Mar 18, 2014

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "Mazel-Tina"

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 almost seems like with the brief break, Bob's Burgers has found its charm once again. In this particular episode, it manages to pit characters into situations that allow it to be a heavily Tina (Dan Mintz)-centric episode that allows her to play out a perverse fantasy and get all of the butts she ever wanted. The episode as a whole may be approaching familiar territory, especially with them being occasional caterers, but that doesn't mean that the charm is gone. With this particular episode, the parallels between becoming a woman and Tina not being Jewish are particularly inspired.
The episode opens with Tina refreshing her e-mail as she awaits a letter from Tammy (Jenny Slate), who is having a Bat Mitzvah. Her big reason for wanting to go involves the fact that she wants to feel accepted and there's potential for B.F.O.S. (Boys from other Schools) to show up. When she approaches Tammy at school the next day, wondering why she hasn't gotten an invite, Tammy states that it is because she doesn't want her there. However, when Tina finds out that Tammy needs another caterer, she immediately solicits her father. Bob (Jon Benjamin) admits that this seems a little shallow, as it means that Tina will be working the entire time. However, she is more obsessed with being there that it doesn't matter.
The entire family is there serving sliders. With big elaborate set designs and a lesbian Klesmer band called the Klesbians, it is quite a sight. Tammy is being a Bat-zilla as she tries to keep everything in line. She gives everyone a headset and demands that they stay in communication the entire time. When one is abandoned briefly, Louise (Kristen Schaal) takes advantage of it and uses it to freak out party planner Janet (Brooke Dillman) with subliminal messages. Louise convinces her to follow her dreams and become a singer. This results in Tammy having to rely on the next best source: Tina. She is in charge of keeping things going according to schedule and making sure that Tammy and her not-close relatives can distinguish each other.
Meanwhile, Louise decides to play a prank. She finds a large novelty head of Tammy and decides to dump a nearby bowl of guacamole through its nose to resemble boogers. However, as Louise enters the head, Tammy notices and follows her inside. This comes at an unfortunate time as the head is lifted towards the ceiling and the party begins. With the two trapped inside, Tammy argues to be let out and Louise decides to let Tina have her moment by pretending that the headset is broken. They also toss the guacamole through the head's nose, but it is blocked by the head's mouth. They try to get out, but are left watching the ceremony from above.
Linda (John Roberts) disappears from the catering and decides to eat some crepes, which smell delicious. Bob isn't too far behind. Both of them end up at the buffet at a nearby wedding. This leaves Gene (Eugene Mirman) in charge, who doesn't handle the commands well and ends up throwing up raw hamburgers to his customers. 
It leaves Tina in charge of everything, and she is a pro at it. Interacting with guests and keeping the events flowing, everyone adores her. She leads the conga and limbo games. She even gets to dance with the boy. Meanwhile, Tammy is above growing jealous and wondering why nobody notices that she is gone. This is when Louise decides to break it to her that she is being somewhat of a Bat-zilla and should probably take it easy.
Upon completing the Bat Mitzvah, Tina has completed Tammy's entire ceremony by herself. Louise finally admits that the headset works and calls for Tina to lower it. When it is opened, this causes a brief rift between them and causes Tammy to realize that she has been somewhat selfish. She does get to participate in the Horah, which sort of pays off. Bob admits that he's terrible at catering events and everyone realizes that they did a poor job. That is, everyone except Gene, who is thrilled by how well he did without using a grill.

Rating: 4 out of 5

There is some charm that comes from the series when it decides to analyze what makes each character essentially whole. This episode isn't just about Tina learning to take control and become a woman. It is about Tammy also learning to be a woman and realize that her selfish, bratty ways are unappealing to some people. With Louise also sacrificing her free time in order to teach Tammy this, there is a sense of maturity mixed in with the weirdly bratty nature of thrusting everyone into uncomfortable positions. Even if this doesn't affect the Tina dynamic long term, it does allow us to live out her fantasy through somebody else's party, and it is especially funny in its delusions.
The rest of the episode feels like exists mostly to watch everyone run around and try different foods. I do feel like the show could easily follow the Party Down model and go to different places each week for fun and mischief and get away with it. I don't know that it will necessarily bring out inspired new gags, but we'd get plenty of moments like in "Mazel-Tina." We'd have metaphorical growth that allows one character to wander from the group and cause them to grow. Even if it isn't intentional, the idea that a Jewish event brings the Belchers to a certain level of acceptance only reflects some sort of growth.
Of course, the episode is packed with a lot of delightful moments. From the juvenile guacamole gag to the "big mouth" joke, there's a lot of humor that can be made with Tammy as the butt of it. With her decorative head serving as a look into her ego, the endless amount of jokes and the feeling of surveillance takes the comedy to surreal heights and allows the characters to literally get inside of her head and understand where Tammy is coming from. It also helps that it juxtaposes Tina to have fun because Tammy is stuck inside her own head.
Whether or not the show is intentionally throwing in deep, metaphorical humor or not, it definitely plays to the strengths. Even beyond the scenes of Tina dancing with boys and touching butts, there is a sincerity there that she is finally getting recognized. All of the punishment of not being invited are starting to make way for actual fun and excitement. She feels accepted and hopefully that will lead to more growth as a character. Maybe she will take on more responsibility and maybe she will be friends with Tammy. Who knows. 
However, the one delightful running gag was the Klesmer parodies of everything, specifically the "Y.M.C.A." cover and Tina singing "Hava Nagila" over the closing credits. There is a certain respect for Judaism that runs through the episode. It manages to lampoon it, but not in a way that feels mean or insincere. There is a feeling that Jewish people have an understanding of self and embrace the outcasts. Even if the idea of serving hamburger sliders at a Bat Mitzvah still seems strange, it does work as a catalyst for the episode and one of the show's stronger attempts at making the characters feel well rounded.

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