Nov 26, 2013

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "Turkey in a Can"

Welcome to TV Recap, in which we look at modern shows and analyze them on an episode-to-episode basis. This one focuses on the cartoon sitcom Bob's Burgers, a very funny show that is capable of rivaling old school Simpsons in terms of irreverent humor and off the wall zaniness. With a cast of modern alternative comedian heroes, the story follows the Belchers as they run a burger joint. Join me as I take part in dissecting the show in its first full season. Check back on Tuesdays for the next exciting installment.

Back in time for a Thanksgiving themed episode, Bob's Burgers continues to delve into territory that is tried and true in fresh new ways. Where last year saw a dinner party go crazy, it turns out that this year the Belchers are in charge of the festivities and keeps most of the action within the confines of the restaurant. In some ways, it is an exploration of relatives and the paranoia of a beloved holiday meal gone wrong. Much like "Fort Night" continued to help reinvent the way that Bob's Burgers visualizes Halloween, "Turkey in a Can" attempts to do the same with Thanksgiving, though nowhere near as off the wall.
The episode opens with the reveal that Bob (Jon Benjamin) is cooking a turkey and is taking pride of making it as juicy as possible. In a recipe that he calls "Father of the Brine," he bastes it for three days. It is his pride and joy. Meanwhile, Linda's (John Roberts) sister Gayle (Megan Mullally) is staying to visit with her cat and a stray that she found. She is working on a song with Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Tina (Dan Mintz) is busy trying to become mature so that she can sit at the grown-up table by practicing such conversation points as "In this economy?"
Things are going well until the following morning when Bob finds out that the turkey that he has been basting has been dunked in the toilet. He leads to paranoia and blames everyone, specifically Louise (Kristen Schaal). He even gets another turkey from the store in which he befriends the butcher (Tuc Watkins), who mistakes Bob's consistent visits with flirting. Over the course of the visits, the butcher becomes more desperate and wants Bob to embrace him, even though Bob insists that he isn't gay.
It continues to happen. Even as Bob tries to stay up throughout the night, he falls asleep and the turkey gets dunked in the toilet. Teddy (Larry Murphy) argues that there isn't anything wrong with it and he shouldn't be wasting good food. However, there is ethics in Bob's logic. Meanwhile, Tina continues to try and act mature by wearing more adult clothes and talking in absurd, concerned catchphrases. Gene continues to work on a song with Linda and Gayle while Louise begins sleuthing out who the culprit is.
Things get worse as Bob buys two turkeys and decides to hide one in a food freezer so that he has a back-up. Only telling Linda, he wakes up annoyed and shocked that both were now ruined in different toilets. It drives him insane and causes him to pull an all nighter as he does some finishing touches on the turkey. He has sacrificed sleep and vanity in order to get it done in time. With everyone confused and scared for Bob's safety, Louise pieces together the verdict.
She thinks that it was Tina and Gene working together on account that she has been stealing money from them. When that doesn't fall through, they continue to wonder. As the tired Bob falls asleep at the table, things become clear. Bob is a night walker that has had a nasty case ever since he started taking medication to combat the cat allergies that he has formed. He dunks them in the toilet as a memory impulse in which he imagines that the turkey is Tina and she is potty training her. 
The issue becomes resolved and while it results in some awkward moments, the problem is solved. Gayle and Linda perform their new Thanksgiving song, which will hopefully become a staple of all celebrations. Bob also receives some love and the episode ends with Tina still not entirely sure why she isn't being accepted as an adult and Bob sort of dismayed by the sudden outpour of love.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Maybe it is the idea that this Bob's Burgers' second go at the holiday episodes, but this one felt a little off in comparison to last year. While it worked largely because it was more based around a mystery than a gimmick, it felt like a very simple episode with a simple follow through. Much like the dinner theater episode, the mystery is kind of surface level and it is all dependent more on the jokes. In this specific episode, I felt like the humor almost felt secondary to the general premise and it felt like Louise was on the sidelines the entire time trying to be the hero instead of being somewhat of a nuisance. In a way, this is a nice change of pace, but the pieces to solve the case aren't entirely there.
For a large portion, the answer was pretty obvious. If you follow that Bob was asleep when all of it happened and nobody seemed to care to wake him up when he was under the table, it almost feels like he was in it all alone. There was no evidence pointing against him. Even if the plot tried to suggest that everyone was a suspect, there wasn't much evidence in the narration to suggest otherwise. However, it did feel ingenious that it was essentially the same person sabotaging the event as well as trying to make it work.
It just felt like the characters didn't have much to do this week. Bob may have been the central character, but besides cooking, he didn't have much. Even Tina's desire to grow up worked on a certain level, but was too minimal to really hold much impact otherwise. The musical number may have been the only other highlight, which even then isn't parlayed much to the rest of the plot. 
One of the aspects of Bob's Burgers that works best is when the family works together. This is about almost everyone being against each other in some form. It doesn't work as well to have them being that hostile. The humor derives from blames and not chemistry, which is problematic as a whole. It doesn't feel mean spirited, but it does keep the multiple dynamics from ever working. The show succeeds when the family succeeds, and with exception to Gene, nobody seemed to be doing anything productive that didn't feel in some form like spite. 
With that all said, the motives behind the turkey in the toilet is quite the twist. The parallel between Tina wanting to grow up and Bob treating the turkey like baby Tina was something beyond bizarre, though was easily plausible. Even if it seems like Bob's gimmick with turkeys is that he hallucinates and humanizes them, it does work to establish some psychological history with the characters. It may not make entire sense, but it is the one piece of heart that is necessary to make the story work. The twist is plausible in this regard, even if the concept was predictable.
With all that said, Bob's Burgers at its lesser moments still works because the show still has a perverse sense of how to do things. It may not always be executed at inspired levels of absurdity, but sometimes it is necessary to mix things up. That is what this episode is. Even if there isn't much to the change of a mystery wrapped in a botched holiday, it does feel like a moment to better understand Bob and not just barrage him with problematic events. There's still some heart there, even if it is wrapped in some form of paranoia among its initial characters that keep things from ever feeling like they will progress properly.

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