This wasn't supposed to happen. Bob's Burgers was never supposed to last more than a season, maybe two tops. It is hard to remember, but there was a time when it looked like Allen Gregory or Napoleon Dynamite was going to be the cartoon series to fill in the hole of the now defused Animation Domination. Now that there's incorporation of live action shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Last Man on Earth, the fact that Bob's Burgers is still around, let alone one of the flagship series for the channel is astounding. This is mostly because what feels like a cult cartoon, full of rugged animation and crass jokes, finally has found its perfect niche as the right successor to The Simpsons with one of its strongest and funniest seasons in its entire run.For the most part, the show hasn't changed in the least. It still subverts holiday tropes and gets kicks out of constantly featuring creepy random characters wanting to rip you off. However, something changed, or better yet evolved with the Belcher family. The cast began to feel like a more concrete unit. While there have been episodes before like "Mother Daughter Laser Razor" that have embodied the family dynamic in interesting ways. However, it became more central this season, even to the point that it managed to emphasize several episodes around longtime character Teddy (Larry Murphy). He went from buffoon to lovable and responsible. It is the show's biggest highlight of the season, most notably because it was the shining example of how small characters became more important over time. He even gets a few episodes centered around him that are some of the most human and understanding that the series has produced.
Yes, there were occasional episodes like "Work Hard or Die Trying Girl" that were just jokes for the sake of jokes. However, there were others that mixed jokes with family in astounding ways, most notably in the case of Gene (Eugen Mirman) in "The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee" where he must contemplate giving up his musical passion. The satire was still prominent, but suddenly the conflicts began to feel more real. If there's any fault to season 4, it was that it constantly felt like gag episodes without much of a purpose. Here, the moments are done to emphasize character in unexpected ways. Even in "Eat Spray Linda" where mother Linda (John Roberts) is absent for several scenes, her character grows into an interesting person based on what others say about her.
While the show is itself always about the family and never has a consistent theme week-to-week, it does feel like there were motives to this season. It was about the family working together, understanding and respecting each other. Even if they were throwaway gags, a lot of the moments that resonated featured character breakthroughs. While there are a few clunkers ("The Gayle Tales"), the show was more consistent and understood its intentions clearer. The introduction of Bob's (Jon Benjamin) father also allowed for a deeper understanding of the father figure through an ingenious line dancing heart-to-heart. The show hasn't lost its edge on humor. All it really has done is figured out how to better incorporate both of its sides. It may have yet to reach the heights of The Simpsons' balance, but they are on par with their rawness in the early years, which is saying something five years into this oddly endearing show.
Bob's Burgers may have not had as many madcap great moments as season 3 with "O.T.: The Outside Toilet" or "Full Bars," but it did still have fun. In the finale "The Oeder Games," one thing was made immediately clear in that the cast is so large at this point that it is hard to ever include them all. For now, I will be fine with them riffing on 80's movies and throwing water balloons in slow motion. It is nice to know that as the show enters its veteran status as one of Fox's longer running cartoons, it still manages to shock and appeal in ways that Family Guy long ran out of and that The Simpsons doesn't get enough of. It may never be able to be more than the third most popular show on Fox on Sunday nights, potentially even being reduced to a shorter season next year, but it helps its status as the underdog cartoon that is just so much fun to watch and be apart of.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5