In a season that’s seen Bob’s Burgers make impressive strides in building episodes around trickier primary characters—“All That Gene” and “Drumforgiven” cracking the riddle of Gene-centric stories, “The Hawkening: Look Who’s Hawking Now” finding a different side of Louise—it stands to reason the show would turn that attention to the secondary characters. And of the secondary cast, the one who could benefit the most from some attention (in more ways than one) is Gayle. Ten seasons in Gayle episodes remain a careful balance to strike, because the character is so over the top in her eccentricities even by the standards of a show dominated by eccentrics. It’s easy to step over the line of “comfortable to laugh at her” into “being driven crazy by her” territory, making you wonder why even Linda can’t do what feels like the right thing and get this emotional vampire out of her life.
That balance has been on display this season as it’s been hit or miss with its Gayle plots. She was at her worst in the beginning, pinkeye reducing her even further to “not even a functional adult” territory in “The Ring (But Not Scary).” Thankfully, she managed to rebound to the status of a family embarrassment Bob had to dart around in “Have Yourself A Maily Linda Christmas,” which fit perfectly into the nature of that story. “Yurty Rotten Scoundrels” manages to surpass both and hits the sweet spot of making her still a complete kook, but a socially acceptable kook where other people are the ones doing the real damage.
The only damage being done by Gayle at the start of the episode is to Bob’s wallet, as Linda hasn’t completely abandoned funding her sister’s insane projects in the wake of “There’s No Business Like Mr. Business Business.” Gayle’s latest endeavor? Art Your Engines, an immersive art workshop to be held in a yurt in the woods. It’s the right focus for Gayle’s particular brand of insanity, going from listening to one audiobook about art to believing she’s heard every piece of art there is, and that it’s given her something to share with the world. Or, at least, to share with the one person who signed up. Linda immediately volunteers to join the workshop to make it less sad, and Tina comes along because she really wants to be able to draw a horse correctly. (Louise: “You’ve been drawing horses? I thought they were people standing sideways.” Tina: “I know, I need help!”)
Smartly, “Yurty Rotten Scoundrels” doesn’t give Linda the same delusions about Gayle’s artistic abilities that she has with her children. She’s upfront with everyone except Gayle that she thinks the workshop will be terrible, and dismisses the idea that anyone else who’d attend is an idiot or whackjob. And she’s proven correct on the first part, as Gayle packs her presentation with all manner of insanities: an opening monologue about losing her hands to a bear, trying to get her attendees to wear smocks/burlap sacks and nothing else, and instructing them to paint with spit. (She brought a jar of hers, just in case no one else can produce any.) Megan Mullally continues to give it her all as this bonkers character, her warbling tones ringing with Gayle’s sincere commitment to the madness she’s created around her.
Linda’s a good sport through all of this, at least until she gets suspicious of fellow attendee Annie’s constant note-taking and photographs. Her second assumption is proven incorrect, and she realizes that Annie isn’t a whackjob but a master of whack jobs, or rather the scathing online review. Here’s where the real heart of the episode comes in, as it does whenever someone threatens the creative spark of a Belcher or Belcher friend/family member. Say what you will about Linda’s willingness to burst into song and inability to react quietly to anything, but that comes from a place of genuine confidence and willingness to brush off what other people think. (And probably also a fondness for wine, but that’s another story.) She knows that Gayle, much as Gayle likes to present herself as the slightly hotter sister—great running gag deployment here—doesn’t have that confidence. And Linda will do anything to make up for it, up to and including almost destroying the yurt to claim the offending notes.
The real success of this story comes in its twist ending. It’d be perfectly acceptable for Linda and Gayle to have a blowup over Linda’s yurt-shattering struggle and subsequent confessional on her sister’s weakness, and Annie’s cynical heart to be moved enough that she elects to throw out her latest hit piece. (Or even just deciding this is too sad to write about.) Instead, it turns out that in this case Gayle’s weaknesses were only perceived ones. Gayle’s uninhibited behavior did the job on Annie’s cynical heart before the workshop even started, and her inspiring/scary methods have pushed her to go from Annie-sassin to Annie-artin. (And it even seemed to help Tina draw a horse better, even if poor Arturo/Preston looks like a caterpillar with hair.) It’s territory Bob’s Burgers has only rarely tapped into—“The Kids Run Away” is one of the few examples that comes to mind—the idea that maybe there is a method to Gayle’s madness after all.
