When your show hits 200 episodes, you can be forgiven for wanting to make a big deal out of it. Your syndication value has doubled, you’ve achieved some level of cultural prominence, and your collected DVDs will take up at least one shelf on some collector’s entertainment center. Consequently, many shows have gone to great lengths to make the bicentennial episode stand out. The Simpsons provided a grand Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory musical number, a Steve Martin guest spot, and eventually relocated the entire town in the wake of a trash epidemic. Family Guy paid homage to Garry Marshall with a romantic comedy that covered the entirety of Quahog. South Park created a grand self-referential conspiracy that blended virtually all its past controversies and celebrity parodies.
In comparison, the Bob’s Burgers bicentennial episode looks like a relatively tame affair. The story remains centered on the family restaurant, dealing with the umpteenth crisis on an important day. Out of the show’s sprawling cast there’s only a couple guest stars who make an appearance, and most of those have been around so long they’re practically regulars. There’s no life-or-death struggles, no great reveals, and while there’s musical numbers and callbacks it’s no more than you’d expect from a show that thrives on both. At a glance, it could be any other day at the restaurant.
And oddly enough, that’s what makes “Bob Belcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Kids” a perfect commemoration of Bob’s Burgers longevity. Deep into its eleventh season, Bob’s Burgers has cemented its role as the comedic workhorse of the Fox Sunday animated lineup. Like the restaurant itself, Bob’s Burgers knows what it’s good at and sticks to it, and its 200th episode is an expert deployment of that particular blend of the sweet and the silly. It follows in the footsteps of hundredth episode “Glued, Where’s My Bob?” to celebrate how much everyone working there does care about this oft-maligned greasy spoon, a challenge and reaffirmation of the Belcher family bond.
It’s a strength that’s tested early on in “Bob Belcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Kids,” as it looks like the plot will be split evenly between parents and kids. Bob’s trying to ensure the restaurant does well on the OceanFest street business festival, while the kids are instantly distracted by the prospect of an associated sculpture contest and a $300 gift certificate. The episode subverts those expectations in the first act by immediately tying the stories together, when the kids try to punch up Linda’s horrifying papier-mache mermaid and their combined efforts set the restaurant on fire. (“Aw, working together! I mean, that’s not good.”)
It’s a good decision by credited writer Steven Davis to ramp things up, and another good decision is to split the blame up between the Belcher kids rather than pinning the blame on one of them. Any one of the three’s established character flaws could drive this story forward—Tina’s attempts to grow up and be in control, Gene’s desire for attention, Louise’s appetite for destruction—but in consolidating them it makes the whole thing feel more centered than it would otherwise. The staggered music reveals are a perfect choice to escalate the consequences, with just the right individual touches added to each verse. Toss-up for the favorite between Gene having to add his trip to the bathroom and Louise making it clear Gene’s really the one at fault.
And in doing so, the bicentennial episode gets to center on an idea that’s been part of the show since the very beginning: Bob’s long-suffering refrain that his family is terrible. It’s hard to argue with that determination here, especially given that this level of devastation comes from the kids at their least malicious or distracted. This isn’t the kids making a deliberate decision to go against their father or even ignore their usual work, this is just them being kids and not seeing consequences to their actions. Bob can’t find it in him to get too mad at them—some glorious freaking out and retracting ensues—but the kids are fully capable of internalizing his disappointment.
And in doing so it makes it all the more rewarding to see them own up to their apparent awfulness and decide to do something about it. By not giving any specific weight to any of their motivations and presenting them as a whole, “Bob Belcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Kids” gets the best out of all three of them. Louise takes charge, uses her destructive impulses to their advantage—poor Kyle and his whisks—and gets them to their goal. And when it turns out that they’d have to break the rules to get what they need, it’s Tina’s commitment to the right thing that gets them to their resolution, and then take it a few steps further with a very long letter. Gene’s caught between the two, but he’s fully loaded on his one-liners, and more than carries the comedic weight of their encounters. (“Bubba Gump give us strength!”)
In fact “Bob Belcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Kids” is one of the more hilarious episodes of Bob’s Burgers this season. With a limited supporting cast—Hugo and Ron bookending the action, Jimmy Pesto “Zoom!”-ing in for a few insults—the attention can be focused on the core ensemble, as they prove yet again why the show continues to be so sharp eleven seasons in. Bob’s poignant grill apology is one of his best outbursts to an inanimate object yet. (And there’s been some stiff competition for that this season.) Linda’s unwavering commitment to her sculpture is peak Linda detachment from the judgment of others, and honorary Belcher Teddy keeps things light as he gets swept up in a lot of individual moments.
If the 200th episode does give us one thing new, it’s seeing Hugo get his comeuppance. In the world of Bob’s Burgers Hugo’s probably the closest we get to an actual villain—even if these days he’s more of an annoyance than a threat—so for him to have to go to Bob and mutter his guilt is almost as satisfying as seeing Jimmy Pesto take one below the belt. While the reveal wasn’t necessary to add a good feeling to the end of the episode, it’s the perfect coda to the musical elements of the episode, seeing the Belcher kids rise from the ashes in the wake of Hugo’s confession. It lets them strike the highest possible note as Bob can admit his family isn’t that terrible after all, and they can pivot to their next minor squabble as Linda wants to bring the increasingly horrifying mermaid indoors.
“Bob Belcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Kids” isn’t going to become a pantheon entry of Bob’s Burgers any time soon, but it’s another building block in what’s shaping up to be a highly solid season. Far from being a spectacle, it does exactly what a show should be doing on a milestone like this: proving how it got to this point, and proving that it deserves to stick around for as many more episodes as it can get.
- Burgers of the Week: The Chimichurri Up and Wait Burger, The Guac! Or My Mom Will Shoot Burger
- Store Next Door: My So-Called Knife Butterknife Store
- Pest Control Truck: Sleeping With The Ant-Emy Pest Control
- Teddy’s comment about the propane tank being light and subsequent wish that he was made of propane made me think that we were at last heading to some sort of King Of The Hill nod and a suspiciously familiar propane salesman dropping off a new tank. We’ve already had a Home Movies reference, it’s not an impossible thought.
- Callbacks galore: Gene’s costume drawer includes his cheerleading outfit, the Beefsquatch mask, and his necklace from the Halloween he went as Queen Latifah during her U.N.I.T.Y. Phase. Plus, Ghost Boy sighting on the dumpster behind A Shrimp-le Plan!
- So much competition this week for best interaction, but the gold has to go to Bob’s analogy about using a backup grill and Linda’s matter-of-fact response. Bob: “It’s like having an affair with another woman on top of my wife.” Linda: “I am a pretty solid sleeper.”
- “Oh, the heavy breathing guy who sounded scary but also vulnerable?” That’s about the best description of Teddy I’ve ever heard.
- Bob: “Why did everything turn out the way it did?” Teddy: “You sound like me every morning.”
- “She’s not conventionally attractive, but she has kind eyes.” “They’re kind of eyes.”
- “It’s hard out here for a crimp!”
- “Those fire guys went all Patrick Sprayze on me.”
- “You got a great memory for your age, Dad.” “And a great ass!” “Thank you.”
- “We’ll pack our things. Actually, Mom, if you could pack our things that’d be great. We’re really bad at packing.”
- “I’d do more than that. I’d kill a guy.” “Don’t do that.”