“Three Girls And A Little Wharfy” feels different from the typical Bob’s Burgers episode. It always feels a little odd when Louise separates from her siblings for an adventure, especially when she goes off not by herself but with a couple random characters we barely know. Jessica, at least, we did meet way back in season four’s “Slumber Party”, though it’s only now, a half-dozen seasons later, that we finally get to see Louise reunite with her friend. And then there’s Megan, who is one of the rarest things imaginable in the Bob’s Burgers universe: a fifth grader. (We just need a seventh grader now to fill in the other great gap between the Belcher kids’ grades.) That Louise would care enough about anyone outside her family seems odd, at first glance, yet that’s quietly the whole crux of this episode: Louise is worried that her friend Jessica is getting lost in Megan’s wild conspiracies, and she wants to look out for her friend. Well, that and go search for a sea monster that lives in the harbor. I mean, who wouldn’t? But mostly it’s the looking out for her friend thing.
That conflict is the needle that this episode must attempt to thread. Bob’s Burgers can go to some pretty ridiculous places when it really feels like it, mostly in the form of mildly unhinged interlopers like Max Flush or that outraged guy in the candy cane truck, but revealing there’s an actual, honest-to-goodness sea monster by the wharf would be just a little too outlandish. So the episode can’t really be about that if it’s going to have any sort of satisfying conclusion, so the real question becomes what this quixotic search means for Louise. So yes, this story can be summarized as “the real sea monster was the friends we made along the way.” And what a delightfully weird group of proudly non-spirited friends we find. Megan is willing to believe anything she hears and possibly anything she just invents in her head while bored. The theoretical adult in the room, April Busby, is happy to wait six hours at the dock because she can’t remember when she made plans to meet up for a monster hunt with a bunch of preteens. Jessica probably counts as the normal-ish one under these circumstances, but she’s still happy to go along for this absurd ride.
That speaks to the basic story here: Is Louise still willing to get into this kind of ridiculous caper? That’s remarkable because, for so much of the show’s run, there would be no question—if anything, you could count on Louise to be the instigator of something as absurd and wonderful as a sea monster hunt. “Three Girls And A Little Wharfy” then works because it expects us to take as read that Louise, once the resident agent of chaos, has grown enough as a person that she would get involved in this zaniness just to make sure Jessica isn’t falling in with… well, perhaps not exactly the wrong crowd, but a silly one, certaintly. But the nature of Louise’s involvement doesn’t need to be nearly that cut and dry, and indeed a lot of the plotline’s comedy comes from just how naturally she drives things forward. Of course she would be the one to offhandedly suggest building a trap for Wharfy, and it’s adorably predictable that she is so excited, albeit against her better judgment, when something does, in fact, get caught in the trap.
Since a big part of the story’s premise is that Louise thinks it’s silly—at least when she isn’t admitting she secretly wants Wharfy to be real just as much as anyone else does—the other thing “Three Girls And A Little Wharfy” needs to be careful about is not making her fellow monster hunters too pathetic. The closest call here is April Busby, who is quite open about how much a photo she drunkenly snapped at a harborfront wedding three decades ago has consumed her life. She has real distaff Teddy vibes, honestly—which makes particular sense when you consider his fall from the grace also came from a close encounter with a sea creature, sort of—and some of the jokes do walk right up to the line of being mean-spirited, especially when she so explicitly talks about falling back into such a self-destructive obsession. Still, I’d say the episode largely avoids this, in part by making her such a harmlessly Teddy-like doofus, as for instance when she criticizes the trap’s quality of construction on the kids solely responsible for making it. And besides, even if Louise and company are still much too anti-spirit to want to wear matching shirts, they still basically accept her at the end for any future Wharfy hunts. Maybe April isn’t doing great, but she’s not doing any worse by episode’s end, and that’s enough for the story to work.
Megan and Jessica aren’t nearly as over the top as characters as April, but their presence does offer some nice understated laughs. Jessica here is a sensible extension of the character we first met way back in “Slumber Party.” She’s decently smart, at least enough to be aware of her and her family’s shortcomings—they’re not athletic enough to miss a badminton net, after all—but she is not especially committed to anything beyond not going along with Mr. Frond’s goofy spirit week stuff. Megan is written carefully so as to be overly credulous without being vapid or even especially naive. She’s still got enough sense to recognize and take offense when Louise is honest with her at the end, which is an amusing balance for her to hit. This whole episode would feel very different if Louise were essentially chaperoning a bunch of morons, which is absolutely a kind of episode we’ve seen before, often to success. But “Three Girls And A Little Wharfy” is going for something else, and while it’s perhaps a little more understated in its laughs than it would be with more outlandish kids to accompany Louise, pairing her off with these two proves a winning formula.
The episode also has a lot of fun with the other Belchers’ little side plots. For Gene and Tina, that really just means their showing up in ever sillier costumes each day: I’m torn between calling their Teddy-disquieting business casual attire or Gene’s Nick Nolte mugshot hair the winner, especially when it might actually be his Steel Magnolias-inspired 80s outfit. Bob’s story has a little more to it, as he desperately tries to understand the online lessons of a master chef who may or may not have just agreed to ramble pretentiously to the camera and pass that off as a course. It’s one of the show’s most reliable pleasures for Bob to feel both inspired and overwhelmed by the artistry of cooking. His eventual epiphany, with him imagining himself as literally every part of the food chain, up to and including the mustachioed truck that transports the cows, is a very special bit of throwaway absurdity. That’s the joy of Bob’s Burgers, really: In the middle of a surprisingly grounded hunt for a sea monster, there’s still time for Bob to have a musical revelation that leaves him a blubbering mess for the rest of the episode. That’s about all you can ask for, really.