The relationship between a critic and the object of his or her criticism isn’t a simple one. If the critic, like me, is consistently reviewing a work (like a TV show!) over an extended period of time, it creates an odd relationship where the critic starts to want the show to succeed. It’s partially because a good critic will try and find the good in what he or she is criticizing, but it’s also because a critic who has to deal with a show regularly will want that show to be good for selfish reasons. There may never be any evidence that the critic/show relationship is a dialogue, but it can often feel like one.
On the other hand, a critic who shows up to judge something once or twice has less reason to look for the best and encourage improvement. Now, don’t get me wrong, it can be good fun to drop in, make your case in strong language, and jump out. But those reviews have more power than weekly reviews at times. Take a look at the “Reception” page for Bob’s Burgers on Wikipedia. Almost every single review cited, including the 53/100 at MetaCritic, comes from the pilot episode. The show that gave us “Art Crawl” and “Burgerboss” is, in one of its most public forums, judged by one of its weakest episodes—at least, until Wikipedia gets a more useful edit (“After an uneven start, Bob’s Burgers is becoming one of television’s best comedies!”—Rowan Kaiser, The A.V. Club).
The one-shot review is also applicable to restaurants, which is what makes “Moody Foodie” such an interesting case. On its own, it’s a fine episode about an event that’s inevitable in the lifespan of a restaurant; on those grounds, it succeeds. But it’s also impossible for a moderately knowledgeable viewer of the series not to see it as a direct rejoinder to the critics who handed semi-permanent verdicts to Bob’s Burgers after just one episode. Even though that doesn’t entirely apply to me, it still makes it somewhat odd to watch this episode, knowing that the show's writers have mentioned me by name to other A.V. Club writers.
A show taking on its critics, or even criticism generally, is a dangerous idea. Creators invest time and energy into their creation, a critic doesn’t like it, the creator gets defensive, and sometimes lashes out. In Glee’s second season première there’s a perfect example of this, when Ryan Murphy Mouthpiece Kurt Hummel smugly dismisses a series of legitimate and illegitimate criticisms, an inauspicious sign for people who may have wanted improvements from that show. That’s essentially the opposite of what happens with “Moody Foodie,” an episode that treats criticism with sympathy (“You’re just quoting the review, Teddy.” “No, I know. It’s just… now I have words to put to my tastes”), and implies that the reactions of the criticized can be both justifiable and insane, sometimes at the same time.
The storyline is simple: A critic has damaged some peers of Bob’s. The critic comes to Bob’s restaurant, and the kids make a nervous mess of things, leading to a bad review. Bob is convinced he can do better, so he goes to the critic’s house for a redo. The critic doesn’t want to grant that second chance, so Bob fights him. Then the kids show up. Then Linda. Then the other restauranteurs. Then a UPS man. And it’s all excellent.
One of the reasons “Moody Foodie” works so well is that each of its situations allows the characters to behave in a different, amusing fashion. The nervousness of the Belcher family at the impending arrival of the critic puts Bob in the role of the straight man, with each of the other family members responding to the anxiety differently. Linda, usually one of the more difficult characters for the show to handle, may be best here, giving “pep talks” which do the opposite of pepping. Louise, of course, is an all-star throughout the episode, scoring with this suggestion: “Let’s bribe him. Dad, take out the lettuce and replace it with this $20 bill that I took out of your wallet.”
The family’s failure to make the critic comfortable and provide him with good food makes Bob snap first at the Belcher clan, then at the world at large when his landlord acts like the restaurant has already closed. The show does as well with Bob being insane as it does when he’s the calm one. His attempt to review everyone is great. Louise mirroring his anarchic tendencies is even better, but the best bit of all comes when Bob tries to nap his anger off, but ends up dreaming of a world without reviews. Bob’s vision of office life is utterly sublime, and packs the punch of an Office Space in a minute or two.
The climax, with the family and several other characters confronting the critic, is the show at its best. Part of this is that Patton Oswalt, guest voicing the critic, gets more of an opportunity to interact with the other characters than he had as the disguised critic earlier. It also lets the show demonstrate the constrained chaos that it creates so well, with Bob opening the box of crazy and then desperately trying to close it again: “Listen, kids, taping people to chairs is bad. Never do this.”
“Moody Foodie” is another example of what Bob’s Burgers is best at. It can balance chaos and bizarre cutaways with legitimate insight and character development. It can also end an episode on a Reservoir Dogs homage that’s more excellent than dated.
- The storefront next to Bob’s this week houses the “Grindecologist Coffee Shop.”
- Today In Louise: “Draw a picture of my dad’s mustache really givin’ it to a caterpillar.”
- Today In Gene: “Your burger may take an extra minute. In the meantime, enjoy the show!” “GENE!”
- “YOU’RE ALL HORRIBLE! Sorry. I mean, you are horrible. But I shouldn’t have said it so loud.” H. Jon Benjamin channels Sterling Archer for a moment here.
- “You’re like a benign tumor, with hair, and teeth.”