We’re at about the halfway point of season four of Bob’s Burgers, and the show has smartly shaken up its formula. Bouchard and his writers have heightened what we know about the characters by frequently moving them outside of their comfort zone of the titular burger joint; “A River Runs Through Bob” was a strong place to start this season, because it gave the Belchers nothing but themselves to rely on. By the end of the episode, Bob and Linda (H. Jon Benjamin and John Roberts, respectively) were reduced to a pair of feral, worm-sucking woodspeople. Instead of engaging with outside forces, they were forced react to each other, a trend that followed throughout the season.
Bouchard knows where his characters feel comfortable. So in season four, most episodes put the characters in a new position and in a new location. “Seaplane!,” like “A River Flows Through Bob,” tests Linda and Bob’s marriage by teaming her with a seductive pilot (the great Will Forte) and sticking them on a deserted island. “My Big Fat Greek Bob” and “Bob and Deliver” takes Bob out of the restaurant and into a new situation where he leads groups of students. In each instance, Bob leaves the restaurant to see the rest of the world, and by doing so, these primary characters can test their relationships and evolve. Four seasons in, the show’s found fresh ways to engage the audience, and more often than not, it works.
Every episode doesn’t break the rules, though. Holiday installments, like “Fort Night,” “Turkey in a Can,” and “Christmas in the Car,” challenge the series’ core relationship: the Belchers. These plots revolve around family dynamics and how those dynamics react to each other. “Christmas in the Car” traps the Belchers inside their station wagon on Christmas eve and forces them to work out their differences or be killed by a tiny Bobcat Goldthwait – a common nightmare in the American collective unconscious. “Turkey in a Can” sees Bob on a house-wide witchhunt into who keeps throwing his cooked turkey in the toilet. These episodes play off each other nicely because both require Bob to begrudgingly go above and beyond for his family, as well as learn to appreciate them more. In all three holiday episodes, the family must solve the problem together by exploring each other’s differences. It’s clear writing that makes for great comedy.
The season’s more “normal” episodes explore character differences. “Slumber Party,” like last season’s “Ear-Sy Rider,” looks at the bizarre psychology of Louise, except this time she’s some sort of sleepover supervillian. “Easy Comm-ercial, Easy Go-errcial” is another a great example of how the show views its characters. The entire second act features each family member showing off their worst feature, and the entire third act deals with Bob coming to terms with those shortcomings and embracing them. It’s a near-perfect epsiode, because Bob’s Burgers remembers what on the show works: the family unit.
The split between the A story and the B story often maintain all of this. The A story takes the central, character-defining story arc, and the B story is more absurd, crazy, or just kind of goofy. “Bob and Deliver” has a main arc about Bob and Tina (Dan Mintz) reconciling their relationship, and a side adventure about Linda teaching people to dance. The show also manages to make these crazier diversions essential to the plot. “Presto-Tina-o” introduces magicians to their world, so Bob and Tina must navigate that from two angles. Tina sees how the magicians’ world affects her love life, while Bob must reverse a magician’s curse and ends up licking some fart-stained cold cuts. “Easy Comm-ercial” has a B plot where Gene (Eugene Mirman) wants to take a record-breaking dump. The show’s ability to give equal time to low-brow silliness and heart-warming honesty reinforces the deserved comparisons to classic Simpsons.
Bob’s Burgers remains as solid as ever. The show still relies on the elements that have made it a fan-favorite and begins to test those aspects. The voice-acting remains tight and quick, while the writing walks a tightrope between silliness and sentiment. These scripts and actors find the perfect way to deliver a non-sequitur or an emotional punch, which makes the show far more endearing and welcoming of weirder gags. Midway through the season, Bob’s Burgers is as good as it’s ever been.