As returning Bob’s Burgers guest characters go, there aren’t many deeper cuts than Jairo, the Brazilian capoeira instructor from the show’s fourth ever episode, “Sexy Dance Fighting.” That episode came from an era when Bob’s Burgers was still figuring itself out—opinions differ as to when the show hits its stride, with many favoring the eighth episode, “Art Crawl,” even though the objectively right answer is the sixth entry, “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?”—and it’s not exactly a bad episode, but neither is it especially memorable. It’s representative of what the show appeared to be in its early going, with my predecessor Rowan Kaiser suggesting the show was carrying on King Of The Hill’s tradition of having Bob as a put-upon normal guy dealing with various annoying bureaucratic, liberal, or otherwise unconventional types. Obviously, that didn’t prove to be the case: “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?”, beyond having an all-time unwieldy title, blew up that hypothesis for good by making it clear neither Bob nor the show in general had any interest in being “normal” or “conventional,” whatever those even mean. In the six seasons since, Bob’s Burgers has transformed into something almost unrecognizable from what it was in its earliest incarnation. (Emphasis on “almost.” We’ll get back to that.)
There’s no better way for the show to demonstrate how far it has come than to bring back Jairo not as an adversary but as a friend—there’s a reason “Sexy Dance Fighting” has now become “Sexy Dance Healing”—with Bob proving way more open to his teachings than the rest of the Belchers are prepared for. Much of the middle portion of this episode isn’t all that funny by Bob’s Burgers standards, but it’s consistently enjoyable for much the same reason that it doesn’t have as many jokes as other episodes might. Bob, for once, isn’t fighting the weirdoes in his life, instead opening himself up to all Jairo has to teach him. It’s sweet—and, yeah, a little gross—to see Bob throwing himself into capoeira, seeking the affirmation of the latest colored scrunchie, and even swapping his chef’s shoes for flipflops. As much as is possible, “Sexy Dance Healing” plays Jairo and Bob’s relationship straight, letting the rest of the family and Teddy recoil in horror while giving Bob and Jairo space to form a legitimate bond, all without completely abandoning the character traits that once made them fight (or, more accurately, made Jairo humiliate Bob into a public pooping).
Jairo is still oblivious to anything outside his narrow, self-chosen field of vision, failing to understand why dumping oil on the sidewalk might be a problem for anyone. He plays blatant favorites with his scrunchies, twice denying Bob the coveted red. He thinks rent is something other people have to worry about, and his frenetic group capoeira sessions in Bob’s basement sure feel like the sort of thing that would annoy Bob under pretty much any other circumstance. The fun of this episode then lies in seeing just how Jairo can push Bob before he snaps back to normal, and “Sexy Dance Healing” is smart enough to not go for the most obvious solutions: Bob never reaches a breaking point and kicks Jairo out, nor does the rest of the family ever really succeed in forcing the guy out, except in the most indirect of senses. “Sexy Dance Healing” has to deal with the reality of any non-serialized television show, as Bob has to more or less revert to normal by episode’s end, just in time for next week’s episode, but the show tries hard to push Bob back in a way that says something about his character, rather than just relying on some silly plot contrivance.
Admittedly, the show absolutely uses a silly plot contrivance to clean up the Jairo storyline once he and Bob have decided to part ways, with the kids inadvertently managing to blackmail Mr. Fischoeder into giving Jairo his old place back. That takes us round to the main source of pure comedy for the episode, which is the kids’ formation of the Law Firm of Fromage, Schuster & Pitz-Lopez. Bob’s Burgers has become expert at managing these wacky Louise schemes, in that the scam only ever works on adults too bored to deal with whatever meaningless fast one the kids are trying to pull. Hildy the lunchlady, last seen as Bob’s arch-nemesis in “Bob And Deliver,” has got better things to do than worry about Gene’s transparently fake lawsuit. (If “Bob And Deliver” is any indication, most of those better things involve getting seriously wasted, but hey, let’s all let Hildy be Hildy!) The moment the kids try this with fake eviction notices or even faker reverse eviction notices, the lawyers and the Fischoeders of the world immediately see through the scheme. The comedy works in part because of how well Bob’s Burgers understands the difference between the real world and the kids’ view of it; the young Belchers don’t see any real difference between scoring extra free samples and evicting Jairo from the basement, so they are legitimately shocked when one works and the other doesn’t.
The other main source of humor in this episode comes from the guest stars. Beyond Jon Glaser’s return as Jairo, Rob Huebel makes his second low-key guest appearance of 2016 after his appearance in this year’s most promptly reviewed episode, “The Cook, The Steve, The Gayle, And Her Lover,” as he here plays a doctor who judges Bob’s need for surgery in terms of the ability to high-five. Compared with other Huebel-voiced characters like the Deuce or the Family Fracas producer, the doctor isn’t anything too special, but it’s always fun to see an authority figure so immediately align himself with the rest of the Belchers while Bob tries to maintain any sort of sanity, as is what happens with the consultation. (It’s also a nice little detail that the doctor makes his own sound effects while running.) Even better is Steve Buscemi as possibly ethical lawyer Tom Innocenti, who knows just how to milk a billable hour and isn’t shy about naming his favorite client. Buscemi and Glaser make a terrific little comic pairing, as Tom proves just as susceptible to Jairo’s shirtless confidence as Bob.
“Sexy Dance Healing” is a low-key episode, remarkable mostly for the six-year gap in appearances for its featured guest character. But—and here’s where I’ll make a probably silly attempt to bring this all full circle—as much as tonight’s episode is indicative of a show that has come a long, long way from the one that made “Sexy Dance Fighting,” there’s still a key bit of connective tissue that unites all Bob’s Burgers episodes. After all, Bob’s burger of the day conundrum is what kicks off this episode, and the show is wise not to suggest that Bob reducing his stress would instantly allow him to start reeling off inspired creations. Coming up with a new specialty burger every single day is by its nature a stressful task, and there’s no way to do that without getting stressed. For Bob, the struggle is part of what makes life worth living, and he can’t chase his dreams without accepting all the stress and frustration that necessarily come with it. Jairo can’t understand that, because he just cares about being at peace with everything, give or take the terms of his lease. Neither is necessarily wrong, but they are incompatible perspectives, and the one Bob returns to is basically what Linda said to him way back in “Human Flesh,” the very first episode: “I would rather be married to a suspected cannibal with a dream like you than a soft-lipped guy who never had a dream in the first place.” Swap out “a suspected cannibal” for “creaking stress machine” and “soft-lipped guy” for “absurdly well-toned Brazilian,” and we’re just about where we need to be.
- I’ve been thinking about this, and I’d say “Sexy Dance Fighting” is the second most obscure Bob’s Burgers episode, in that it’s one of the five made before the show really hits its stride with “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?”, and the three before it gave us Hugo (and the show in general), Linda’s parents, and Randy the filmmaker. That just leaves the show’s fifth episode, “Hamburger Dinner Theater,” as the single most obscure episode. If the show ever brings back Toby Huss’ melodic robber, that would be at least 10 times as shocking as bringing back Jairo.
- Thanks to all those last week who confirmed what I was pretty sure of, which was that the King Of The Hill episode I was thinking of was “Dale Be Not Proud.” This week’s King Of The Hill parallel really has to be with “Hank’s Back,” in which Hank similarly seeks alternative treatment for an injury from an overly sexual healer (voiced by Johnny Depp!). Hank and his healer never hit it off remotely as well as Bob and Jairo did, admittedly.