Well, that was damn near a perfect episode. Bob’s Burgers has always had a knack for its holiday episodes, which is about the only positive way I can spin the fact that, thanks to the vagaries of Fox’s scheduling, four of the last five episodes have been Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now Valentine’s Day stories. What’s remarkable about tonight’s entry is that it takes Gene, one of the show’s trickiest characters to position in a lead role, and it places him in a love story, which sure would seem to be the toughest kind of story to insert Gene into. More than that, “The Gene And Courtney Show” manages to reverse season three’s “The Unbearable Like-Likeness Of Gene”—which is probably the best Gene-centric episode that doesn’t feature a talking toilet (and a dastardly Neil Flynn!), but that earlier episode is hardly a good indication that Gene could ever work in an actual romantic context. That tonight’s episode pulls off its chosen story is a wonderful reminder of one of the great hidden strengths of Bob’s Burgers: Though the characters are never going to change all that much, there’s still room for small but crucial bits of character development.
The most notable example of that is probably Tina, who has come a long way from the awkward mess we met back in the first season. Well, sure, she’s still pretty hellaciously awkward, but damn if she doesn’t own that awkwardness, particularly in terms of her evolving femininity. (And … yep, that’s as far as I want to go discussing the inner romantic life of an animated teenage girl. Honestly, I may have already gone further than I really wanted to.) In a sense, you could argue what Bob’s Burgers has done with Tina is half legitimate character development—this process did start to kick in after her 13th birthday party back in season one, which officially marked the start of Tina’s boy-craziness as something she could act on with Jimmy Jr. and others—and half narrative course correction, as though the show recognized the initial conception of Tina was too much of a wreck to build stories around. Something similar is on display here with Gene tonight, as the show elides the personality trait that typically holds back Gene stories without ever violating his fundamental character.
Basically—and rather appropriately, given tonight’s Valentine’s Day subject matter—the problem with Gene is that, under normal circumstances, the only person he loves, or even pays attention to, is himself. That’s sort of true of all the Belchers, in fairness, but that self-absorption works better in the context of Bob’s hardscrabble dreaming, Louise’s wanton destructiveness, and Tina’s pursuit of butts. Gene is more like his mom, in that both their interests tend to be so silly and pointless—and even casually cruel—that, unless handled carefully, their antics just end up being annoying. “The Gene And Courtney Show” downplays Gene’s self-absorption without outright contradicting it; he like-likes Courtney Wheeler for real this time, but he’s so consistently surprised and confused by his burgeoning feelings that it remains clear that he never actually puts any thought into what he’s doing. He always just wants what he wants, and this just happens to be the one instance in which what he wants has nothing to do with getting attention or furthering his career.
Another thing “The Gene And Courtney Show” deserves enormous credit for is how it avoids the obvious conflicts. That Gene and Courtney are immediately so happy together once they become a couple would appear to suggest some big fight is inevitable, yet the episode avoids that entirely—even Will Forte’s returning Mr. Grant and the aggrieved Ms. LaBonz don’t represent antagonists as much as just a pair of amusingly petty non-authority figures. Instead, the episode hits upon an entirely plausible alternative development: that Gene and Courtney falling in love (or in like-like, at the very least) would make them deathly boring as announcers. It’s a welcome surprise when it’s Courtney, not Gene, who argues they should set aside their relationship to focus on their announcing work, and it’s a legitimately sweet ending for Gene to read out that last Valentine’s-themed announcement and win over everybody’s hearts. (Especially Zeke’s. In pretty much every important way, Zeke is the conscience of Bob’s Burgers.) The episode’s conclusion is open-ended enough that Courtney could plausibly remain a love (or like-like) interest for Gene going forward, at least to the same extent that Jimmy Jr. is an on-again, mostly off-again romantic interest for Tina. That the prospect of continuing adventures for Gene and Courtney sounds legitimately exciting is a testament to how well tonight’s episode works. Well, there’s all of that, plus the thought of hearing more of David Wain’s demented preteen falsetto. I’m still not tired of it!
Tina’s story is rather more straightforward, serving as an excellent showcase of how well the Belcher women can work together in a story. The actual story with Tina’s desperation for a Valentine’s Day carnation and the mixed-up envelopes doesn’t really have all that much to it, sticking with some fairly standard storytelling about Tina’s place as a relative outcast and her constant belief that Wagstaff—or just Jimmy Jr.—is going to reciprocate her romanticism any minute now. There’s nothing wrong with a simple, lightweight B-story, though, especially when Tina is, along with her father, one of the show’s most emotionally well-developed characters; the episode can lean on what we already know about Tina and her quixotic romantic quests without having to tell us much new. Indeed, one of the best gags in this storyline is Tina’s attempt to put on a normal expression, which directly recalls the all-time great “Tina-rannosaurus Rex.” And, much as the Gene and Courtney story ends on a happy note, Tina’s story once again concludes with at least the possibility that she and Jimmy Jr. are headed somewhere, albeit very, very slowly.
The quiet highlight of tonight’s episode is Bob’s story. A particularly deft touch is to have this story start midway through, with the rest of the family recalling Bob huffily insisting two weeks ago that he could take care of ordering the 250 carnations. It’s a great gag because, though Bob never confirms this is what happens, we know Bob more than well enough to be confident this is exactly what happened, and that clears the way for the rest of the episode to focus on Bob going crazy in pursuit of those flowers. (Seriously now, what was so implausible about the Carnation quintuplets looking to celebrate their 50th birthday?) The climactic visit to the flower wholesalers market is a wonderful bit of Bob’s Burgers silliness, with a setup that feels simultaneously ridiculously and deeply plausible, if only because the whole thing works because all those flower sellers take the whole black-market carnation-selling thing so seriously. It even all culminates in the perfect little romantic note, as Bob and Linda admit they have been far too busy helping the kids to get anything for each other. But hey, they can always just go make out. And if that’s not a Valentine’s Day sentiment for all to get behind, I don’t know what is.
- In my ongoing effort to connect Bob’s Burgers episodes with King Of The Hill episodes—the apex of which is still the parallels between “Bob And Deliver” and “Little Horrors Of Shop”—I need to point out there was a later-period King Of The Hill episode in which Bobby put his own comedic spin on the announcements, with Peggy helping out with some cowbell when his initial efforts fell flat. I’m having trouble tracking down which specific episode that was, though.
- Wow, that Teddy is sure one hell of a negotiator!