The A.V. Club recently spoke with Loren Bouchard about Bob’s Burgers third season. Following part two, this part covers episodes 11 through 14, beginning with “Nude Beach” and ending with “Lindapendent Woman.”
“Nude Beach” (January 13, 2013; written by Scott Jacobson, directed by Wes Archer)
Bob must partner with his nemesis, Hugo (Sam Seder), to take down a health inspector (Fred Armisen) with a more relaxed approach to hygiene and a songbook full of dirty ditties. (Also: That team-up occurs at a nude beach.)
The A.V. Club: Was there any collaboration with Fred Armisen on the songs his character sings?
Loren Bouchard: We had some plans for those songs, but fortunately Fred’s so talented that what you get is a mix of stuff that we worked out in advance and a lot of stuff he brought to it. We threw a guitar in there so he could get in character, but we ended up replacing it—we had to make the guitar worse because we didn’t want [Armisen’s character] Tommy to be too good.
AVC: When you’re casting guests, are you looking for people who you know have musical inclinations?
LB: We’ve been lucky in that respect. I didn’t know Megan Mullally could sing. I should have known Kevin Kline could sing, but I hadn’t seen The Pirates Of Penzance. We always say—especially when it pertains to our core cast—that they don’t have to be good, they just have to be funny. But it is amazing when a person comes in and ad-libs music; a good example of that is Bill Hader, doing that calypso scatting as Mickey. There’s something so musical about it and he’s clearly so talented, but it’s also silly and in character. It’s nice to have your cake and eat it, too.
AVC: Who thought to have Sam Seder sing “You’re The Best (Around)” in his Hugo voice?
LB: I don’t know who thought of it, but once it was thought of, there was no option except to do that. We all get so much pleasure from hearing him do that because we’re so familiar with the character and Sam and with that stupid song. And, of course, he killed it.
AVC: What are the benefits of telling a story where Bob has to get Hugo’s help?
LB: It’s a way to take a breath from the villainy of your villain. It’s not that he’s changed how he feels about Bob—circumstances aligned where they have to team up to defeat a common enemy. We wanted to get there with this episode. If you’re lucky enough to have a few seasons’ worth of shows to play with, you don’t want to keep hitting the same notes with your villains. You love your villains and you want them to come back again, so you start looking for these more nuanced takes.
AVC: And you can always reset the cycle, because as this episode demonstrates, if someone’s going to take down Bob, it has to be Hugo.
LB: Exactly. A true villain doesn’t just want you gone—he wants to cause that particular fate himself. We liked that Hugo doesn’t just want Bob to disappear. He would absolutely want to be the guy who put his name on the papers that brought him down.
“Broadcast Wagstaff School News” (January 27, 2013; written by Greg Thompson, directed by Jennifer Coyle)
Tina shows off some journalistic acumen in her pursuit of the “Mad Pooper” terrorizing Wagstaff School. Gene, meanwhile, looks toward a future where he becomes his father.
AVC: Did you have any discussion with Fox about illustrating the Mad Pooper’s vandalism, or did you find it funnier to keep the feces off screen?
LB: Both. The network doesn’t want you to show poop—we got an exception in the case of “Sacred Cow” because it was cow shit and it was for the story and it was in the shape of an emoticon. We still couldn’t linger over it. But we had no intention of showing human poop.
AVC: What bodily fluids can you illustrate? Vomit has long been a taboo, but that’s all over “Mutiny On The Windbreaker.”
LB: I’ve never heard them describe it this way, but I think Standards And Practices takes a case-by-case approach. They don’t want to present a list of fluids that are okay and a list of fluids that are not okay. They’re looking at it as, “Is it offensive? Is it gross? Is it funny? Does it present it in a way where it doesn’t work without it?” They’re interested in the specifics. And they don’t want to fall on the wrong side of the line, because I don’t think they’d feel like they were doing their jobs if they just let us do whatever the hell we wanted. But they’re interested in the okay ways to show pee or vomit and we’ve tried to find those along with them in a couple of cases.
AVC: For the plot where Gene is becoming Bob, how long did it take Eugene Mirman to pick up H. Jon Benjamin’s affectations?
