Episodes like “A Few ‘Gurt Men” demand careful writing. Even by the typical standards of a Bob’s Burgers episode, nothing that happens tonight matters. The mock trials are a complete joke within the context of the show’s universe, so the question becomes how to get viewers to invest in the proceedings enough for it not to be a total waste of time. This frequently comes up when the show mixes kids and adults—especially adults who aren’t Bob and Linda—in the same plotline. When it’s just the kids, everyone is on a similar enough level of immaturity that the objectively low stakes can still feel important to them. Indeed, as we see with the adult Belchers’ story tonight, that can also be true of stories that at least theoretically involve the grown-up. But the presence of a retired judge and a bunch of Wagstaff teachers and staff makes it painfully obvious that any legal proceeding in which the Belcher kids are the main players must be a farce to some degree, one that only continues because the adults have nothing better to do.

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There are a couple potential solutions to this general problem. Often, Bob’s Burgers will try to keep it so that only a single adult interacts with the kids, freeing that theoretically mature human being to reveal himself or herself as just as ridiculous, petty, or unhinged as the kids. Indeed, Mr. Frond and Mr. Ambrose have both filled that role in past episodes, but we’ve also seen similarly strange adults in the form of everything from a baseball-instructing con artist to a Floridian retiree convinced a snake has eaten her dog to a suspicious juice box server on a wine train. The other option is to make this not about the admittedly flimsy, make-believe scenario but rather about some emotional connection between the characters. Whenever Bob is forced to wade into his kids’ lives—think his stint as a chaperone at the museum or his undercover mission at the Equestranauts convention—he’s doing it not because what his kids want is serious on its own terms but rather because he cares about doing right by his kids, even when it’s annoying.

“A Few ‘Gurt Men” uses the latter strategy, to some extent, though there’s necessarily going to be less pathos in the relationship between Louise and Mr. Frond than there is one between her and Bob. What the episode can do, however, is play up just how staggeringly sad Mr. Frond’s existence is, with Louise coming to his aid in part because he’s just too pitiable not to help. It’s a nice character beat for the littlest Belcher to show once again that she’s way more a softie than she would ever once have admitted. The episode also layers in the idea of being falsely accused, with Louise defending someone that she claims has often gone after her wrongly. (Whether Louise has ever been innocent of anything Mr. Frond has accused her of is an open question, but let’s roll with it.) The episode doesn’t do quite enough with this idea for it to emerge as a full-fledged theme—not the only area of tonight’s episode that feels underdeveloped, as we’ll see when we get to the adult Belchers—but it again helps locate this absurd scenario in something vaguely recognizable.

You can certainly argue whether the episode needed to have bothered, though, as just about every adult at Wagstaff is such an absurd human being—give or take Ms. Jacobson, who just appears embarrassed by everything she’s let unfold—that the court case can work even when mixing the shows’ child- and adult-centric realities. It’s not too shocking that many of the people working at a school are in various degrees of arrested development, as Mr. Ambrose is out for melodramatic vengeance, the receptionist is trying to live out the saddest dream imaginable by pretending to be a teacher, and Mr. Branca is serious enough about his maintenance work to give us the episode’s one quick A Few Good Men riff, thus justifying the title.

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Judge Conklin proves the silliest of all the figures, letting the courtroom be just as silly as his bored whims dictate. The revelation that he stole the yogurt is satisfying, in that it’s usually good to have the most important guest character be the culprit—the only other person I thought it could be was Mr. Ambrose, which wouldn’t make sense if we were talking about any character less dramatic than Mr. Ambrose. It’s a clever resolution, in that the judge offers an achingly mundane, straightforward explanation as to why he would steal the yogurt, and he then admits he let this whole charade unfold because he saw potential in Louise. And, on that level, the episode has some nice payoffs: She is, after all, the first defense lawyer to ever ask for a mistrial after pointing out the jury already knows who the bad guy is in a fairy tale-based case, and she ultimately figures out the key clue to determining Conklin’s guilt. Throw in Conklin’s decision to wear the yogurt thief sign on a date for the sake of a conversation starter, and the whole silliness wraps up nicely.

The adults’ story, on the other hand, doesn’t really work. There’s great potential in having Bob and Jimmy Pesto team up against a common foe, and a food scammer appears the ideal target. We’ve almost never seen these rivals as allies, yet the episode does pretty much nothing with this novel pairing. Instead, the subplot seizes upon the fact that the scammer is a celebrity impersonator, with Bob and company concocting a cockamamie scheme to turn the tables on him. Even before the guy points out the terms of service make it clear no refunds after an hour before the show, the plan is painfully flimsy, with Bob apparently having no greater gambit than popping out of a closet and informing the scammer that they aren’t satisfied with the show. This could potentially work as an anti-joke, but the whole thing is so thinly sketched that there just isn’t much humor to pull out of this. Mort’s mother has been amusing in previous appearances, but she only gets a cameo. The one impersonation we get isn’t his eye-opening Al Pacino but rather Borat, which is kind of a crazy thing to see played just about straight in 2017. There just aren’t enough jokes here to make the subplot worthwhile, but hey—at least Bob appreciates the guy’s Borat.

The episode as a whole isn’t exemplary Bob’s Burgers, but there are enough little moments from the kids—Zeke as the bailiff, Jocelyn and Tammy (mostly Jocelyn) making posters, Tina seeking illicit romance as a talkative juror, Gene going full southern lawyer for a second there—for this to still rank as a solid effort. It’s also encouraging to see still more signs of character development from Louise, even if her final analysis of Mr. Frond’s one-person date at the salad bar sounds more brutally mocking than sympathetic. Louise has a conscience, whether she likes it or not, but Mr. Frond is still mostly a step too far.

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Stray observations

  • All that said, it’s nice to see Mort again. And in a decently featured role this time around!
  • This is a sweet idea that was brought to my attention recently. While I’m not even remotely in the business of telling Bob’s Burgers what stories they should tell or who they should feature — not that I really think that’s the endgame here, but who knows? — I’m all for paying tribute to a wonderful character like Marshmallow, especially at a time when trans visibility matters more than ever.

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