I’ve spent a bit of time in these recaps discussing the concept of “worldbuilding” as it’s appeared in the first season of Bob’s Burgers, and especially how the show has made excellent use out of its outstanding cast of recurring characters to fill out the odd little beach community that surrounds our new favorite greasy spoon. This week we spend a fair amount of time with another series regular whom we’ve seen in an awful lot of episodes, yet who has nonetheless been relegated to sideman status thus far: the Belchers’ next-door neighbor and local mortician Mort (voiced by comic’s comic Andy Kindler). What follows in “Weekend at Mort’s” is a comfortably average episode of a certainly above-average show, one that disappoints only due to its timing and perhaps the heightened expectations that Bob’s Burgers’ growing fanbase (myself included/especially) are bringing to every new installment.
This week, Mort takes in the Belcher clan when Hugo the health inspector closes their restaurant/apartment upon the discovery of a mysterious (and sort of delicious) green mold in their walls, and we get to peek into the life of a middle-aged guy who spends his days pulling crazy stuff out of corpses. As it turns out, Mort’s life is… pretty nice. Apparently you can make a good living being the proprietor of the business that isn’t perpetually burning down next to Bob’s Burgers. But for all the very nice things that people have died on in his spacious apartment, Mort is still sort of a lonely guy… that is until Louise and the kids convince him to go for the gusto and set up a real-life date with the lady mortician he met on Cre-Mates.com.
Meanwhile, Linda sees the time away from the restaurant as the honeymoon they never had, while Bob wants only to wear his comfy pants and built his model of the bus from Speed, which he hears is good, but is saving to watch until after he finishes the model. These plotlines come together as the Belchers double-date with Mort and the lovely Samantha (a sadly under-used Amy Sedaris), and we get some fairly straightforward misadventures in babysitting thrown in for good measure as Tina is left in charge of Louise and Gene.
It’s probably a good thing that Bob’s Burgers returned to air with an episode like “Weekend at Mort’s”, as it might not be the best idea to throw new viewers headlong into the deep-end of its potential for outright weirdness, but as a piece in the first season overall, the episode almost feels like a disappointment. The best episodes of Bob’s Burgers to date have all taken that extra turn that bends the family’s dynamic according to the temporary mania of one of the Belchers themselves (as with Bob’s propensity toward spitefulness in “Art Crawl”, or Tina’s lovesickness in “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?”), but here every plot development seems to trickle into just another sitcom story premise without going over-the-top for something to really set any of them off.
None of this is to say that this is anything less than a very funny half hour of television. There are lots of great bits spread throughout “Weekend at Mort’s” that consistently draw the laughs out (Jimmy Pesto’s reggae band and Louise’s conversation with Tina’s boob spring to mind), and the comic chemistry between Bob and Linda made their arc really work for me. But the closest we get this week to really seeing Bob’s Burgers’ inspired brand of barely-contained strangeness is an All-Star turn from H. Jon Benjamin as Bob, whose conversation with model-Keanu was the week’s best running gag, and whose finale turnaround after nearly burning-alive ends a pretty good episode on a terrific note.
Every week it seems you could point to a different actor whose voice contributions are the show’s highlight, but more and more I’m of the belief that Benjamin absolutely makes this series work (and much more so than on Archer). His ability to move Bob naturally from laconic to the border of derangement — and sometimes even in the space of a few lines — is the engine that drives the show into the unexpected. And the more willing it is to judiciously indulge those tendencies, not just in Bob, but in all of its primary characters, the better a show Bob’s Burgers seems to be.
Brendan K. O’Grady is a freelance writer, critic, and part-time academic in Austin, Texas.