Jan 14, 2014

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "Presto Tina-O"

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.

One of the strangest things is how I don't really feel that invested in Tina's (Dan Mintz) romance with Jimmy Jr. (Jon Benjamin). I get that the characters are supposed to be mundane and care for pointless things, but it is the least inspiring thing about the show, especially when tossing in Zeke (Bobby Tisdale), who seems to only be there because Jimmy Jr. needs comedic relief in the form of a white trash sort of guy. Maybe that is why I tend to rate these episodes lower, but at least this time, it isn't just brooding. There is an interesting subtext going on that adds a little weight.
As the episode begins, Bob (Jon Benjamin) is getting ready for the magician's event that is being held in town. With that in mind, he decides to have everything in his restaurant half-off. Teddy (Larry Murphy) agrees with the plan as they meet the head of the magician's event named Sazarac (Audres du Bouchet), who convinces the kids to participate in the magic show. Louise (Kristen Schaal) and Gene (Eugene Mirman) get started trying to figure out how to pickpocket while Tina tries to become Jimmy Jr.'s magic assistant in order to get closer to him. 
When Tina finally does, she finds that it isn't all that worthwhile. Jimmy Jr. is neglectful and doesn't care for her all that much. He eventually replaces her with Tammy (Jenny Slate), who is less upset by his lack of dedication to doing magic and instead dancing around while Zeke cheers him on. She decides to seek revenge with the help of a magic shop clerk (Jordan Peele), who gives her plenty of advice and literature on how to do it the clean way, and then the dirty and tricky way.
Meanwhile, Sazarac is getting on Bob's nerves. Bob decides to kick him out, but not without getting his name stuck in a book that causes him to be cursed. He does his best to overcome it, but everything he does is cursed. He eventually decides to go to Tina's magic show to spite Sazarac and get his name ripped out of the book. He also decides to get back at him by licking his cold cuts and sticking it in the book.
Tina's revenge on Jimmy Jr. comes in the disguise of changing his music from dance-worthy tunes to incoherent jazz that makes it impossible for Jimmy Jr. to dance. After finding some guilt, Tina decides to run out on stage and help him, despite this also causing conflict with Tammy's part in the show which causes her to be rolled off the stage in a box. The two end up winning the Honorable Mention On-Stage Chemistry Award. It restores Tina's interest in Jimmy Jr. and causes the conflict to continue.
The episode ends with Bob and the kids meeting up. Louise was able to steal Sazarac's book and share some news with him. Apparently Sazarac was ahead of the curve and decided to write a note on the back. He claimed that he made it easier for Louise to steal the book because of Bob's dishonesty. To top things off, he farted on the cold cuts in order to get back at Bob.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

It is strange that magic has slowly come back into the culture. Last year saw a plethora of movies released and now Bob's Burgers tackles the past time in ways that only it can. I will admit that it all hinges on Bob's disinterest in the profession and helpfully makes the whole thing feel like an unpleasant experience. Adding that this is an aspect explored via the food services industry, it adds a certain weight, as nobody wants to have cheapskates buying food and not paying a lot for being there for incessant periods of time. Sazarac may be good at his job, but by being clueless to the common courtesy, he is a different kind of Bob's Burgers antagonist. He is the well-minded jerk who wants to amuse but is otherwise very dense.
In fact, through subtle hints, it almost feels like this episode is nothing but defamation to the practice of magic. Tina uses it to seek revenge on Jimmy Jr. Jimmy Jr. only uses it so that he could dance more. Gene and Louise try to pickpocket but only win because Sazarac was fine with it. Sazarac is the biggest jerk of them all and makes the magic feel repulsive. Maybe this is all the point, but it almost feels like this is supposed to be an episode lambasting the practice in ways affecting ego. Magic isn't for the spectacle in this episode. It is for satisfaction and self-worth.
That alone gives the episode some depth that I feel is worth exploring in the future. I don't feel like Sazarac is all that interesting other than he wants to screw over Bob. He may have some funny gags, but he is too self-involved to really be more than a nuisance. However, what makes the ending of the episode so successful is because of this. Also, if you extend your disbelief, it all kind of works out. Bob got one last screw over and Gene and Louise achieved their goal. It is a happy ending, even if everything was practically handed to them.
It also feels great that despite them being distinct subplots, the entire episode had a continuity between everything. Much like Bob's problems with Sazarac's magic, Tina has an issue with Jimmy Jr.'s magic. Admittedly, it is more for a love conflict that I don't feel all that invested in. I know that the show needs to make Tina weird, but Jimmy Jr. is such a lackluster, clueless character and teaming him up with Zeke is asinine. The supporting cast has always felt problematic to me and Jimmy Jr. feels like a pointless love interest. It could be the point, but even Gene's bizarre selections of endearing loves had a lot more sustainability over their brief appearances. 
That could be one of my own person nitpicks and one that is likely never to be fixed, but it does keep episodes like these from feeling anything but solid. I like when the family works together and they come together on a plan. This is one that kind of does that, even if I feel that Tina hasn't got much to really go with here. There isn't much developing and these episodes feel like they drag in trying to make it feel for this far fetch continuity. 
Either way, Bob's Burgers continues to be a solid show that knows how to craft a well told story with nice twists and turns. Even if one plot wasn't particularly great, the interwoven structure is rather impressive for a sitcom that is 30 minutes long and has its share of fart jokes. The characters are well established enough to carry the episode and while I feel like the portrayal of magic isn't all that positive, that could be the point. It is strange and fun and Sazarac is quite an intriguing hit and miss of a character. Still waiting on a great episode this season, but this ranks as proof that the show can make continually solid episodes, even if they're just in the so-so field.

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