May 20, 2014

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "World Wharf II"

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.

We have officially reached the end of the season of Bob's Burgers with one of its most ambitious episodes to date. Maybe the concepts were spread out over two episodes, but don't let the weight of the conflict be diminished. The story as a whole comes to a satisfying conclusion in the final moments of the episode full of song and triumphant irony. It is a Bob's Burgers that suggests that things will never change and that time will keep them the same, even if their enemy is fueled by jealousy and a stripper. The series is, for better or worse, officially a hit in the dawning era of Animation Domination. This great episode sums up why perfectly.
Starting where the last episode stopped, Bob (Jon Benjamin) and Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) are being kidnapped by Felix (Zach Galifianakis) due to disputes over selling the wharf. Felix is running mad with power as his stripper girlfriend Fanny (Jordan Peele) demands that he builds her a club. He ends up tying them underneath the wharf in order for the waves to slowly kill them off. With the docks fairly dry at this point, the two captives are tied up and forced to come up with a way to escape before things get too drastic.

Bob decides to text Linda (John Roberts) after a series of phone calls failed to translate as more than desperate noise. The text is a little jumbled and causes the kids with the help of Teddy (Larry Murphy) to decode what it means. After some work, they discover that he is tied up. Bob has enough time to send an additional note, but it is another series of jumbled words that result in the team to head over to Pierre's to beat up the man who they assumed kidnapped him. Gene (Eugene Mirman) gets shrimp out of the deal, so it isn't a total waste. The kids spend a good portion of time asking friends around town if they have seen him. It is only later on that they realize that Pierre's was a misspelled version of pier, which was now filling up with water.
As the team runs into Felix at the wharf, they try and talk to him. He is growing agitated and decides to paddle out to the ocean, which is starting to rise. He takes them right to Bob and Mr. Fischoeder, who are mere feet from being drowned. Fanny and Felix try to convince everyone to drown, but Mr. Fischoeder finds a loophole. He decides to convince Linda to ram the paddle boat into the supporting beams of the pier. This immediately causes it to break and the carousel to fall into the ocean. Everyone is freed and Felix is rightfully arrested. Bob gets to keep Bob's Burgers and everything returns to normal.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I will admit upfront that I think that this season of Bob's Burgers wasn't as great as the previous season. This isn't to say that the series isn't trying. It is still full of vivacious energy. However, after challenging the dynamics of an animated family for four years, there is some room for redundancy. There's the smarmy characters and the con artist plots. There's some, but not a lot of noteworthy, introductions of new cast members. However, while the satire remains an indelible piece of the everlasting quality, I think that the show didn't have anything on par with "Mother Daughter Laser Razor" or "O.T.: The Outside Toilet." This is indisputable.
However, what has happened with what I shall refer to as the "Wharf" episodes is that it captures something of a higher concept. Bob's Burgers has always prided its expertise on crafting a family of dysfunctional characters that wouldn't work in any other situation. Then we're introduced to Felix, who at first feels like a slight character, but quickly becomes one of the show's most endearing supporting cast characters. He is in many ways in the shadow of his brother Mr. Fischoeder. He is nowhere near as interesting and the choice to sell the wharf may be the ultimate need to put the show into meta overload.
Consider the obvious parallels. With this being season four, Bob's Burgers is now a veteran comedy that would be surprising to see it make it to eight, though it isn't unlikely. But where is the legacy? In this regards, Felix inauspicious represents Fox and Bob represents... Bob's Burgers. Felix wants to appeal to a wider audience and please his sexual desires. Bob just wants more... Bob's Burgers. It may be an uninspired angle, but it's there for sure. It is the main conflict of "Wharf" episodes and probably a sign of a deeper meta commentary to come next year.
The issue is that Bob's Burgers hasn't changed at all and will continue not to. That is the defiant statement. It may lose some precious elements (the carousel), but it has its dignity in tact. It may not be intentional, but to read the Felix-Fox role to be that of the end of Animation Domination isn't that far off. After decades of animated shows dominating Fox's Sunday prime time slots, there will be a change of pace come next season with the incorporation of live action series such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine. While I will miss a healthy dose of creative animation, it is a gimmick that I am surprised has lasted this long.
So basically, the wharf is the potential cancellation in this scenario. Is Bob's Burgers going to drown in the ratings, or jam a paddle boat into the structure? It is looking like the latter, especially with other forefathers The Simpsons and Family Guy also reminding us of what Animation Domination stood for. It was an era of interesting TV. However, Fox will really need to find creative ways to make this matter to viewers. Even then, Bob's Burgers will be sending incoherent messages to us the entire time.
But "Wharf" episodes proves that there are more family dynamics to be explored. We saw what happened when Teddy played the responsible figure, and it produced some of the show's best moments. In this, we got to understand Felix's complicated relationship to his brother with insecure glee. Even the family working together is some of the best comedy that has happened all season. The only question for next year is if the show is going to  get deeper into skewing the average comedy, or if this was just a really great fluke.
Stay tuned next week for the TV Retrospective on Bob's Burgers season four.

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