Dec 3, 2013

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "Purple Rain-Union"

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 is something that probably needs to be done at least once in a show's history that takes place in modern culture: a school reunion. There needs to be some sort of draw and internal conflict that despite the maturing age, the pettiness of egos ruins something. It is strange then that Bob's Burgers has yet to do it. However, with an episode based around Linda (John Roberts) and her singing career, we may have just figured out where Gene (Eugene Mirman) came from as a musician. In fact, this may be one of the best of the season so far for many reasons.
It is the 25th high school reunion for Linda and Bob (Jon Benjamin), who are not looking forward to the actual event. Linda specifically recalls her unfortunate night when her band, the Ta Tas, performed with the band Bad Hair Day. The other group was so successful in winning over the crowd that the Ta Tas faded into obscurity and left Linda very bitter. In fact, she believes that Bad Hair Day will probably just steal their thunder a second time if they actually decide to perform.
When Bad Hair Day drops out, Linda decides to get the band back together. They aren't necessarily good, but with everyone's support, they begin to practice in the basement of Bob's Burgers and entertain the patrons upstairs. They may not know how to play as a group, but they have gained enough semblance and confidence to pull off a rocking good performance.
On the day of the event, Bob discovers that he has a pimple on his nose. This sends him into shock as he tries to cover it up. Linda is getting psyched as well for the show and eagerly awaits the performance, even if her bandmates don't quite see it as an act of redemption. As a result, the kids are babysat by Jen (Wendy Molyneux). This doesn't go well, as Tina (Dan Mintz) is quickly left with a black eye and Louise (Kristen Schaal) scheming a way to get to the Ta Tas' performance. They give each other all black eyes just to make up an excuse that they all got one.
At the reunion, Bob quickly meets up with a bunch of dermatologists and becomes the life of the party. They are obsessed with the pimple on his nose. When he dances, he is mostly doing so with emphasis on his face. Bad Hair Day show up and perform a few songs before disappearing to play to a sold out arena. This gets Linda's hopes down and causes her to run away.
After convincing Jen to drive them to the show, they find Linda out on the street. Jen tells a story about how she is a terrible babysitter and just does it for the kids. Through some coaxing, Linda discovers that even though her music is terrible, she should be doing it because she wants to. This convinces her to go back and perform. It doesn't go well, but she has passion in her performance and she wins the crowd over eventually. Her sister Gayle (Megan Mullally) even takes a turn at singing a song in which she wants to have sex with a dermatologist. 
As the Belchers drive away, satisfied for the night. Louise is still disgusted by Bob's pimple and demands that he gets rid of it. Linda is fine with her performance and is glad that she finally put on a great show. When wondering where Gayle is, it is discovered that she is having sex with a dermatologist in the back of his car.

Rating: 4 out of 5

What makes "Purple Rain-Union" an exceptionally great episode is that it manages to take the Bob's Burgers dynamic, add its sense of reluctant wisdom, and apply it to a high school reunion. There isn't any romantic flings from the past, but more a desire to just prove themselves to their former classmates. Even if there isn't any sense that these people actually know Bob and Linda, it at least feels like a novel set-up for an episode. We have seen Linda work on music before, but to see her perform in front of an audience almost seems cathartic and the logical next step in her character's evolution.
The kid's subplot involving black eyes is also a little inspired, if bizarre. Much like "Nude Beach," the enduring factor of the show has always been how the family works together in the strangest places. Here, it is in giving each other black eyes with intent of having fun and going to their parents' show. The thought of abuse is a little daunting, but is pulled off gracefully here with Jen even being a nice addition to the show. Her lack of commitment to babysitting while actually doing it is excellent and makes the moral that drives Linda in the final moments all the more rewarding. However, it is still strange that black eyes seemed to be the logical step to getting to a concert. The one benefit that is probably the stroke of genius is placing the imagery of the kids punching each other over the Bad Hair Day performance footage. It almost feels like their own personal mosh pit and one that juxtaposes the wild antics by the band all the more.
It is nice to see Bob being embraced as well. He has always been somewhat of a problematic character on the front that he is always sacrificing for the family. Here, he has some trouble with the appearance of a pimple, but it becomes an advantage that works nicely. He becomes embraced by, of all people, dermatologists. One of which sleeps with Gayle, only tying everything up way nicer than it needed to be. In fact, hearing the crowd cheer on Bob's pimple felt like a nice antithesis to the normal situation where acne is the form of outcasts. Here, it is weirdly Bob's entrance to popularity, and that is enough to make the joke work.
The band itself may be one of the most problematic aspects of the episode. Yes, they are meant to be horrible and yes Linda isn't a great singer. However, this show has had a weird success ratio with amateur-sounding song production while maintaining catchiness. In fact, the credits song is especially enjoyable. It is just that the centerpiece songs in which the Ta Tas perform are really bad and piercing. It may serve the story's purpose, but even in a satirical sense, this is the worst that Bob's Burgers has done in songwriting and composition. Gayle's voice isn't especially easy listening and when harmonizing with Linda only makes the situation harder to give a pass. It is for the sake of comedy, but Bob's Burgers has written far better songs that make you wish that they had done better here.
As a whole, it was another episode in which the family works together to solve a problem. Without the kids driving around, Linda wouldn't have performed. There are so many dynamics that make the episode work and most of all, there is the sense of heart and support that glues the show together nicely. Bob may be on the backburner after last week's episode, but it is finally a chance to get some solid moments from the kids, who I felt have been lacking this season so far. Most of all, Bob's Burgers continues to understand the family dynamic and the structure of a quality show in ways that even if they are satirizing something old and familiar, that they can do it with some pizzazz and fun.

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