Let’s talk about cutaways. The sudden break from the action to a just-referenced flashback or fantasy sequence has gained an almost toxic reputation in recent years, mostly because of Family Guy’s overreliance on this particular kind of joke-telling style, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with the cutaway in and of itself. Even just restricting ourselves to Fox’s animated shows, we can find plenty of cutaway jokes in golden-age Simpsons, albeit generally not of the completely tangential variety favored by Family Guy.
Bob’s Burgers too is willing to leave its current scene to show us what the characters are talking about, and its chosen cutaway is generally a flashback. Less often, the show will do a quick cut to a character’s dream or flight of fancy, but Bob’s Burgers doesn’t typically treat these as cutaways, preferring instead to integrate them into the overall story. For that, just look at Bob’s extended dream sequence about feeding Teddy’s heart burgers until it explodes. There’s a more compressed way to get in and out of that fantasy, but Bob’s Burgers specifically anchors the action in Bob’s bed and takes time to look at what happens after he wakes up. Otherwise we wouldn’t get to learn just how prepared a half-asleep Linda is for the eventuality that Bob kills Teddy, all in the name of being supportive.
That moment with the groggy Linda works because, ridiculous as it is, it’s totally in keeping with the specific kind of ridiculousness the show has developed for Linda over the past five seasons. Bob’s Burgers has long since demonstrated that Linda is up for anything and that she isn’t exactly bound by conventional morality; she loves her family and will support them unquestioningly even when a sane person probably would question them. Also, it’s so perfectly mom of her to consider post-murder contingences in terms of the kids’ continued education and whether the car is gassed up. It’s that attention to detail of character that sells the moment, and that’s not just down to the writers: John Roberts pitches his performance with just the right mix of blasé acceptance of Bob’s apparent murder plot and worryingly pragmatic analysis of what challenges might lie ahead.
And that all takes us back to why Bob’s Burgers is so good at its cutaways. Alec Baldwin’s “coffee is for closers” monologue from Glengarry Glen Ross is so iconic that it’s probably going to provoke a laugh in most any recontextualization, especially when said by as unimposing and untalented an actor as Teddy. But to do that in isolation would more or less recreate a joke Waiting For Guffman already told perfectly. What separates this particular joke is that it isn’t just a bad actor muddling his way through the Glengarry Glen Ross monologue: It’s Teddy, with all that implies based on all the times we’ve already seen him. The writers and Larry Murphy have created such a careful considered character, a sadsack possessed of eternal, probably misguided optimism and an aversion to stepping outside of his well-defined, burger- and hockey-centric comfort zone. That outlook drives a lot of what we see from the Bob and Teddy story in “Friends With Burger-Fits.” The cutaway is close to a non sequitur—yes, that briefcase is used to hide Teddy’s bathroom burger, but that’s a pretty weak link, all things considered—but that doesn’t make it random: That vignette adds to what we know about Teddy because it fits so seamlessly to what we already know.
Still, a big reason cutaways work on Bob’s Burgers is that the show knows when not to use them, and there’s a fantastic non-cutaway later in “Friends With Burger-Fits,” as Louise tells Regular-Size Rudy that he has no chance of defeating her in Freezerdome combat. She brings up the kickball incident from gym class, and the event is referred in sufficiently hushed tones and with just enough of a pause by the camera that it briefly appears the episode is about to cut to the incident in question. Wisely, “Friends With Burger-fits” realizes that our imagined version of the kickball incident will be so much worse than anything it could possibly show us, and the added bonus is, once again, the show can lean on its characters to help sell the jokes. Rudy is a relatively minor character, even allowing for his starring roles in “Carpe Museum” and “The Kids Rob A Train,” but he has been given more than enough personality in those appearances for his line—“That was humbling”—to carry real weight. The joke could so easily be at Rudy’s expense. If the episode had simply cut to an objective flashback depicting Rudy’s athletic failure, that might well have been the case. Instead, by staying in the moment, the episode gets a laugh while also evincing audience sympathy for that charmingly pathetic, regular-sized guy.
As for the rest of “Friends With Burger-Fits,” it’s pretty much your standard lower-tier Bob’s Burgers episode, in that it has lots of great lines and nice character moments that are undermined but definitely not undone by a somewhat weak story. There are plenty of delightful ideas here: Bob and Teddy’s quasi-friendship, the stuntmen training school, the Freezerdome games, the quest to freeze a fart. These all work well as B-stories or as running gags, but none is quite strong enough to really grab the episode. This is clearly meant to be a Bob episode, and the beginning of “Friends With Burger-fits” is decisive in taking what could be a Teddy-centric plot about his horrendous state of health and instead turning it into a story of Bob’s guilt. But the episode doesn’t quite know where to go from there, and the stuntmen training school proves a less than ideal fit. In isolation, the instructors’ utter devotion to their absurd, poorly conceived curriculum is very funny. But it’s a hair too absurd and disconnected from the story of Bob and Teddy’s friendship to serve the episode as a whole. More effective is the climactic scene at Dusty’s Feedbag, which with Bob and the manager’s fight locates a far more specific way to explore what it means to be Teddy’s friend.
In the grand scheme of things, these criticisms are relatively minor. The fact that the entire Freezerdome subplot feels a little a bit aimless doesn’t matter all that much. Sometimes, that’s just what happens when you build a story so focused on Linda and Louise, the show’s two most off-the-wall characters. Linda’s bloodlust is a hoot, as is Louise’s sociopathic drive to be a champion, and the only issue is presented as an end in and of itself; there’s no deeper point the episode drives at with Louise’s quest to win, nor do we learn anything new about the Linda or the Belcher kids. Plus, the callback to Gene’s preserved fart feels a little forced, a sign of the episode’s messy structure. Still, even an inelegantly executed fart joke is still a fart joke, and I’m not going to be churlish here, particularly when the family’s final moment of sweet togetherness is built around yet another fart joke. “Friends With Burger-Fits” isn’t the episode you show people to convince them that Bob’s Burgers is one of the best shows on television, but it’s still a damn funny episode. And on a night when the show makes its rightful return to a regular spot in the Sunday night lineup, that really is more than enough.
- “I don’t remember hiring a fat Burt Reynolds.” Something tells me H. Jon Benjamin’s other animated alter ego might have a little something to say about that description of Bob.
- “I really value that 30 inches of Formica between me and him.” “Are you talking about your dingdong? Brag.”
- “Wake up stunt boys! I’m sorry that was weird, I don’t have a bugle.”
- “I did it! I pushed a girl! And not because I liked her and didn’t know how to show it!” Improbably self-aware Zeke is the best Zeke.