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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iBobs Burgers /itaps into the competitive spirit for a spirited episode
Image: Fox
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If there’s one advantage to all this COVID-19 craziness overlapping with a month-long hiatus for Bob’s Burgers, it gave me plenty of time to focus on rewatching a bunch of older episodes. It’s a rewatch that renewed my respect for the world-building that Loren Bouchard and company have done over the span of ten seasons, and the way that they’re willing and able to pull far back into the archives to revisit characters and plot lines that may not have been touched for years. It’s an encouraging sign for the show’s continued longevity, seeing their world remains rich enough that they don’t have to go to gimmicky premises and nonsensical plots, like some other long-running animated shows we could name.

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“Tappy Tappy Tappy Tap Tap Tap” is the latest episode to dive into the archives and resurrect an old character, bringing back the ballet dancer/turtle bite victim Josh from season three’s “Lindapendent Woman” and “Two For Tina.” It’s both a welcome return for Ben Schwartz’s enthusiastic and amped-up performance, and a return to a rare Tina relationship where more is going on than just butt-deep attraction. And most importantly, it doesn’t revisit the beats from any of his previous appearances but uses them as a jumping board (or tapping board, such as it were) to tell a different story.

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The setup for Josh’s return is sending Tina an invite to his tap dance recital practice, ostensibly the sort of opportunity she’d take in a heartbeat. Only being in a good place with Jimmy Jr. post-hallway interaction (“And in that moment, our souls touched”) Tina’s not interested in Josh tapping into her heart and she’s trying to figure out how to break that to him. It’s a different approach for Tina, who’s typically always trying to find her next great romance, but also one completely in keeping with her approach to her romantic life. Her relationships are all so built up in her own head that her partner’s investment can never match the one she’s concocted, and that’s true even when she’s trying to end them. That’s on full display in “Tappy Tappy Tappy Tap Tap Tap” as Tina’s internal monologue is in overdrive, pushing her decisions so hard that even other characters start to notice the pauses.

Looking for the right way to let Josh down, she gets an opportunity when he falls down during his recital, and falls in a manner with the faintest hint at sabotage. It’s a much better deployment of Tina’s obsessive nature than “A Fish Called Tina” a few weeks ago, which is in the running for my least favorite episode this season. Where that episode pushed Tina into unlikable territory because of how unwilling she was to listen to how uncomfortable she was making characters we like, here she’s an unknown acting in full-bore bad cop mode against a group of total strangers. It’s a joy to see her ping-pong across the backstage suspects, especially as she pings “Suspect!” the minute a new one enters her field of vision. My illustrious predecessor Alasdair Wilkins was right that irate Tina is the best Tina, mostly because of how bad she is at backing up her words with action and how much trouble she gets herself into when she tries. Case in point, locking herself out of the school with Sawyer H. and having to work out some sort of escape plan with her increasingly terrified counterpart.

The scheme goes through enough beats and solutions that make sense in this world—it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a teacher sabotaged their own presentation because they didn’t believe in it—but in the end the reveal that Fred A-Stairs was never locked in the first place is ultimately satisfying. It makes the endeavor even more quintessentially Tina for her to have unknowingly constructed a whole conspiracy, turning Josh’s misstep into an excuse to create several missteps all her own. And it also makes the eventual talk between Tina and Josh all the sweeter, that she made everything so complicated when they were on the same page to begin with and both just want to be friends. (Josh values her ability to watch his dancing closely: “You don’t blink, you breathe kind of loud.” Tina: “That’s true. That’s very true.”) It’s another notch on Tina Belcher’s emotional growth, even if she can’t find the nerve to dismiss his finger-wagging.

