Damn. That was pretty much the perfectly structured Bob’s Burgers episode. Now just imagine if it aired even remotely close to Christmas, as opposed to two weeks before Thanksgiving! Pointless kvetching—a word I’m guessing Teddy is quick to drop in front of his all-Jewish hockey team—about Fox’s eccentric scheduling aside, “Nice-Capades” is close to flawless, constructing a story that keeps the focus on the Belcher family while still finding fun ways to integrate some of the show’s most reliably funny guest stars. This is very much a Louise episode, a fact that carries some particular advantages for the show. Crucially, the show can take what is in essence a low-stakes scenario—will the kids make amends with the mall Santa, a guy who doesn’t actually hold any sway over their lives anyway?—and make it just as important to the littlest Belcher as the survival of the restaurant would be to Bob. We’ve seen past Bob’s Burgers Christmas episodes tackle more serious topics, ranging from the literal life-or-death scenario of being hunted by a psychotic truck driver to the more adult fear of reconnecting with an emotionally withdrawn father. And make no mistake: “Christmas In The Car” and “Father Of The Bob” are terrific, series-best episodes. But there’s also something to be said for just kicking back and telling a story that’s straight-up fun, where what happens only matters in the kids’ heads.
There are a few reasons for that. The most obvious is that letting Louise cut loose is pretty much always going to be a hoot, and here the central conflict is one that balances her adult-like savvy and cynicism with the reality that she’s still a little kid. Kristen Schaal’s voice acting keys us into the precise note the episode is looking to hit with Louise: She’s smart enough to realize that this random man at the mall isn’t actually Santa, yet she’s entirely capable of convincing herself that this guy could narc on her to the real Santa. More to the point, she’s totally dismissive of her father’s half-hearted attempts to tell her that this isn’t really how Christmas works, demanding to know whether he interned at the North Pole as an undergrad. (Hah, like Bob could get a competitive internship. Or could go to college.) Basically, when Louise isn’t the protagonist of an episode, she gets to be a pint-sized force of chaos. When she is the star, as she is tonight, she’s still a force, but we get the added fun of seeing her understanding of reality scrape against how things really are, as when her repeated attempts to get back in Santa’s good graces backfire because of the elf calling a Code Blitzen. Louise is funny enough when she’s invincible, but she’s even funnier when she starts to run into trouble.
Telling a story like “Nice-Capades” also lets characters like the Fischoeders wander into the proceedings without taking over. Because Calvin has such power over the Belcher financially, it’s not hard for his presence to unbalance an episode. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing—”The Kids Run The Restaurant” made a tremendous swerve out of his late addition to the episode—but by keeping rent-related matters confined to the gift of envelopes, “Nice-Capades” leaves open the possibility of exploring slightly less megalomaniacal aspects of the Fischoeders’ characters. In this case, that means seeing them put on a surprisingly half-decent ice show, featuring a four-minute (and not a second longer!) song from Calvin and a provocative but not too provocative dance from Felix. Their attempt to cover for the Belchers while they find Santa is a great bit, because it’s a rare moment where the Fischoeders’ power is beside the point; in that moment, they are just another couple of weirdoes trying to fill time by ad-libbing and doing a hilariously awful job.
The Fischoeders aren’t doing this out of fear of Louise—though that’s certainly been an entirely plausible motivations for characters to do things in past episodes—but rather because, well, why not? It sounds fun. That’s also more or less why Linda and Teddy agree to get involved in the Nice-capades, as this episode makes the obvious but always fun connection between the kids’ plans to impress Santa and Linda’s well-documented love of all things musical theater. There’s no reason for this episode to snowball in the way that it does beyond the simple fact that everyone involved is having a good time, and that kind of energy is infectious. The only real exception here are Gene and Tina, who share a good portion of Louise’s desperation to get back on the nice list, and Bob, who goes along with all this because, well, the big lug loves his family. The bit in which he tries to get presents for Santa’s nephew is the perfect Bob bit, in that he’s doing something he has no particular interest in, yet he cares just enough to be ashamed of how much he’s half-assing the whole thing. Also, as is often the case, the universe kind of hates him, forcing him as it does to go buy the gift from the last open shop, Accurate Calendars.
But all that still leaves the greatest boon of building an episode around Louise: that emotional moment when she finally realizes what really matters here. The climactic moment when she catches sight of herself in the ice and recognizes there’s no point in lying about all the nice things she hasn’t done is a wonderfully affecting bit, because that vulnerability instantly turns her into a real little kid. The fact that she rages against reality so spectacularly makes her moments of acceptance all the more powerful—off the top of my head, the show had a similarly powerful moment at the end of last season’s “Hawk And Chick,” and this is more generally why Louise episodes tend to work particularly well. And, best of all, even the most serious of Louise moments can set up a joke in short order, as the lessons she learns don’t tend to take for long, or at least get overridden by how much she wants her own shark.
“Nice-capades” is the latest terrific Bob’s Burgers Christmas episode, taking a simple premise of kids scared about being on the naughty list and spinning it out into something far grander and crazier than the story has any right to be. And it all works because, at heart, this episode just takes its characters, puts them in a mall together, and lets them all act naturally. The results are nothing short of spectacular.
- “You just kicked Santa out of the massage chair.” “Isn’t that a song?”
- “I’ll eat her eggs. Crap, I already ate her eggs!”
- “Heidi Fleiss-capades! Okay, I’m done, I’m done, I’m done.” I am absolutely fascinated to know how Gene learned who Heidi Fleiss is. Or, perhaps more accurately, who he thinks Heidi Fleiss is.
- “I named it after my dink. It’s very rinky.”
- “Where’d you get that hat? Your mom? See, that’s how you do crowd work.”
- “Anyone can make it look easy, but he can make it look hard.”
- “It had all the right number of legs…” Tina’s story took a darker turn than I was expecting. Also, what’s this about Gene needing to put away his penis?
- “This is not going…” “Breathtaking. Just breathtaking.” “That’s what I was going to say.” Bob and Linda, theater critics.