Every so often, Bob’s Burgers pulls out something new. The end of “Sea Me Now” gets cinematic as Teddy finally lets go of his ex-wife Denise. There’s a subtle, melancholy music cue, and the lighting shifts noticeably, with the literal sunset matching Teddy’s own personal conclusion. When he fires the flare and lights his boat on fire, it’s a big, soaring moment, something that feels like the logical endpoint of an entire movie’s worth of storytelling. Bob’s Burgers has had some beautiful moments before, but I don’t know if it’s ever lingered in earnest, deeply felt sentiment to the same extent it does there, with no hint of humor to undercut the immediacy of that moment. “Sea Me Now” steps outside the show’s normal reality and, in so doing, expands the range of places its stories can takes us to.
It also, setting aside all that pretentious tosh and getting down to the “Yes, yes, whatever, but is it funny?” brass tacks, makes it all the more hilarious when the show’s normal reality reasserts itself. Teddy is desperate to have his big, dramatic moment, whether it’s winning back Denise at the start of the episode or destroying his boat at the story’s conclusion. The only difference is the episode humors him in the latter endeavor, but the Belchers don’t. When even Gene is raising the practical issues with Teddy’s decision and quite reasonably asking if they should keep towing a burning boat, you know Teddy has gone a step or three past sensible. “Sea Me Now” doesn’t completely undercut him—he’s probably right that there’s value in a fresh start—but it sure would have been good to retrieve their wallets first, to say nothing of his steering wheel.
This all points to the aspect of Teddy that drives this episode: He’s a hopeless romantic in a resolutely practical world. It’s instructive to compare him with one of his key spiritual predecessors, Sergeant William Fontaine de la Tour Dauterive—you know, Bill from King Of The Hill. (For those who don’t bother to keep track of these things, longtime King Of The Hill executive producer and Bill namesake Jim Dauterive is credited as the co-creator of Bob’s Burgers, so the links between the two shows go beyond a general quiet excellence and that damn 7:30 timeslot.) When Teddy first recalled Denise and her affairs way back in the first season’s “Bed And Breakfast,” he was a fairly close match for Bill as a delusional sad sack, although even then Teddy was a little more resolutely upbeat than Bill generally was. Since then, Bob’s Burgers has generally downplayed Teddy’s marriage as a part of his character, letting him be generally pathetic while letting him retain hope and a degree of dignity. The universe was generally out to get Bill on King Of The Hill, but Bob’s Burgers is rarely so cruel with Teddy. That doesn’t mean his outlandish dreams are realized, but he’s generally able to get by just fine as long as his goals don’t extend too much beyond watching the hockey game.
It’s smart too to make Denise such a minimal presence in this episode, as the story was never really about her. By Teddy’s account here and what we saw of her dalliance with Ray the seal guy in “Bed And Breakfast,” Denise sure sounds like she was as much a piece of work as Bill’s ex-wife Lenore, but the Denise we glimpse here appears to be doing as fine as one can when one is waitressing at a restaurant one’s boyfriend has named the Schoon Hound. I suppose it’s possible the show could someday bring Denise back in a bigger capacity, like the one time Lenore showed up to ruin Bill’s romance with former Texas governor Ann Richards, but “Sea Me Now” feels like that story is done. Denise might have been an awful wife—and hell, Teddy might have been a terrible husband, or at least not the right husband for Denise—but she’s not some scheming supervillain, primed to reenter his life the moment he attains any sort of happiness. Bob’s Burgers doesn’t typically have such characters, and those that do exist are generally reserved for Bob, who can be suitably annoyed by these intrusions of stupid drama into his routine.
The point is that Teddy’s issues here are internal, not external, and that makes for a more interesting storyline for the Belchers to interact with. The question of how best to break uncomfortable truths has often informed Teddy-centric episodes, and tonight Linda and Bob have very different ideas of how to let the guy down gently. Bob is prepared to be non-confrontational—when Teddy gets angry, that’s probably the right call—at least up to the point that Teddy’s absurd decisions start endangering his family. Linda probably recognizes how quixotic Teddy’s quest for Denise is, but she’s much too busy reveling in how cool Denise would assume she is. Every joke here flows from the show’s understanding of its characters, and that care means the episode doesn’t have to strain for one-liners or over-the-top gags to gets laughs. Simply letting the characters interact as you would logically assume they would is enough.
Even the episode’s one relatively outlandish element fits into that, as the groundkeeper on the private island has his own well-realized character. He’s fiercely protective of the island and its stampeding Scottish cattle, but it’s born out of a legitimate sense of pride: He does helpfully point out that the other side of the island is the side worth trespassing on. Sure, it’s silly to wave a weed whacker at a bunch of strangers, but it makes perfect sense in terms of a guy for whom this job is literally all he’s got. That also fits with his little asides, including his quiet protest that he likes boats, which again fit with a guy who just wants his life to matter. I’m not arguing this episode works because of the deep pathos in the groundskeeper’s emotional arc. (Don’t worry, I’ll give you the heads up when I’m going to start straight-up trolling you all.) But creating a character who’s more than just a grab bag of silly jokes means the jokes themselves are that much easier to make.
Speaking of which, the ballad of Tina’s cellphone eraser is pretty much the perfect subplot. I’m not sure that the show has really previously established Tina as someone who loses things constantly, but it feels so completely true to her character that I’m perfectly prepared to believe that’s featured in every episode up to this point. As with Teddy, this is a story that unfolds more or less entirely in Tina’s own head, with the rest of the family only taking a moment to mourn the inevitable demise of a much-loved eraser. There’s a lovely payoff though, as Tina tells her dad that a cellphone would just distract her from all that’s around her. Of course, as soon as that legitimately lovely moment passes, the family immediately turns on Bob, summarily stripping him of all screen privileges. It’s that lovely mix of the sweet and the silly, the ridiculous and the mundane, that makes “Sea Me Now” such a terrific episode.
- Credit to Linda: She commits to selling how lovely that fruit salad is. I bet Denise was so impressed!
- It’s really quite rude of Bob’s Burgers to tease us with the idea of Louise having a boat and then immediately dash it.
- Teddy being so convinced that Bob and Linda are just giving him a maybe feels like a nice payoff to all the times they’ve brushed off his invitations.