Illustration for article titled iBobs Burgers /itaps into the competitive spirit for a spirited episode
Image: Fox
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Back at the restaurant, the episode’s b-plot is a classic “slow day at the restaurant” narrative, this one driven by a rare in-episode acknowledgment of the Burger of the Day. After Louise rates the Better Call Sauliflower Burger at a B- (which is the closest Better Call Saul should be to that grade in its stellar fifth season), Bob challenges the kids to do better and they decide to start brainstorming their own offerings for the board. It’s a natural escalation of stakes, first with the kids turning the idea into a competition and then Bob and Linda’s own competitive spirits entering the equation. No moment in the episode feels as right as the sides they take—they’d deny having favorite children to the end, but there’s no universe where Bob wouldn’t pick Louise and Linda wouldn’t pick Gene.

Bob dares to hope that this competition is the moment where his children unlock their culinary potential, but reality pops his belief as abruptly as Linda’s burp pops his fantasy world. The burgers are terrible, with colors not typically seen in nature and ingredients that not even a starving person would try to combine. (Linda: “What’s in this? Is it lipstick or licorice?” Bob: “This one has gum, I think. And it’s my favorite part.”) It’s an expected result to the competition, but more enjoyable that for the way it forces Bob and Linda to walk a tightrope between not insulting their kids’s efforts and keeping those efforts as far from the board as possible. And adding Teddy at the end is a great comedic beat, having to be the bad guy to all four resident Belchers and making him possibly regret walking into Bob’s Burgers for the first time.

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Illustration for article titled iBobs Burgers /itaps into the competitive spirit for a spirited episode
Image: Fox

The plots all work so well that it almost obscures a major flaw of the episode, the squandering of what should be fantastic voice talent. I was very excited to see on the press release that they were recasting Josh’s best friend Douglas with Daveed Diggs, a rare bit of recasting on the part of Bob’s Burgers where character continuity is so important, so I expected there was a reason for it. Unfortunately that reason may just have been his availability to drop in between Central Park recording sessions, because all he does here is get mildly annoyed with Tina. Not that Diggs needs to sing to be compelling—his Blindspotting performance is Exhibit A of that—but after delivering the best of Tina’s imaginary boyfriend solos in “Just One Of The Boys 4 Now For Now,” and then casting him as a performing arts school student, it’s hard not to feel like we were cheated out of something great this time around.

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At least we can take some consolation in the fact that now that he’s in the role, Bob’s Burgers will be smart enough to bring him back down the road. Hopefully it won’t be another seven seasons before we return to the School For The Performing Arts, because “Tappy Tappy Tappy Tap Tap Tap” proves it’s just one of many places where the show has only scratched the surface.


Stray observations:

  • Welcome back everyone! A month-long hiatus from Bob’s Burgers was too long, especially with the slow collapse of society happening all around us, but thankfully it’s an uninterrupted run from here until the season finale. I hope you’re all staying safe and healthy as the world goes mad around us.
  • Burger of the Week: Better Cauliflower Saul Burger.
  • Store Next Door: Not Safes For Work: Personal Safes.
  • Pest Control Truck: Little Vermin Exterminators.
  • I felt for Teddy this episode between having to eat that much of those burgers, getting caught in the vice of a Belcher parent competition, and his reaction to Louise being happy to see him. (“You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear someone say that!”)
  • Some peak Kristen Schaal cackles here as Louise first gets permission to get out of work and then dismisses Bob’s wish to not make this a competition.
  • I would watch Regular Sized Rudy compete in a ballet fight. Thought it would almost certainly kill him.
  • Of course Bob would be a stalwart defender of cauliflower.
  • There are six Sawyers at the School for the Performing Arts because Lost was popular when they were born. We are all very old. (Also Sawyer R. is the dumb Sawyer, because he drank aquarium water to impress a girl.)
  • “There’s no way they make you wear a bra in heaven.”
  • “That looked bad. The fall, not the tap. But also the tap.”
  • “The trash talk’s not letting up. So... we’re great parents.”
  • “Your palate is a sick joke!”
  • “Give me back my son! My burger son!”
  • “I’m going to go do my job instead of this.”
  • “I should have just told you the truth instead of inventing an imaginary crime and yelling at a lot of people and maybe putting one person in a choke hold for five seconds.”
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Les Chappell is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. He drinks good whiskey and owns too many hats.

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