LB: To me, it sounds like Gene the character doing Bob, which is to say it doesn’t need to be a particularly spot-on impersonation—it should be a little boy’s take. That scene where he’s transformed into Little Bob and then Bob comes into the bathroom is an all-time favorite here at the shop, partly because it’s cacophonous. It’s musical in the way it builds and the way that each character has their own little attitude and little note to play. I believe that piece has almost no edits in it. That performance is one of those things that you get by having actors together. They hear each other, they build together, and they’re talking on top of each other and going to the same place as a group.
AVC: Could you feel during the recording process that it was going to come out that way?
LB: Oh yeah. The actors are almost always making us laugh and you pretty much know the good stuff when you hear it—though you’re also hearing how you’re going to edit it because the good stuff is mixed in with fluff and fat and swear words and all the other things that you know you’re going to cut out. But when you hear a take like that, you pretty much know you’ve got it and can go on to the next scene.
“My Fuzzy Valentine” (February 10, 2013; written by Dan Fybel and Rich Rinaldi, directed by Boohwan Lim and Kyounghee Lim)
With Linda occupied by a stab at Valentine’s Day matchmaking, Bob and the kids race around town to find the perfect gift: A love-testing machine from the couple’s first date. At least that’s how Bob remembers it…
AVC: What was behind the decision to set a Valentine’s Day story on a rainy day?
LB: There’s a story reason, there’s a design reason, and then there’s a reason not to do it—but we did it anyway. The story reason is because we wanted Bob to drive the kids to school, which they don’t normally do—the kids walk to school, which we’ve established in several episodes. We liked the idea of the kids talking Bob into taking them to the mall, and as the day goes on, the rain tapers off, and you get your rainbow at the end.
The second reason is that it’s fun to do weather. It’s fun to change in an animated world: You run the risk of people wearing the same clothes every episode, so it’s fun to break that up. And with our town, a little bit of weather is implied—the place is itself “weathered,” and we did the storm episode at the end of the first season.
The reason not to do it is that it can give off a really, really, soporific vibe. We put a little bit of rain—for story reasons—in episode two of the series, “Crawl Space”: Bob had to go to the attic to fix the leak, so we had to have it raining. But I had a chill of terror when we first saw that scene—the beginning scene of the second episode ever—and it had this downbeat feeling of a family eating breakfast on a grey morning with the sound of rain outside the window. From that point on, I became very nervous about ever doing that again. You don’t want to accidentally lower the blood pressure of your audience so much that they’re inclined to, you know, turn off the TV and go to bed.
AVC: The Belchers sing a pair of very silly, very dark songs in this episode: the kids’ “Buckle it up or you’ll die” number and Linda’s song about dating that ends “such a lonely existence I kill myself.” Where did this family get such a twisted sense of humor?
LB: A lot of that is what you get by hiring these actors. They all share a particular take on a “sweet and sour” mix and they can all get there very quickly—especially when left to their own devices, like if they’re improvising a silly song. But it’s also a tone that, if you have an affinity for it, you’ll be drawn to it and you’ll put it in your show.
AVC: In developing the episode, were there discussions of the empty nature of Valentine’s Day gift-giving?
LB: Yeah. Bob’s story was inspired by my own life, where I have pathetically gifted my wife with a heart-shaped something every year for years—always trying to make it mean something, but embarrassed by it at the same time. I’ve screwed nails into a board in the shape of a heart, I’ve put Cheerios on the kitchen table in the shape of a heart, I’ve built Lego heart-shaped things—and you start to feel like you’ve run out of goodwill on the other side. Rich Rinaldi and Dan Fybel used that as an ingredient. Another part of the story—where they’re trying to get the Love Test-O-Meter—came from Fybel’s real life. Though he was correct that it was from a date that he went on with his wife. His quest was quixotic—that aspect of the date being misremembered was the final piece where [the script] came together. They did a great job of cooking up a light commentary on, if not the holiday, then a little bit of men-and-women comedy.
AVC: Linda’s matchmaking doesn’t work out, and the Love Test-O-Meter came from a date with a different woman—but in the end of the episode, Bob and Linda realize what’s truly important and they have their happy holiday. What is it that makes these characters work as a couple?
