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In a Thanksgiving Bob's Burgers, the dream turkey becomes a nightmare

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It’s Thanksgiving time again, and Bob’s Burgers has long since taught us what that means: Bob is going to drive himself beyond all reason in pursuit of the perfect turkey. This year’s is an especially hilarious vintage, as Bob gets his dream turkey from Riverbrook Lake Farms after years on the waitlist, only for cruel fate to intervene by knocking out the gas on the entire block. His solution is audacious in its refusal to admit its stupidity, as he sets up a makeshift spit using a couple chairs, a long rod, and, despite the specific objections of the fire department, an open flame. That’s pretty much the entire episode, at least for Bob, who spends more than half of it camped out in the alley trying to save the perfect Thanksgiving meal—a meal, it should be said, that has precious little to do with the family he would share it with or when they or any other reasonable human might want to eat.

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Instead, we get Louise showing off her pyromaniac side, which I’m mildly impressed the show has given us so little of up to this point. Bob is the only one invested in saving the turkey for the turkey’s sake—which I realize someone who hadn’t seen the episode might think means Bob has developed an emotional bond with a still living turkey and wants to save it from a horrible fate, which, take out “still living” and, yeah, that’s about accurate. So for the episode to be more than just Bob steamrolling his family, someone else has to care about something, at least then so those two Belchers can split steamrolling duties between them. With Tina busy thinking about her thankful tree and Gene busy being Gene—which is to say, lot of bodily functions on his mind—Louise is the natural choice.

At first, the joy of this side story is seeing Louise cackle with glee as more things are burned, but then the episode zeroes in on something even funnier as Louise discovers a giant log in the woods. From there, the whole story runs on an especially authentic flavor of kid logic, as Louise and her siblings go to literally Sisyphean lengths to deliver the log, only once endangering passing traffic. The kids never once stop to consider—nor did I, in fairness—that there’s no way for their dad to burn something so big in his pit when he explicitly doesn’t have an ax. That’s deflating, yes, but the sudden imposition of adult practicality, albeit in the midst of adult absurdity, is a hilarious contrast with Louise’s total confidence that wood is good to burn, so a big log must be great to burn, no further examination needed.

The big reason these annual episodes are reliably hilarious because they let us see a side of Bob we rarely do. Far more so than even in running the restaurant, cooking the Thanksgiving turkey is when Bob lets his culinary virtuoso loose, and it’s always, always going to end badly. One of the joys of the show’s format is that the family members’ interests are weird and varied enough that a lot of different things can happen on a given holiday—there’s a lot of variety to the show’s Christmas episodes, for instance. Almost without exception, though, Thanksgiving is the same story told over and over again. And I might complain about the show sticking to its familiar formula—I basically did that last week, after all—this is the kind of well-worn story that stays just as funny with each repetition.

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That’s especially impressive because a key component of “Now We’re Not Cooking With Gas” and the other turkey-cooking episodes goes back to something from the early days of Bob’s Burgers the show has otherwise largely jettisoned. There’s a lot of the old “Bob just cannot, under any circumstances, catch a break” to this episode, which recalls a more mean-spirited take on this world, one where Hugo and Jimmy Pesto were fundamental parts of the story rather than just amusing occasional side characters. Bob has built up a lot of audience sympathy over the years, so it can be tough to watch him fail repeatedly through no fault of his own—well, let’s circle back to that point.

The Thanksgiving episode is one of the only times in any given season where Bob is unabashedly selfish, ignoring his family in his quixotic attempt to make the perfect turkey. And yeah, that’s not great of him, but come on: If there’s one guy who deserves an unqualified win, it’s Bob Belcher (or Bob Burgers, if you ask Teddy). There are points of this episode where my connection to Bob—in other words, the cumulative result of 10 seasons of the show investing in making him a relatable loser that I don’t want to see lose that much—makes it a little hard to watch.

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That passes, though, for two reasons. The first is just how wonderfully, hilarious out of character Bob is. Turkey obsession has fully consumed him, and the first thing that rather shockingly departs him is his constant worries over money. He pays five times the normal price for a turkey to get his hands on the heritage turkey, then willfully ignores the Fire Department’s threats of hefty fines if he doesn’t put out his pit. Bob has rarely if ever risked the family’s razor-thin financial margins like this, which speaks to just how important this damn turkey is to him. There’s also, well, everything else to back that up, including him once again conducting conversations with the turkey, applying the brine with a care and attention that he is generally too tired to show otherwise, and, right, everything about his plan to cook the turkey outside, refusing to go back in even when it starts to rain.

Then there’s the simple fact that after all that ridiculous, clearly doomed effort, Bob ends up with the most gorgeously delicious turkey he’s ever made. The episode fully buys back whatever of my good will wavered with that move alone, especially because the family loves the turkey as much as he does. A key running gag for all the Thanksgiving episodes is that Bob loves the turkey—Popcorn, in this case—more than he does his family, and is too distracted by said love to even try to contradict this assertion. How the family feels about that is largely unexplored, beyond Linda occasionally calling out how ridiculous he’s being. That’s fair enough, honestly, given they know from how he acts every other week of the year how much he’s willing to do for them, but it’s also nice to see that, when Bob discovers that his seemingly ruined turkey is in fact the most delicious bird he’s ever tasted, the family is right there with him to enjoy it too. This is the longest of overdue victories for Bob in his eternal campaign for Thanksgiving perfection, and it honestly couldn’t happen to a nicer, more deserving weirdo.

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Stray observations

  • Tina offering to sacrifice her tree for the sake of the fire is the perfect way to snap Bob back to his senses. Just a really nice illustration of how much the family pulls together, even in support of their most unreasonable member, and how that helps bring said unreasonable person back to their senses.
  • Linda getting lost in happy memories of the children’s drawings was also a great little bit of business. As ridiculous as this premise is, part of what makes the episode so great is how true it all feels.
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