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Low stakes and chuck steaks are on the Bob's Burgers Valentine's Day menu

Bob’s Burgers
Bob’s Burgers
Image: Fox
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The holidays really do bring out the best in Bob’s Burgers. Maybe it’s the break in the day-to-day monotony of running an unsuccessful diner, or maybe there’s something to be said for the concept of the holiday spirit. Either way, almost since the beginning, Bob’s Burgers unlocked an early formula with its special occasion episodes that it’s kept going for a decade plus. Its unique take makes each one a day to look forward to: the kids knocking it out of the park every year on their Halloween costumes, Bob’s obsession with the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, Linda’s indefatigable Christmas cheer.

And Valentine’s Day rounds out the quartet with some of the most heartfelt episodes of the show. For a holiday regularly cited as commercialized and saccharine, the Belchers always seem to take in the best of what the day promises, showing and processing their affection in the oddest possible ways. “V For Valentine-detta,” “Bob Actually,” and “Bed, Bob And Beyond” are all upper-tier episodes of the series, and now they can welcome another winner to their ranks in “Romancing The Beef.” It’s a more grounded entry than its predecessors—no giant pink limo or romantic comedy trilogy—but it’s a circumstance where simplicity works in its favor, and it connects all the dots it needs to make it a win.

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The episode is birthed by the combination of two Bob’s Burgers plot element staples, Bob’s resentment of Jimmy Pesto’s success and Louise’s ability to pounce on a quick buck. Jimmy’s got so many reservations for Valentine’s Day dinner that he’s gone to farting into the phone for anyone trying to get in, a duty he delegates to Trent when he walks across the street for his daily Bob haranguing. (Trent: “The last two were silent. I had to tell them what I did.”) Louise shrewdly notes that means there’s a bunch of diners who don’t have anywhere to go, and given how poorly their restaurant does on normal days, they’ve got plenty of room to take the overflow with a few minor tweaks.

What makes this concept click is that not it’s one of those instances where someone in the family is a wet blanket (usually Bob) or goes too far with the idea (usually everyone else). Instead, it grows organically out of a family discussion, where the longer everyone talks about the possibility the more excited everyone gets as they realize it’s possible to pull off within their limited means. And when it launches everyone’s perfectly suited to their tasks. Bob’s come up with a new deep voice for his chuck steaks (not Gene’s substitute teacher), Linda gets to schmooze and pour lots of wine, Louise is at her capitalist peak hustling paper roses, and Gene gets to serenade diners in a Cupid diaper made from Bob’s t-shirt. It all feels like something that could work in reality if no one got in the way, which makes Louise’s pep talk feel all the more appropriate:

Louise: “Mom, Dad, I love you, but don’t mess this up.”

Bob: “That was fair.”

And there’s another early win of “Romancing The Beef,” in that there’s not a fundamental flaw with the concept of the rebranded Urge. It avoids repeating the lessons of “Brunchsquatch,” where the Belchers’ attempt to change their restaurant format collides harshly with the reality that they have no idea how to run any other kind of restaurant. It teases the idea that all of these couples who are here on last-minute dinner dates resent their partners for the circumstances (“Am I a professional reservationist? No, I’m a professional doctor!”) but that’s nothing Linda can’t cover up with a nervous chuckle and more wine. Instead, the threat comes in the form of the family’s archenemy Hugo, whose mother has set him up on a blind date for Valentine’s Day—a date who threatens not to show up.

Conflict with Hugo is a concept literally as old as Bob’s Burgers, and the way he unites the often distracted family in opposition keeps the good energy of the episode going. First they continue to stack wine and reassurance on Hugo, and when that doesn’t work they turn to lies about how she’s in the employee bathroom with a nervous stomach, also known as “Cupid’s revenge.” What further sells it is the impracticality of it all, the fact that the family knows deep in their hearts this isn’t going to work out but that they’re going to keep going no matter how farfetched it gets. (Louise: “Gene, how quick can you get in a dress?” Gene: “You know my record is 3.5 seconds!”) The Belchers are so conditioned to not getting a win, trying something that doesn’t work can’t produce any different results.

Illustration for article titled Low stakes and chuck steaks are on the Bob's Burgers Valentine's Day menu
Image: Fox
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The subplot where Tina wrangles an invite to an anti-romance party at Tammy’s house is a less necessary part of the episode, feeling a bit like it was tacked on to keep her teenage hormones out of an already overcrowded restaurant. Yet on its own it works because of the ways it plays with expectations around Tina. You’d think that she’d be the first one to jump at an “ultimate snog jams” playlist and pivot to the promise of new butts once Tammy’s plan to subvert her own message reveals itself. However, Tina’s driven by her hormones and her principles in equal measure, and having committed to the latter at the outset it’s fun to see her then warring with the former. Especially as the former wins out over everything else, and there’s almost spooky Halloween vibes as she and last boy standing Austin try to flee the house. (Tina: “How many closets does this place have?!” Austin: “I know! So much storage!”)