LB: I’d say their humor. I really like when characters in a comedy are not only funny, but alsorecognize each other’s humor. That’s something that, for me, goes back to Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,where we realized we were able to have Jon Benjamin, the actor, make Jonathan Katz, the actor, laugh—but it also worked as a 25-year-old son making his father laugh. They could break character and be in character at the same time. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it speaks to getting your actors together to record at the same time. These guys—Jon Benjamin and John Roberts—can make fun of each other mercilessly and almost full-on start arguing and, thenon a dime, switch back and be incredibly sweet and respectful of each other as actors, and I think that’s a nice vibe to get from a fictional married couple.
“Lindapendent Woman” (February 17, 2013; written by Mike Benner, directed by Don MacKinnon)
Linda’s new job at a grocery store provides the series with its most ambitious musical number to date. The job also gives Tina a chance to find love in the dairy section.
LB: Boy, were we happy once we found that musical number. That was a pleasure to slide into the episode and feel that it was the right piece at the right part of the right story. And we hadn’t done that before, where we really asked the characters to sing. This was a little different than the silly songs where a flubbed note might be a virtue. In this case, it’s a duet with harmony so they had to hit the note—and they did. It was a nice collaboration: The lyrics came from Mike Benner, [Wendy and Lizzie] Molyneux, Nora Smith, and myself. The music came together really quickly. Benjamin and Roberts really belted it out.
AVC: Was the idea here that removing one Belcher from the restaurant throws off the whole ecosystem of the place?
LB: Yeah. There was a realization that Linda could have a more important role than Bob realized. All these little things that he didn’t notice: He’s the figurehead, he’s the guy whose name is on the restaurant, but the place wouldn’t function without her. It takes her leaving for him to fully appreciate all the shit she does. Once we figured out that was what was important about the episode, it really clicked.
AVC: There’s a flip side to that: Away from Bob and the kids, Linda’s too caring, to the point that she lets all of her Fresh Feed co-workers take the day off.
LB: She was being the mother at the supermarket, but the employees were not the people she was used to working with and the business itself was different. “It’s just a job,” is what she says at the end—nobody wants to be there. That’s the nature of some jobs and that was what was missing for her. It wasn’t that she was incompetent—it’s just that she took an approach to this supermarket that works at Bob’s Burgers but didn’t work so well there.
AVC: At the time of production, did you hope Ben Schwartz’s Josh was a character you could bring back later? Did you want someone who could legitimately challenge Jimmy Pesto Jr. for Tina’s affection?
LB: We did and we didn’t. You want to not put that pressure on the writing or the acting, but if you’re lucky enough to be this many episodes deep, you start seeing the possibilities: The pleasure of meeting a character in one episode and seeing them in another. We weren’t trying to lay pipe for some future episode that we’d already half broken in our mind, but we always like if a character might show up again.
AVC: What was the origin of Louise tying pieces of shrimp to balloons?
LB: It came late in the game. In our process, you can be rewriting an episode pretty far along. You can’t scrap the whole thing and start over when things are animated, but you can go in there and add a few scenes—and [the shrimp] was one that came at the end. We were looking for opportunities to bring the story together in a satisfying way and Benner, as a joke, talked about tying various supermarket items to balloons and floating them up to the ceiling. And what started as a joke became this fantastic image.
The direction of that moment, that shot, and the music—it all comes together. You start realizing that there’s something fantastic about time and how it pertains to this process. One can write a good episode of comedy in a short amount of time. Sometimes when we’re behind schedule and we have to rush a script through, there can be a nice energy to that and it ends up on the screen. But it’s always nice to have a little break when the episode goes overseas [to be animated]. Then it comes back and you get to look at it with fresh eyes and you say, “Before it goes on TV, we have one more crack at it. What should we do?”
AVC: And there’s a time element embedded in the gag itself, because it’s set up early in the episode, but the payoff doesn’t arrive until the very end.
LB: It’s really satisfying. And what’s so nice about this bizarre little accomplishment is that she’s so happy about. She made it rain shrimp! What have you ever done? [Laughs.]