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Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Bob's Burgers Recap: "Torpedo"

Maybe I have a vested interest in this show being good, being an early advocate of its virtues and writing about it every week as I do, but over the course of the last several months, I’ve slowly begun to consider Bob’s Burgers as being amongst the best comedies currently running on television. And judging by the general response to its second-half run, many of you out there seem to agree as well. That might have made for some higher-than-necessary expectations for the season finale, but this week the show delivered in its own way: with a comfortable, lived-in, funny and entirely satisfying episode that spoke to many of Bob’s Burgers’ greatest strengths and that left me hugely optimistic at the promise it shows for season two.

If I had some minor complaints with the last few episodes stemmed from their wondering from scene to scene without enough balance or focus, pretty much everything worked perfectly in “Torpedo.” This week, the family closes the restaurant in order to take in the Great American Pastime, Bob meets his inappropriately same-aged role model, and Gene learns the ins and outs of how to get ahead in mascot racing through ethically dubious means. We had excellent guests both new (Robert Ben Garant as the titular ballplayer, “Torpedo” Jones) and returning (Kevin Kline’s delightfully eccentric Mr. Fishoeder), and almost every member of the family gets a funny thread to follow in an otherwise straightforward sitcom plot. And although the form might feel a little uninspired, the performances that pack “Torpedo” with laughs more than make up for it not going for that added twist of absurdity that we so often enjoy in Bob’s Burgers.

In lieu of breaking down this episode in specific, let’s take a few moments to discuss some of its finer points in relation to the show as a whole in its first season. In “Torpedo,” we have perhaps the most pronounced return to the creeping/creepy sexuality of Dan Mintz’ Tina since the show’s earlier episodes, as Tina works her way into the Wonder Wharff Wonderdogs’ dugout as the team’s new Ball Girl. The way that Tina’s sexuality is handled this week really demonstrates how much Bob’s Burgers has grown into itself and its characters in a wholly natural-feeling way. To be totally honest, Tina started off as my least favorite part of this show. My initial impressions pegged her as the series’ token source of discomfort humor, a 21st century staple that’s rapidly dating our era of comedy in a way that I don’t expect to age particularly well. Early in the season, it seemed like Tina’s every utterance was intended to border on cringe-inducing for the sake of inducing cringes, less a part of her characterization than the fact that it was the only joke it seemed that Bob’s Burgers expected to find in the character.

Yet in recent episodes Tina has matured (no pun intended) into her role a solid part of the family ensemble. While she is still often called upon to toss in a few laconic, way-to-personal asides to heighten the controlled chaos of group dialogue scenes (and, on an aural level, provide a necessary counterpoint to Gene, Louise,and Linda’s high-pitched squawking), Tina has also excelled when given a larger role as well. Since the first few episodes, we’ve come understand more of Tina as the at times put-upon eldest sibling who is also the family’s shiest and most thoughtful member.

Bob’s Burgers has done its due diligence in treating her confused sexuality as part of a wholly believable family dynamic. After all, she’s the only Belcher who’s currently experiencing the ego-liquefying psychosexual horror of pubescence, and while that’s always been fertile territory for the easy comedy of humiliation, Bob’s Burgers treats Tina with the loving sympathy and respect that real life parents would, in all actuality, offer their child. Contrast this with the typical realm of TV sitcoms, where a child character who hit puberty is so often swept under the rug as quickly as possible. Or worse, consider the norms of animated sitcoms: Where a show like Family Guy (whose fetid, putrefied corpse still anchors the Fox Sunday animation lineup) routinely isolates and brutalizes a similar character in Meg, Bob’s Burgers never shies away from letting us feel the genuine familial closeness of the Belchers when dealing with Tina. Sure, her behavior is painfully awkward and even a bit mortifying at times, but being a thirteen year-old girl is pretty much the most awkward and mortifying experience a human being can have, isn’t it? And being a loving family means not paying too much mind to the more disturbing aspects of sharing a home with a hormone-ravaged teenager. My initial issues with Tina’s sexual confusion has since been replaced with Louise’s inexplicable violent streak, which the writers have mercifully not overblown to the point of making her the new Stewie Griffin (so far…).