What really sells it is the end beat where Tina finally flees Tammy’s house of lies, prepares to walk home alone, and suddenly her phone buzzes. If a little convenient in its timing, it’s nonetheless so satisfying to see Tina validated for her self-control, and more to the point her faith in Jimmy Jr. validated by something other than his butt. Jimmy Jr. was probably at his lowest point re: treatment of Tina in “V For Valentine-detta,” so to see him actually making an effort to reach out to her—and to do so at exactly the moment she needed to see it—was a highly rewarding event. And if it was cut by the awkwardness of their subsequent texts, well, that’s teenagers for you.

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Illustration for article titled Low stakes and chuck steaks are on the Bob's Burgers Valentine's Day menu
Image: Fox

But those two of course aren’t the true romance at the heart of Bob’s Burgers, and this Valentine’s Day gives us a near-perfect payoff. After “Bed, Bob, And Beyond” got so much mileage out of having Bob and Linda fighting for almost the entire holiday, “Romancing The Beef” leaves out any major conflict beyond the two of them trying to find the time to complete and present a list of ten things they love about the other person. Yet throughout the episode neither one of them is getting too worked up about not being able to fill those, save a couple of moments where they acknowledge the restaurant is doing too well. It gets to something great about Bob and Linda’s marriage, the mutual acknowledgement that they’d love to prepare these grand declarations of love for each other on a special day, and the subsequent admittance that that they’re usually too tired to do that and their plans to do so usually involve one of them swallowing a moth and the other woken up by their screams.

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All of it adds up to a tremendous denouement as Bob has to admit they’re shutting the restaurant down, and in doing so he and Linda fumble their way to saying what they love about each other. (Not all ten items thankfully, because everyone including them admits that’s too many things.) And in that confluence of events something wonderful happens, as Bob admits he wants the restaurant back to how it was and—once Hugo’s date finally shows up and his pettiness goes back in hold—everyone there agrees they’d be happy with burgers. It’s a perfectly sweet rejection of Valentine’s Day commercialism and build-up, and a reaffirmation of the Bob’s Burgers ethos that the simplest things are often the best.

Also reaffirmed in this episode? Everyone’s various loves, which makes “Romancing The Beef” a winner by the standards of Valentine’s Day episodes. Bob and Linda’s love for each other, Tina’s love for Jimmy Jr., Gene’s love for performing, and Louise’s love for money—every single one of them gets a payoff without any other conditions. And for the last shot of the episode to be Bob talking to a steak about its impending grind? Well, that’s just another kind of love, Bob’s Burgers style.

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Stray observations:

  • Burger of the Week: Tikka Look At Me Now Burger.
  • Store Next Door: Owed to Joy Personal Loans.
  • Pest Control Truck: Slay Anything Pest Control.
  • If I have one critique of this episode, it’s that the beat of Jimmy Pesto saying he’s proud of Bob feels unnecessary and distracting. It’d feel more appropriate if Bob was going against his core restaurant principles to poach Jimmy’s customers, but there’s nothing mercenary or over-the-top enough in Urge to feel like Bob had to learn a lesson at the end of it. Maybe one arch-enemy is enough per episode. (On that note, are there any episodes where Hugo and Jimmy have been against Bob simultaneously?)
  • Kind of a bummer episode for Teddy, in between his being the single—and sensational!—diner at the counter, spending his heart medication money on the Urge dinner, and that he decorates “some rooms” of his apartment for Valentine’s Day. There have to be some Valentine’s Day decorations in that hoard of his, no need to add an even sadder beat.
  • Linda’s wine reserve includes backup bottles, emergency backup bottles, and secret emergency backup bottles. I’m starting to suspect if the Belchers were better at managing that expense they might actually be solvent on a monthly basis.
  • The beat where Linda is hanging heart decorations and she almost hangs a Halloween bat is great because I truly believe she’s trying to rationalize hanging it so it doesn’t feel left out.
  • Tammy’s parents are going to see different movies at the same theater for Valentine’s Day. Hey, whatever keeps the spark alive.
  • There should be a Bob’s Burgers scorecard for how many times Gene needing to go to the bathroom winds up sabotaging carefully laid plans.
  • Jocelyn asking “Did we just marry Satan?” after the no-romance pledge might be the best Jocelyn delivery of all time.
  • “We’re just a ‘shove a burger in your face’ place.” “And a ‘sip on a soda and yack’ shack!”
  • “This is insulting but kind of inspiring.”
  • Diner: “Are you hitting on me?” Bob: “No, just feeling happy. And really confident. And maybe better looking than I was earlier today.” Diner: “Oh, you’re on cocaine.”
  • “My mother told her that punctuality is my biggest turn-on!”
  • “We came so close to success I smelled it. It smelled weird. Good-weird.”
  • “Those romantic sons-of-bitches. Play something nice!”
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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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