Jan 7, 2014

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "Slumber Party"

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 a new year and time to return to work covering the solid season of Bob's Burgers. While it has yet to produce too many episodes on par with its previous season, it does continue to make some great episodes that continue to expand the characters and explore the premises of typical sitcoms while taking them to strange, new places. In a way, "Slumber Party" is one that feels destined to be one of those episodes that takes apart the great past time by combining a bunch of girls at Bob's Burgers for one night and letting the chaos reign. The ending, however, may be a little disappointing, though a little sweet.
The episode begins with Linda (John Roberts) talking on the phone about a raccoon who hangs out in their garbage can called King Trashmouth. It is making Bob (Jon Benjamin) and the kids sick as they sit around eating dinner and discussing their lives. It eventually comes onto the topic that Louise (Kristen Schaal) hasn't been to any sleepovers and thus must be missing out on something. However, her big complaint is that the girls at her school are all losers and people she doesn't want to spend time with. Despite her wishes, Linda decides to organize a slumber party with a group of girls that includes some repulsive characters that braid hair, trade stickers, and goes to bed really early.
Things are going well, at least for everyone except Louise. Tina (Dan Mintz) is trying to get in on the fun, but is convinced that she is the older sister who has outgrown the behaviors. Gene (Eugene Mirman) even gets involved when they watch a movie called Twincinnatti about twins living in Cincinnati. They become invested and Louise decides to pick them off one by one so that she can be left alone and cancel the slumber party.
She managed to knock out three of her guests with strange persuasion. She makes her family sound repulsive and that slowly forces Bob to drive each of them home. Linda is disappointed because she did a tie-dye project with them that is drying in their bathtub. Things were looking great until suddenly Louise forgot about one person: Jessica (Kathryn Hahn). She went to bed early, as she claims that her parents are osteophiles. 
When Louise goes to check in on her, she is gone, leaving only a walkie talkie behind so that she could follow Jessica's whereabouts. She is looking for something that Louise took from her. As she rummages through the house, they chase each other. Meanwhile, a raccoon has gotten into the house and Bob and Linda are trying to get rid of it. Everyone eventually ends up in the bathroom, where the culprit lies in the bathtub. Jessica's pajamas are soiled from urine and she is embarrassed to the point of blaming Linda for peeing on them.
The episode ends with the two beginning to better understand each other. Neither are really game for slumber parties and only do them because of their parents. A certain tolerance has been built and they now feel less ashamed about going to them. Everything works out and the slumber party with just Louise and Jessica turns out to be quite a success.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

It isn't that Bob's Burgers has fallen in quality this season, but there hasn't been any standout episodes that make me believe that this is one of their best seasons. The show continues to explore boundaries in clever and interesting ways. Even if the average episode manages to be more concrete than competitors Family Guy or The Simpsons, there does feel like some element is missing. At this point, Bob's Burgers has been around for a few years. Longer than anyone would have suspected, and it is practically a veteran from a period that could have seen Allen Gregory or Napoleon Dynamite steal its thunder.
Yet there is something that keeps this lackluster season from being a waste. There seems to be some semblance of a heart. Not between the family, necessarily, which does continue to feel like it is just a bunch of moments where the kids harass Bob. It is between the individual characters and the outside world. Despite having established a fair share of regular characters, it is strange that the show continually introduces strange offsets and one time characters, such as in one of the season's early highlights: "Fort Night." There doesn't feel like we're getting progression to too many characters. Maybe it has to do with the impressive supporting voice actors' availability, but it also just feels a little too spontaneous in other ways.
For instance, the mystery around Jessica is novel and ends the episode rather strongly. Here are two girls who hate slumber parties, yet are forced to participate in one. The dynamic works as an execution, but the episode did suffer from being centrally about a slumber party and having little other substance. It almost seemed that it was just an excuse to make Louise tell great jokes and scare everyone off. There wasn't really any standout moments from the bits prior to the third act that necessarily make this feel like a strong episode.
Maybe if Jessica had felt like a character used prior to this episode, then maybe the growth would have been there and it would have been executed better. As "Turkey in a Can" showed, adding back story to established characters only makes them more interesting. For the most part, it does feel like the Belchers have been as established as they could be and we'll never see more depth to Regular Sized Rudie or Ollie and Andy. This isn't necessarily an issue, but with a character like Jessica, it does feel like the great ending needed some weight behind it to make that reveal work.
I like Jessica as a character and that she did seem suspicious for most of the episode. She was quiet and reserved in all of the right ways. It was even kind of sweet how vulnerable she became when the raccoon stole her clothes. However, when it came to bonding with Louise, it did feel like it was a definitive capper to the appearance by this character. It does feel disappointing that it would come to that, but that is one of the more problematic aspects of the show. There's so many great one time characters that I almost wish that they stuck around more.
This was a pretty good episode with plenty of memorable moments. However, the lack of focus until the third act does bother me a little bit. Even if Louise did learn a lesson and it did play with the dynamic very well, I do wish that there was more weight to this episode. If Bob's narcolepsy can be tied to his past in "Turkey in a Can," surely there was a character here that could have been reused and even built upon. I am fine with Bob's Burgers continuing to deliver about average episodes as their norm, but I do want something inspired this season to remind me why it is one of the future cornerstones of Fox's Animation Domination.

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