Bob’s Burgers has established, over and over again, that Thanksgiving is the perfect Bob holiday. But Christmas is just as perfect for Linda, as it’s a time of merriness, miracles, and generally being as over-the-top in pursuit of festive cheer as possible. “Have Yourself A Maily Linda Christmas” gives us the episode’s title character at her well-intentioned, never well-considered best, as she breaks a whole bunch of laws regarding proper handling of the mail just so she can make the Christmas of this kind of sweaty guy’s nephew as happy as possible. That ridiculous yuletide quest gives Gene and Louise the excuse they need to get out of the house and find Tina a sufficiently thoughtful present for the inaugural kids-only gift exchange, which in turn leaves their sister and dad in the terrifying company of Linda’s parents and her sister Gayle, all of whom are in fine form tonight.
By the standards of Bob’s Burgers holiday stories, this isn’t super high stakes stuff—after all, that one Bobcat Goldthwait-sounding guy in the candy cane truck did try to kill the whole family that one time. But nor do the episode’s stories feel completely silly or throwaway. Linda may be the rare person who would actually take a season shift at the post office and then feel compelled to deliver an overlooked package, but it’s easier than normal to empathize with her decision here. Christmas does feel like the kind of time that normal rules can be suspended in the name of doing right by others, and it’s not like the package has to go any farther than neighboring Bog Harbor, right? So help me, I’d probably do what Linda did here. Assuming, that is, I wasn’t so afraid of the righteous punishment of the United States Postal Service. This somehow isn’t the first time Linda has run afoul of the actual law in an attempt to make a holiday perfect—remember her stealing Detective Bosco’s sidearm that one Valentine’s Day?—but it’s got to be the sweetest. And “Have Yourself A Maily Linda Christmas” does a commendable job of acknowledging that what Linda is doing is pretty obviously illegal, yet seemingly minor enough that nobody would actually care that much.
That proves hilariously untrue, of course, as the head of the processing center calls Linda’s temporary superior Donna—in the middle of her performing in her church choir, no less—to inform her that a seasonal hire has gone rogue with a priority package. This shifts the focus to Mike the mailman, one of the show’s longtime recurring characters who finally gets his moment in the spotlight. What we see of him in this expanded role tracks with what little we have learned of the character in his appearances over the past decade, which is to say he is fairly even-keeled and checked-out, yet still with a tiny remaining spark of wanting to do the right thing.
And, by “the right thing”, I more mean the cool thing, as his major motivation for a lot of the episode is wanting to demonstrate that he is, in fact, capable of sweet catchphrases. He doesn’t really live out his clear dream of being the star of a mail carrying-themed action movie, but he does win Gene’s approval for the last of his undersold quips, and he gets to help Linda deliver the Christmas package without completely violating all mail-related laws. “Have Yourself A Maily Linda Christmas” doesn’t attempt to give Mike a rich inner life—though it is cute to see him hanging out at home with his wine-sipping partner, watching a DVD of a roaring fire. Nor does it need to do anything so dramatic for either the character beat or the jokes to land: Mike reads as a real person based just on what the episode gives us, as his motivation is clear and his decision to do right by Christmas makes sense.
Linda’s adventure is the most outlandish of the Belchers’ stories, as the others mostly navigate Bob’s Burgers spins on deeply relatable Christmastime problems. Gene and Louise get surprisingly little to do as they try to find some last-minute gift for their far more thoughtful sister, but then there’s not really anything they can do on Christmas Eve except hitch along with their mom and hope there’s time to stop at a gas station or something. The episode is happy to use them mostly as one-liner machines—always a strong role for Gene, who gets off an inappropriate all-timer with the penis joke—with Louise getting a great bit of Kristen Schaal rapidfire silliness when she tries to convince the young recipient of the Christmas package to part with one of his surplus gifts. Much like with the episode’s handling of Mike, Bob’s Burgers is happy not to strain in search of anything too ridiculous. There’s a version of this story where Gene and Louise concoct some child’s vision of a caper to get Tina the perfect Christmas present, and while I have no doubt that take could work great, there’s a lot to be said for just keeping things simple. Louise figures out Tina got her and Gene really lovely gifts, they both feel bad about it, and they end up giving Tina some origami via Mike and a sibling hug. Who needs more? Well, Tina does, as she pats her brother and sister down in search of her actual present, but still, the episode this way is able to give us a complete, emotionally resonant story about the kids while not letting them crowd out Linda and her mission.
That just leaves Bob, who is stuck with his in-laws. This is the first time we’ve seen Gayle together with her and Linda’s parents, and it’s fun to see how two very different types of familial weirdness interact without Linda there to bridge the gap. As we discover, Gayle lies a whole lot about what kind of life she’s living to keep her parents happy, with tales of international eyebrow modeling and more rooms than she knows what to do with in her apartment. Her parents somehow buy this, which probably says more about how committed they are to believing good things about Gayle than anything else, but even that isn’t enough to keep the peace between them.
Remarkably, even Gayle’s story feels sensible enough, at least relative to what we might expect of her. Hiding in an ottoman to surprise her cousin Donny is a bit weird, I guess, but it’s recognizable as an actual prank that someone might come up with and then execute with reasonable expectation of success, and it really would be awful to then be stuck there for hours while everyone else goes to the movies. That makes the fight feel like something actually worth investing some energy in, as while it’s eminently resolvable, it’s not over nothing. That’s a pleasant little gift both to the audience and to Bob, who takes Tina’s advice to the heart and has a go at making peace among the in-laws. Sure, that bit doesn’t work, but it then makes it that much funnier and more satisfying to learn he just went into the other room and pretended to be the bank, congratulating Gayle on her preposterous wealth. That’s the secret to what makes this whole episode so endearing: It’s all silly and absurd, yet it also feels situated in something real, or at least relatable. That’s the fundamental joy of Bob’s Burgers defined, really.
- How far do we think Linda would have traveled to deliver that package? I’m going to say... at least two states over. Just feels like she was getting a head of steam on this one, you know?
- That sweaty guy was right: Having kids really is almost like having a nephew.
- That does it for Bob’s Burgers coverage not just for 2019, but for the whole damn decade. I’ll see you all back here in 2020 for more!