the entire time how poor a use this is of his time. That makes the eventual climax, with him and Teddy losing golf balls left and right as they make their escape on a cart, all the funnier, as the scenario suddenly becomes just as exciting as it previously was only in Teddy’s mind.
As for the main story, Gene’s quest to get his favorite chocolate to go back to the original recipe features more straightforward Bob’s Burgers joke-telling, though it builds to a hell of a ramshackle comedic crescendo. Before that though, we see an effective little story of Gene, with him meeting the useless, do-nothing scion of a candy empire. Tonight’s episode is the latest to experiment with what it means for Gene to start growing up and accepting responsibility, although here it isn’t in the context of, say, sticking up for his little sister. Instead, he wants something that is admittedly pretty dumb, but he is willing to work hard for it to an extent rarely seen. The episode emphasizes that throughout, with Gene showing off his spectacularly unspectacular popsicle-stick Acropolis at the beginning and admitting to Linda that it’s weird to hear him complaining about someone else being unfocused and unmotivated.
The story with Gene and Ferdie is a solid execution of one of the show’s occasional tropes, which is introducing a character who resembles—and thus annoys the hell out of—one of the main players. The deranged Millie is that for Louise, and Henry Haber is probably that for Tina, and Ferdie fits that description perfectly for Gene. To a candy-crazed 10-year-old boy, Ferdie appears the perfect adult, yet his uselessness proves downright staggering until that final board meeting. His presence lets the episode introduce what is essentially another little kid in a candy factory that is otherwise full of the dullest adults imaginable, with receptionists and board members alike nonplussed by the juvenile theatrics. And while this is mostly played for laughs, Gene can also produce some emotional moments, as when he tells the receptionist to page Linda and assure her that he’s not crying.
Honestly though, Gene’s story is going to be memorable for that big climactic scene in the board room, where things get every bit as chaotic as they are in Bob and Teddy’s story. I’m less sure here to what extent the scene is ad-libbed, but that isn’t really the important bit—what matters is the crazed, arrhythmic buildup of Gene’s address to the members of the board. There’s the old guy on the board repeatedly correcting Gene’s word choice. There’s the woman who is at first unsure of what her favorite candy would be and is then so enraptured with what’s unfolding that she ignores her eye bleeding. And there’s the big anti-payoff, where the company resolves to revert to the original formula before realizing it will cost north of 10 million dollars, then immediately scrapping it. If the entire episode existed as an excuse just to build to this one scene, it would be worthwhile. It’s that good. Scenes like that and the ones with Bob and Teddy are also good examples of when Bob’s Burgers can go for a simpler animated setup, often lingering on a single “shot” instead of its usual array of dynamic cuts. But this isn’t Family Guy-style laziness, as the characters still move and interact within those shots—the longer, wider shots still serve the storytelling. What they also serve is that sense of spontaneity, that feeling—real or imagined—that the show is just letting the scene run and letting the actors cut loose. Tonight, the results are nothing short of brilliant.
- I’m a little surprised the company didn’t decide to go ahead with the shift back to the original recipe, riffing directly on Coca Cola’s failed attempt to change its formula way back when. This defeat is more total, though, and probably better in terms of what it ends up meaning to Gene. I mean, he gets an entire box of original-recipe candy to play and possibly live in!
- Let’s hope we all someday find something to be as fascinating as Tina finds all aspects of factory production and protocol. Or how much Linda enjoys some damn chocolate, for that matter.