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Bob’s Burgers: “Midday Run”

Illustration for article titled Bob’s Burgers: “Midday Run”
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“Midday Run” is such a rollicking good time that it almost doesn’t matter how much of a mess it is. Building a story around Tina as a hall monitor gone rogue is all sorts of genius, and there are plenty of terrific laughs to be had from the lengths Tina goes to in her quest to find Zeke, but where the story falters somewhat is in figuring out just what the actual conflict is here. Is it simply the cat-and-mouse game with Zeke? No, because, as is often the case, we soon find that Zeke basically has his heart in the right place, even if he’s louder and brasher about it than is strictly necessary. So then, could it be Tina facing off against Regular-Sized Rudy, the hall minnow who will not countenance the slightest whiff of corruption, especially when it comes from his idol in rule-following? Again, no, because, well … it’s just really hard to consider Regular-Sized Rudy a threat, okay? “Midday Run” settles, seemingly by default, on the climactic wager between Tina and Mr. Frond over Zeke’s possibly good, possibly ill intentions. As resolutions go, it’s not bad, particularly since it’s always fun seeing someone as needlessly petty as Mr. Frond get his comeuppance, but it doesn’t feel especially connected to most of what’s come before.

Although the two episodes are separated by the holiday break, it’s interesting that this episode would air right after the also Tina-centric “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy.” The two are broadly similar in how they depict an overzealous Tina going to ever more absurd lengths to protect some mundane institution that only she (and maybe one excitable adult) really believes in. The one great advantage that earlier episode had was that it could provide Tina with her only truly worthy antagonist: Louise. When depicting Tina as the ultimate believer in law and order, it makes sense to have her face off against the show’s most chaotic figure. But it’s not just that: Louise is close to the show’s only plausible villain, because her capriciousness means it’s possible to pull her back to good guy status instantly. And, as we saw in “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy,” Louise’s apparently adversarial relationship with Tina was really a manifestation of more recognizably human emotions.


It’s much harder to push Zeke or Mr. Frond or Regular-Sized Rudy (his lungs just won’t take it!) to the same kinds of extremes, much less pull them back to the good side. Those characters naturally haven’t had the same amount of development as Louise, so they more or less have to be either heroes or villains by episode’s end. In this case, Zeke is the hero, Mr. Frond is the villain, and Rudy just kind of gets lost along the way. As for Gene and Louise, they certainly aren’t used badly from a comedic point of view; Gene in particular is a character who works best when he’s just on the sidelines cracking one-liners, and Louise can work well in that role too. Beyond that, though, they’re just kind of there, give or take Louise pushing Tina to get rough in her interrogation of Jimmy Jr. The episode kind of gestures at a character story for them when Tina apologizes for letting her ambition cloud her judgment, but this again feels like an underdeveloped element.

Perhaps this is why so much of the Zeke stuff here feels overly familiar. I’m on record as a big Zeke fan—and if I wasn’t, I damn well am now!—but most of what we get here feels like a reiteration of what’s come before. Zeke coming to Tina’s rescue with Ms. LaBonz doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about him we didn’t already know. Now, novelty definitely isn’t essential to good storytelling, particularly good comedic storytelling, and here Zeke’s often hyperactive energy comes in handy. The speed with which he bamboozles Ms. LaBonz into waving them on helps sell the gag, and Bob’s Burgers has a lot of fun in mixing flashes of adult understanding with Zeke’s more usual simplistic take on why Ms. LaBonz wouldn’t want to be his cigarette buddy. That really speaks to what makes Zeke so fun as a character, and it’s a trait that was brought out most effectively this season with his afterlife obsession in “Tina And The Real Ghost”: Zeke has lived hard and fast enough by kid standards that he does sometimes act like someone much older, yet he still remains a lovable goofball at heart. A lot of the best Zeke moments in “Midday Run” straddle that line, in particular his assurance to Tina that the two of them are destined to wed someday. That line almost makes up for having Regular-Sized Rudy and Louise in the same episode and doing nothing to progress their own nascent courtship.

Even as the episode leaves that aspect of the Rudy saga alone, the character remains as delightful as ever. He offers another parallel with “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy,” as tonight’s episode again has fun mixing and matching the older Tina with Louise-aged characters, and Rudy looks distinctly less than regular-sized walking along with the eldest Belcher. Where “Midday Run” perhaps makes its greatest error is in so completely sidelining Rudy, instead of forcing him to witness up close Tina’s descent into hall monitor corruption. There are quite a few influences here: Tina gets off a fantastically monotone rendition of Tommy Lee Jones’ famous line from The Fugitive, while the episode’s title recalls Midnight Run. The first portion of the episode, however, suggested a structure more akin to Training Day, with Tina teaching her particular version of how to keep street (well, hallway) justice to the impressionable, possibly incorruptible Rudy. The episode may have run into a dilemma that former Simpsons showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein discuss on their DVD commentaries, namely the need to keep the focus of every story on the core family. A story that leans so heavily on the more or less newfound relationship between Tina and Rudy might well be difficult to sustain, hence the shift away from Rudy and back to Gene and Louise as Tina’s helpers.

Oh, right, I almost forgot. Yes, Bob paints a naked Edith, thus allowing the town’s resident art snob to fulfill her two overriding goals in life: help out an art enthusiast in need and make Bob’s life as miserable as humanly possible. This is a wonderfully, purposefully inexplicable subplot, one in which the show doesn’t even pretend to explain why Bob’s drawings are so much worse than his customers’ (and his mailman’s) half-assed scribblings. This offers a particularly great use of Bob, as the subplot skips right over whatever Linda’s constant rejections might say about their relationship to something far dumber and more inconsequential. Bob freaking out about anything tends to be pretty funny, but it’s doubly hilarious when he drops 30 dollars and grovels to a swiftly naked Edith over something completely pointless. Indeed, part of the reason for that subplot’s success is that it so totally understands its (complete lack of) stakes, whereas the main Tina plot spins its wheels trying to figure out what, if anything, is important about what’s going on. “Midday Run” ends up not being too much more than a day in the life of Tina Belcher, hall monitor, and there are far, far worse things than that. The fact that there are also better things is more a reflection of how strong Bob’s Burgers is at its best than anything else.


Stray observations:

  • “Wow, he used language.” “No, I think he just said, ‘Thank you.’”
  • “My hero’s gone dirty. Stand down, feelings, stand down!”
  • “Too bad you chose chowder day to lie to me!”
  • “There’s more than one way to the principal’s office. There are two.”
  • “Saggy and sophisticated, just like it says on her bumper sticker.”
  • Sure, Tina’s a fine hall monitor, but she’s got nothing on Tom Landry Middle School’s most fearsome enforcer, Emily. That right there was a hall monitoring legend.

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