The renewed focus on interactions within the Belcher family in “Torpedo” served the episode well, as it has throughout the season. In fact, “Torpedo” managed to find a tremendous balance between the worldbuilding (TV buzzword!) it’s done over the last several weeks and the tight, family oriented stories that have typified season one’s best episodes. In fact, while nearly the entirety of “Torpedo” took place in essentially two locations (the restaurant and various spots around the ballpark), we still managed to meet new characters like the hilarious stadium announcing team while expanding on existing role players like Fishoeder, all while doing, ostensibly, a Gene-centric “A” story. This is the kind of comfortable groove that most shows don’t achieve thirteen episodes in, and it speaks highly of creator Loren Bouchard and his crew that they’re already this assured in what Bob’s Burgers is. It didn’t reinvent anything about TV comedy, but “Torpedo” was a fine way to close out a mostly terrific first season.

There are far too many things to say about Bob’s Burgers' first season as a whole, so I’ll wrap up with a few bullet-pointed thoughts/questions:

● So what, exactly, is the name of this town? Their baseball team is the “Wonder Wharf Wonderdogs,” so is the franchise named for the amusement park? Is the whole town? Having grown up in Orange County, CA I know that none of us would have been surprised if Anaheim just gave up and renamed itself “Disneyland”… I know we’ll probably never find out where this show takes place, exactly, but episodes like “Torpedo” sort of make that feel like a contrivance the show will have to work around more in the long-term more than an idea that will stay funny in and of itself.

● Who is your favorite character? I don’t think anybody would argue that Kristen Schaal’s Louise was Bob’s Burgers’ “breakout” role, but I vacillate between loving John Roberts’ Linda and her infectious optimism and H. Jon Benjamin’s outstanding voice work in the title role as my highlights. The fact that my pick seems to change every week really demonstrates what a tremendous cast this show has put together.

● How does Bob’s Burgers rate compared with Bouchard’s previous work? As I’ve mentioned previously, I have seen almost none of Dr. Katz or Home Movies. I quite enjoyed Lucy: Daughter of the Devil, but the pre-premier buzz about Bob’s Burgers as a show that was going to basically do an Adult Swim-styled show with a network sensibility seems completely wrong to me at the end of season one. This show feels much more warm and “traditional” (in a good way) than pretty much anything on Cartoon Network’s increasingly fractured and usually emotionally-distant lineup. While I enjoy absurdity and irony as much as the next guy, I already feel like I’d prefer a nice, long run of Bob’s Burgers seasons on Fox over the same number of fifteen-minute Adult Swim episodes. And I barely watch anything on network TV anymore…

● What was your favorite episode of Bob’s Burgers: Season One? It seems like “Art Crawl” was a popular one, but mine was “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?” (Bob drives a cab, Tina has a birthday party and her first kiss). I’d actually put that episode right up there against anything else as not only the best episode of this show, but of any half-hour comedy this season. Do yourself a favor and re-watch that one.

That’ it, everybody. Thanks for reading/watching!

Brendan K. O'Grady is a freelance writer, critic, and part-time academic in Austin, Texas.

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  • Mike

    The announcers are played by Tim and Eric! Tim and Eric!

    • Brendan K. O'Grady

      @Mike Good catch! They got funnier and funnier as the episode went on.

    • http://sorryyourheinous.tumblr.com/ sorry your heinous

      @Brendan K. O'Grady I loved how unsurprised they were about Fishoeder using real bullets.

    • Brendan K. O'Grady

      @sorry your heinous If I get to see more of ANY character next year, I hope it's Fishoeder. Kevin Cline is just so terrific in the role, and unlike similar characters from other sitcoms (Stephen Root in NewsRadio, Alec Baldwin in the Clerks animated series and Mr. Burns all come to mind). The idea of this eccentric billionaire who treats the town as his personal toy is great, and there's a million ways to go with him.

  • http://sorryyourheinous.tumblr.com/ sorry your heinous

    This was a fantastic cap to the season (the episode and this write-up). Thanks Brendan.

    • Brendan K. O'Grady

      @sorry your heinous Thanks so much!

  • LisaS

    I would follow H. Jon Benjamin's voice anywhere. I loved him in Home Movies and was instantly hooked on Archer from the very first commercial when I heard his voice. Same goes for Bob's Burgers. He has yet to disappoint me. Can't wait for the next season!

  • grumblecore

    I expected to like Bob's Burgers what with the sheer comedic starpower involved, but man did I end up loving it. 'Art Crawl' and "Sheesh! Cab Bob?' are obvious standouts, but 'Bed and Breakfast' is worth a rewatch as well.

    Can't wait to see more Bob, Linda, Louise, Gene, Tina, Jimmy Pesto, Jimmy Pesto Jr., and hopefully Linda's sister next season.