Mar 11, 2014

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "The Frond Files"

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 has been quite some time since we last checked in with Bob's Burgers who were in the midst of doing their own perfectly timed Super Bowl commercial. With Fox's output working on a generally strange schedule, it is nice to see the show return with one of the season's strongest as the show tackles the uncharted territory of anthology series. Exploring the different mindsets of the Belcher kids, this is an episode that plays with style and jokes in ways that haven't been done for quite some time. Despite a waning season, the results of this give hope to what lies ahead, and hopefully it is more like this.
The episode begins with Bob (Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts) attending the Wagstaff School's open house, whose theme is "Why I Love Wagstaff." When looking for their children's, they decide to talk to principal Mr. Frond (David Herman), who nervously tries to avoid the subject, as his superiors are there to evaluate him. Heading to his office, the three of them discover why their reports were not put up for display. They were "too creative" as it were in a demeaning sense.
Reading the first essay by Louise (Kristen Schaal), she discusses a brownie surprise: an incident in which Frond sits in a chair where are brownie is. When he stands up, his butt looks like it is covered in poo. This embarrasses him so much that he builds a time machine to send a cyborg version of himself back. He chases after Louise for revenge, which brings along the help of Daryl (Aziz Ansari), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Tina (Dan Mintz). They try to fend him off, but things slowly spiral out of control. Soon they discover that their only defense is to throw creamed corn at him, which deteriorates his flesh. This leads them to toss him into a creamed corn container that causes him to melt.
The next story is by Gene. In a retro style, he is a rock hero with the entire school singing musical numbers. With the school being called Fart School for the Gifted, the Frond in this scenario is a female teacher who is opposed to the lyrically juvenile content. Gene has a song that will tear the school down, so Frond takes his guitar away. After breaking in and stealing it back, Gene plays the song, featuring several creative references to farts, which causes the school to fall apart. In the real world, Frond hates the scenario, but Bob thinks that it is delightful and open ended.
Tina's story is grounded in a realm of zombies. As the hall officer, she is in charge of what goes on in the halls. When she discovers that the basketball team has turned into zombies, she protects everyone and has them run to the Teacher's Lounge. Frond has locked them out selfishly, only to be killed by a zombie. Tina has one last trick up her sleeve, which involves her shaking her hair, causing the zombies to fall in love with her. All 15 of them become her boyfriend and she enjoys her life.
In the real world, Frond and the Belcher parents begin talking about why this is all damning. Frond claims that he doesn't like being seen as an enemy to the students. He also hates that he comes across as selfish. Upon the Belchers leaving, Frond stands up to reveal that he has had a brownie surprise incident and doesn't know about it. On his way to give a speech to the student body, the Belchers laugh at him. Back at home, the Belcher kids end the episode by talking about what a brownie surprise is.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

It isn't that Bob's Burgers has turned a corner this season, but I have had trouble finding the episodes as interesting or fun as last season. Maybe it comes from familiarity, but the show has strove to be different. I feel like the strengths lie heavily in the characters working together to strengthen family bonds and overcome personal struggles. It is a universe that is acceptable for fart jokes and also a sense of humanity. Bob's Burgers has been somewhere in the middle for most of the season, with their satirical elements feeling a little familiar and their family bonding a little off. However, this episode captures something special that reminds me why this show is so good. 
It captures what the Belcher kids are thinking at any moments. They spend a good portion of their time at Wagstaff that it is almost a shame not to see what goes on in their minds. There is only so much that them acting with friends can tell us. There is the implicitness that goes on in their minds. They have thoughts of staff members that they dare not share, specifically people such as Mr. Frond. It would only seem right they they each bring out their personal frustrations in creative writing. 
Though it is also interesting that each piece also seems to give us a deeper understanding to the prank that is occurring. With Louise's story, we get the sense of the brownie surprise. We see that he is full of regret and desire for revenge. In Gene's story, we see that he is a prude against fart jokes that ends up making him seem more uptight. Somehow Gina's story, in which he plays the least offensive role, hurts him the most as a cowardice figure. It is in this moment that we not only understand what goes on with the kids, but who Mr. Frond is. As a secondary character, we do not get to see him too much and even then, he is somewhat comical. Here, he bares his heart and that causes him to feel more fleshed out as a character.
Of course, at its core level, what makes "Frond Files" very effective is that it has all of these elements on top of some of its craziest animation techniques. Each story is done in a different format. Louise's is done as a loving homage to The Terminator, with Daryl paraphrasing the iconic lines. He is seen as a robot and with the delightful use of the music, it feels like a chase scene to stop an unkillable cyborg. Admittedly, it is more about tone than visuals, but it sets the bar nicely with excellent gags involving bleacher seats and even creamed corn. It also works to help understand Louise's psyche, as she is a rather diabolical person deep down. Of course to her Frond would be equivalent to the Terminator.
Gene's is probably the most fun, if just for the song. "Farts are liberty" is the quote that best sums up the song, which manages to not even cover how catchy the other grotesque, simple lyrics are. At times, I felt like the segment recalled Archies or School House Rock, but those don't do it justice either. With vibrant colors and campy style, it is a psychedelic example of hilarity. Gene has always been the loopy character and to see his id explode with creativity, it makes perfect sense why this would be his. All he cares about is that guitar, which also happens to be in the real world office. His obsession is music and clearly Frond has upset him somewhere down the line.
Tina's is particularly interesting on the grounds that it works as a noir concept, with the lighting being somewhat dramatic and the narration being somber. She is the hero of the story and much to her character's credit, she solves the problems by looking attractive and talking about butts. It isn't quite as fulfilling as the others, but that is only because Tina has other motives besides taking down Frond. She wants to have boyfriends and live a glamorous life. In a sense, this is her fantasy that only connects to the others in that she managed to loop Frond into it in a way that made him feel upset in the real world.
There is so much to dissect in it, but most of all, it captures the genius of the show. I will admit that the show does suffer from doing themed satires multiple years in a row. However, by exploring new territory, it does allow for the dynamics to grow and our understanding of characters to reach impressive heights. This episode was delightful and strange in ways that make it all worthwhile. If nothing else, we get a very creative story about why Frond is a jerk. Way to go Bob's Burgers in showing us instead of simply stating. 

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