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Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

How 'Bob's Burgers' Fully Hit Its Stride in Season Four

Bob’s Burgers has reached its prime. Like Seinfeld and The Simpsons before it, the fourth season can be seen as the moment when Bob’s Burgers really hit its stride, featuring episodes filled with creativity and experimentation that perfected what works about the show while pushing it forward. Fox’s oddball comedy celebrates society’s weirdos and finds humanity at the heart of every laugh, making it one of the most original, awkward, and heartwarming shows on TV. Creator Loren Bouchard has built a safe space for comedians and animators to indulge in their own quirks, which continues to pay off. Episode after episode, Bob’s Burgers reveals itself to be about more than some slob slinging grease sandwiches and crafting puns for his 'Burger of the Day' board; it’s about the people he cooks for and the family he loves.

“Awww, that’s so nice.”

Bob’s Burgers finds itself in stark relief to other cartoons. For one thing, the family likes each other. Weird, I know. Without Family Guy’s domestic violence or Homer Simpson’s causal child abuse, Bob and Linda can work together to support and love their kids. The violent, immature, and erotic vignettes of season highlight “The Frond Files” don’t offend the Belchers like they do Mr. Frond. Louise’s ability to write such a strong Terminator parody and Gene’s solid Rock and Roll High School references please the parents. They like hearing that their kids can express themselves through creative means. The episode uses an unusual structure to get at something very basic about the characters: the weirder they act, the more they’re rewarded.

“Frond Files” kicked off the season’s back nine in style, offering a new structure and a distinct willingness to take risks. The show does this in a variety of ways. Like in the more traditional, Jon Schroeder-penned “I Get Psy-chic Out of You,” there’s something very simple about the way Schroeder separates Bob and Linda. Diving headfirst into the frustrating waters of Linda’s enthusiasm, Bob plays the straight man to Linda, who spends the episode predicting the future, solving crimes, and ignoring reality. The infectious squeals of John Roberts voice and Schroeder’s smart escalation, helps “I Get Psy-chic Out of You” become one of the show’s funniest episodes, because it earns their separation by rooting it in real character choices.

Weirdness with heart is the key to Bob’s Burgers. Bouchard fleshes out his world this season with more eccentrics and losers, who, more often than not, are saddened by a world that doesn’t understand them (see: Regular-Sized Rudy and his only friend, a bean bag chair). The Belchers don’t cast them out, though. H. Jon Benjamin’s calm, nasally voice helps Bob come off as more nonjudgemental than the last patriarch who held this time slot, Hank Hill. Instant-classic “The Equestranauts” sees Bob infiltrating a brony lair and dealing with the creepy likes of Paul F. Tompkins, all in service of Tina. Though he finds this world strange, Bob seems more offended by the menaces inside brony, er, Equestical culture, because the show never vilifies outcasts, it vilifies villains.

Love, family, and responsibility all bubbled to the surface this season, and no where is that more apparent than the two-part conclusion, “Wharf Horse” and “World Wharf II.” Essentially asking Bob to choose between his restaurant’s future and his commitment to his family, the episode hones in on Bob and what he means to the Belchers. Things climax with the family, even Louise, proclaiming their love for each other. It’s a moment that sickens onlookers and solidifies the Belchers as the most cooperative family on TV, a perfect cap to the season.

Technically, the show is in a class all its own. Few can match it’s ability to play with pace, whether the show lingers on two characters riffing or it’s sliding from one frame to the next in the School House Rock-inspired “Farts of Liberty” music video. Bouchard and his team of editors and animators meld with the chemistry of the cast, all of whom act like they’re making this stuff up on the fly. The show’s pace slows down and speeds up simultaneously, creating a rhythm that’s quick and stagnant, visceral and calm, but always on the beat.

Season four is the moment that Bob’s Burgers’ formal and thematic aspects clicked into place. For all the butts and ponies and songs and Teddy, the show still makes family and relationships a priority, grounding its weirdness in something very real. These 22 episodes exemplified this. As long as it doesn’t lose that, Bob’s Burgers should stay open for many years to come.

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