The episode’s b-plot is a clever outgrowth of the fact that half of the restaurant support staff is out for the day, meaning the other half has to pretend to work twice as hard—a directive made all the harder by a cash reward for a missing cat. Given how cold hard cash is still the one guaranteed way to wind Louise up to her extremes, it’s almost a surprise that she and Gene are willing to obey Bob’s directive to stay in the restaurant. Bob’s younger children have so little respect for him on a daily basis, but there’s still evidently some degree of parental authority they recognize, even if recognizing it doesn’t translate into putting forth actual effort. It’s the natural order of things to watch Bob slide from authority figure to half-hearted disciplinarian to admitting them leaving makes things better.
Limiting the kids to the restaurant also gives “Yurty Rotten Scoundrels” the welcome jolt of a caper vibe, as Louise recruits Regular Size Rudy and the Pesto twins to comb the city for the cat and report back via walkie-talkie. It’s a nice illustration of the show’s expanded universe, the fact that if the Belchers get in a bind they can just call in some backup and they’ll fit seamlessly into whatever’s going on that week. And that backup pulls off some of the funniest moments of the episode, between Regular Sized Rudy almost being able to outsmart a money-crazy Louise (if only he had a pencil and paper, things would be so different!) and the Silverman sisters taking the gold for best interaction of the episode:
Andy: “We did find a lovely garden. And the roses were in bloom!”
Ollie: “Also we found a dead squirrel! And I felt nothing inside. And now I don’t know what’s going on with me.”
The whole endeavor ends in tears thanks to a case of mistaken cat identity, which leads to a random stray in the bathroom, the kids covered in scratches, and Bob somehow in the position of having to pay the kids a reward. It’s a shame no one thinks to call Gayle at the end and ask if she wants to add a fourth cat, because it’s already established that she’d take a cat that looks like that in a second. And if they did that, “Yurty Rotten Scoundrels” would pull off the near impossible twice: turning Gayle into a hero. As it stands, they’ll have to be content with doing it once.
- Hello again everyone! After filling in once or twice over the years, it’s an honor to take over full-time grill service of regular Bob’s Burgers coverage. I’ll do my best to continue the quality of coverage set by the incomparable Alasdair Wilkins.
- Burger of the Week: This Is What It Sounds Like When Cloves Fry (with fried garlic cloves).
- Store Next Door: A Small Price Toupee: Discount Hair Pieces.
- Pest Control Truck: Mite Club Exterminators.
- Another great nod to Bob’s Burgers mythology this week: Bob’s cat allergy has him even more disapproving of his kids’ scheme than he usually is.
- I love the way Gene and Louise copy Bob and Linda’s rag-dropping secret conversation tactic and Bob can only muster the most resigned grunt once he realizes what they’re doing.
- Tina is used perfectly as a supporting flavor in this episode, between her quintessentially Tina persona for the art workshop (Lina Banina, she’s fifteen and a bit of a prankster) and her freakout in the woods when Gayle’s Creative Block attacks. (Also shoutout to that credits song and visuals, easily my favorite since the Mission: Impossible theme from “Yes Without My Zeke.”
- “If my roommate answers, hang up. He doesn’t know we have a cat.”
- “I mostly write reviews online. Who doesn’t?” Hey Annie, some of us take writing reviews online very seriously, regardless of what our friends and family and career counselors have told us.
- “I’m being snoopy! Like that dog, Marmaduke.”
- “It’s nothing. We jumped into a bunch of thorns because we thought it would be fun. It was as advertised.”
- “Does this answer your question?” “Yeah, in a weird way it does.”