Dec 17, 2013

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "Christmas in the Car"

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.

It seems strange to think of Bob's Burgers having a pattern episode-to-episode, but this year may see them doing something uncanny: prepositions. For Thanksgiving, the aptly named "Turkey in a Can" was a great mislead to one of the most elaborate and best literal toilet humor jokes of recent years. With a psychological answer behind it, it was also kind of sweet. In a sense, "Christmas in the Car" sounds like a direct sequel, though with out any alliterative liberties. In fact, it could even be a bottle episode. However, it is just a really basic title and doesn't have nearly the same pizzazz of last year's epic mannequin lover episode. But yet it still delivers.
Since Halloween ended, Linda (John Roberts) has wanted a Christmas tree, even though it doesn't feel right. After a few weeks, their tree dies and they have to get a new one. This happens again and soon it is Christmas Eve and they don't have a tree. Bob (Jon Benjamin) decides to drive the family out to a tree lot to get a new one. He is also baking a ham and due to the lot's long distance, he is leery about leaving for too long.
Along the way, things are discovered about everyone else. Louise (Kristen Schaal) wants to kidnap Santa with the help of Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Tina (Dan Mintz). The plan is that they lure in Santa with cookies and claim that milk is in the fridge. Once there, he needs to put his hand through a wrist wreath to get to milk. At this point, he will be caught and Louise will find out who he is. Gene also wants to call the local radio station to play "Jingle Jungle," which he claims is an American classic.
Upon picking up the tree, they get a little bit of fresh air. After this point, Bob uses his family as his eyes to see if he is able to back out of the parking lot in reverse. At this point, he pulls in front of a giant truck shaped like a candy cane. Having pissed him off, the truck begins to chase them throughout the woodlands and eventually causes Bob to pull the car over into a diner. Here, Linda decides to have a special meal called a Dutch Baby. Considering that the ham is still cooking at home, Bob calls Teddy (Larry Murphy) to turn off the oven.
Teddy manages to get inside and turn the oven off. However, this is mixed in with Louise's trap to kidnap Santa. One thing leads to another and soon Teddy is stuck with his hand attached to the fridge. He panics and knocks it over on top of himself and this causes some turmoil for him. 
Back out on the road, Bob runs into the truck again, which cuts him off on a bridge. After this point, he is chased into the woods where it is revealed that the driver is a short man named Gary (Bobcat Goldthwait). With Bob's cell phone dead because of Gene's desire to call the radio station, there is nothing to do but confront Gary. His frustrations of having to drive around late at night has lead him to become a sympathetic villain of the story. With one punch, Gary feels satisfied and lets the Belchers go.
When they get home, they notice that Teddy is still under the fridge. He is grateful to be free of the trap and even more happy to know that the Belchers opened his car, which states "Meowy Christmas." It convinces Louise that Teddy is Santa and that her plan worked. Christmas is saved, as the tree has been bought and the ham is still in good condition. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

While this episode is nowhere near as brilliant as last year's mannequin episode, I do love how concrete the writing was. Each character's goals were met and despite some being skewed just a little, they all had a great Christmas. While it does mess with the Bob's Burgers timeline to have this episode jump through Halloween and Thanksgiving if only momentarily, it all worked out in order to have a satisfying plot in which the family goes on a road trip. It isn't a terribly memorable one, but the mystery is set in motion.
Who is ramming their car and keeping them from getting home for Christmas? Even if it could have presented the character earlier to add more fluid resolution, the result was satisfying unto itself. Gary is short and short tempered, and thus is a great counterpoint to Bob, if just because are in desperate need of getting home. They have a longing to be accepted. While Gary's is more business and Bob's is more family, they are common men with similar problems. His brief moment in the episode did provide nice resolution, but it also felt a little rushed in its overall finite nature.
The greatest bit in the whole episode is the subplot with Teddy. In the episode, Louise has a quest to capture Santa. While we never see this happen, the setup is established so that when Teddy shows up and falls for the trap, it almost seems ingenious. From what I gather in the episode, he is a very slow man and he would fall for having cookies and milk with a visit to turn off the stove. His comedic relief was also nice, as him being alone with his thoughts did allow the odd observations to be more humorous. 
The only part that didn't make sense was the family dynamic. It is understandable that the kids want to capture Santa, but there was a sense that some borders were pushed in this episode. Not in a risque way, but having an emotional pivot scene right before potential peril for the family didn't seem like the right time to drop a poop joke along with several other crass jokes. It felt like it was playing for laughs in the wrong places and almost made the integrity that Bob's Burgers had been building in the past four years disappear. Luckily, the strange cameo by Gary kept it from feeling too rote.
As a whole, the episode is a great example of pay-off. Even if it doesn't have much to do with Christmas in general, the concept of uniting family against common problems is always great. While the whole buying a tree thing did feel like a stretch, it was fine once everyone got on the road and set everything in motion. We got to see what Christmas away from a house looked like, and it was quite the obnoxious road trip, even if "Jingle Jungle" will be an American classic soon enough (get the National on it). It was the family working together as a dynamic with desires that made this particular episode work. It wasn't entirely clever in its execution, but for the premise alone, it deserves some credit in helping the show to continue to be the strong animated comedy on TV.

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