Like most great animated shows, Bob’s Burgers benefits from a deep bench of supporting characters, and tonight’s “Speakeasy Rider” has great fun with bringing back the most random assortment of characters imaginable for its ensemble. Yes, there are the regular recurring players like Mr. Fischoeder or Ron and Hugo, the latter making his first appearance since way back in the third season’s “My Fuzzy Valentine.” But where “Speakeasy Rider” has particular fun is in finding other previously seen characters to fill out the key supporting roles. The show could quite plausibly have had all-purpose handyman Teddy fix up the broken-down bumper car, but instead the show reaches all the way to the beginning of season three for One-Eyed Snakes motorcycle gang members (and lovebirds!) Critter and Mudflap. And, since Wagstaff is mostly bereft of rich, irredeemable assholes, the show looks to its 2012 Halloween episode “Full Bars” and its chief villain Bryce, of the King’s Head Island Bryces. Hell, even Gus the flag-waver is moonlighting from his other gig as the guy in “Seaplane” who sits outside Kurt’s office, making mildly perverse comments.
Perhaps part of the reason this feels noteworthy is that, far more than other Fox animated shows, Bob’s Burgers relies primarily on guest voices to portray its townspeople. Whereas most of the male citizens of Springfield are voiced by either Dan Castellaneta, Harry Shearer, or Hank Azaria, H. Jon Benjamin only does a handful of voices beyond Bob—one of which is Gus the flag-waving maestro—and even longtime animation utility player David Herman is mostly just on hand to play Mr. Frond. As such, there’s a greater sense of variety and expansiveness that comes from bringing in Kevin Kline as Fischoeder, Robert Ben Garant and Wendi McLendon-Covey as Critter and Mudflap, Joe Lo Truglio as Bryce, Home Movies veterans Sam Seder and Ron Lynch as Hugo and Ron, and newcomer Jon Daly as rival go-kart racer Sasha.
This isn’t really about it being impressive that the show is able to bring in such a diverse array of Oscar winner and alternative comedy people; I already made that point back in my “Dawn Of The Peck” review, and that argument hasn’t gotten any more compelling or less silly since then. (Besides, I didn’t even realize Lo Truglio was the voice of Bryce.) It’s just that the presence of so many different people contributing voices makes the story sound and feel bigger than it would if it were told with only a handful of people play all the parts. Besides, the mere fact that, say, Critter and Mudflap were voiced by guest actors meant I really wasn’t expecting their unannounced return three seasons later, which only adds to the fun.
All the fun guest spots serve to enliven the episode’s central story of sibling rivalry between Tina and Louise. This season has more than once tweaked the standard portrayal of Louise as unstoppable agent of chaos, and “Speakeasy Rider” goes further than any story before it in revealing the vulnerability underneath the totalitarian will to power. Here, Louise is mostly just a bossy little kid, one that Tina tolerates more out of a big sister’s politeness than anything else. Previous seasons might have seen a gullible Tina bamboozled into going along with Louise’s plans, but here there’s never much doubt that Tina knows precisely what is going on, and it’s only her deep respect for the cosmic adjudication of Gene’s hairy mole that keeps her from doing her own thing.
There isn’t a big emotional arc in this episode, but what’s so impressive here is that “Speakeasy Rider” doesn’t need one: We learn everything we need to know about Louise and Tina from that crumpled look on Louise’s face as she realizes she’s about to lose the King’s Island Grand Prix and from Tina’s decision to push Louise’s car to victory. Between this and “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy,” Louise and Tina’s relationship is becoming the defining relationship for this season, and it’s not hard to see why the writers are so drawn to this dynamic. Tina may still be a weirdo who freaks out Sasha by romancing her go-kart mid-race, but she’s also the kind of strong, self-possessed young woman who knows damn well that Sasha was flirting with her, even if he doesn’t realize it. It’s no longer plausible that Louise could browbeat this Tina into submission, but that just opens up the possibility for these two Belchers to have meetings of the mind that weren’t really possible in earlier seasons. Despite herself, Louise is coming to respect, maybe even rely on her big sister, and that kind of character development enriches what is already a solidly funny story about go-kart racing.
The only question worth considering here is how Gene fits into all this. It’s not that Bob’s Burgers doesn’t know what to do with him, as it’s hard to argue the merits of a silly little subplot in which Gene learns the art of flag-waving from Gus, as that’s just the kind of pointless thing that Gene would care so damn deeply about. Again, “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy” is a good comparable for this episode, as that came up with the even more inspired subplot of Gene’s fascination with trash fashion (“trashion” to those in the know). And this season has managed a couple of solid Gene episodes with “Work Hard Or Die Trying, Girl” and “Best Burger.” It’s just that both of the Gene stories in those episodes were just about Gene; at this point, I can tell you precisely what Tina and Louise’s relationship is, but I couldn’t give you many specifics about what either’s relationship is with Gene. It isn’t unrealistic that two siblings, particular two of the same gender, would be closer to each other than to their third sibling, so this isn’t necessarily a flaw. Still, it’d be great to see Bob’s Burgers dig further into Gene and how he relates to his fellow Belchers, particularly when the results with Tina and Louise have been so great.
And, as tends to be the case with Bob’s Burgers, “Speakeasy Rider” is consistently funny. The unrestrained snobbery of the King’s Island racers offers a nice contrast with the kids we typically see at Wagstaff, with the vaguely Eurotrash Sasha proving an inspired addition to the show’s universe. Critter and Mudflap don’t get a whole lot to do, but Critter and Bob do share a wonderfully awkward bit of business over the discard bread, where even Bob doesn’t know why he bothered to push the point when he already knew precisely what had happened. Indeed, Bob and Linda’s story is one of the more effective Hugo plotlines, if only because he doesn’t get to take over the entire episode with his pettiness and negativity, as so often happens in his previous appearances. Here, Hugo is positioned more as supremely annoying thorn in Bob’s side than an active existential threat, with Hugo’s insane insistence on Bob serving him breakfast at 6:00 A.M. a great bit of heightening from his initial suspicions about the home-brewed beer. All together, “Speakeasy Rider” is another fine, funny half-hour for the show, and it’s hard to think of a better, sweeter encapsulation of the show’s continued evolution than that final scene of Louise and a sleep-talking Tina sharing a night’s sleep with their beloved, well-earned victors’ trophy.
- Speaking of which, I was impressed that the show actually let Louise win instead of just lose to a rallying Bryce. It feels like the show would have had them lose if this were a couple seasons ago, just to not let the family have any little pinch of success.
- “I missed you, where you been?” “Oh … around.” Mr. Fischoeder (and Kevin Kline) is, as always, the best.
- “Watergirl instead of race car driver. Mm, let me think about that…” The rage in Tina’s monotone is really something to behold here. Dan Mintz has come on so strong over his tenure on the show.
- “I made you a last-place medal. It’s gum. Good one Bryce!”
- People really need to start checking that guy’s online calendar.