New Year, new Belchers. Some of them, at least. "The Cook, the Steve, the Gayle, & Her Lover" brings the family back with another of Bob's deliciously disastrous dinner parties, feasting on three (mostly new) romances that deliver exponentially more opportunities for awkward mayhem. From Mr. Frond and Aunt Gayle's gag-worthy second date to Bob's doomed bromance and Tina's newly minted stalker, the episode is a cleverly written, impressively assembled juggling act. The biggest difference, this time, is that a couple of the Belchers mature a bit before the main course comes 'round.
It's been a couple months since Gayle's thing for Mr. Frond was revealed in "Gayle Makin' Bob Sled," so it's good to see her feelings have stuck. Louise finds out about their love, though, and the revelation almost turns the youngest Belcher into the screaming-face emoji. Despite the name of the episode, Louise is the star, as she believes she must do everything she can to disintegrate the Gayle-Frond fling.
As Louise explains, their relationship means her lives at home and school will be forever intertwined. This is bad for a number of reasons — and not just because she breaks Frond's three-gag rule on the reg. Can you really blame her? Imagine your least-favorite authority figure dating one of your relatives. She paints the horror so vividly in this holiday Uncle Frond hypothetical:
In the background, another fateful union simmers with the chance of something special: Bob met someone over the holiday break. The target of his (bromantic) affections is a man named Steve (Rob Huebel), an archaeologist who might actually be the real-life Indiana Jones. And what's more, he has a son named Zander (H. Jon Benjamin, pulling double duty), so you know pre-dinner Tina, a bilingual badass these days, is also very interested in the development. The only person who isn't handling this new friend too well is Teddy, because he's the only guy who can really appreciate his BFF Bob.
With so many feelings in the air, the Belchers' apartment is a den of tension:
All this love runs the risk of being too much to handle: Gayle's nerves are about to get the best of her and ruin the night, Bob is faced with the early realization that Steve might actually be a dud, and, wow, it turns out Zander is a 10-year-old kid with cargo shorts the size of his heart — and scene-stealing capabilities to match. Like Regular-Sized Rudy, Zander is another incredible example of Bob's turning a pariah into a supporting MVP. It's unclear if, after Zander's introduction, we're still watching Bob's, or rather an origin story for Vin Diesel's xXx character, because the kid hits this family and the viewer like a wrecking ball, more or less yelling, WELCOME TO THE ZANDER ZONE, with that very first "Chitty Chitty Bangs Bangs."
Zander probably even had you at hello, his way of saying, Your family is now my playground, upon which I will plunder and seduce. (His parents' divorce has turned him into a kleptomaniac with unruly hormones.) Zander, you dog! This kid is more a plot element than anything extra special, at least for now — but everybody has to start somewhere.
Unfortunately, this episode is not all about Zander. The bulk of "The Cook, the Steve, the Gayle, & Her Lover" is spent trying to pry Gayle and Frond apart. Of course, the Belcher children's plots are foiled — Louise employs her siblings to make up lies, sing a Spanish ballad about the importance of staying single, and steal Frond's present for Gayle — and, as you might have guessed, ultimately have the opposite effect.
That's because Gayle and Mr. Frond are so perfect for each other it almost hurts: They're both neurotic as hell. They've both got faces and can go outside and walk around and do things. They love cats. They love making rules and keeping rules, because what's more fun than thwarting anarchy? Tina says it best: "They're so crazy, they just might work." As far as the episode is concerned, though, they function more as reactionary cogs, bouncing off each other and adapting to the chaos introduced by Gayle's nieces and nephew. Which, truthfully, is a good call, because both characters run the risk of being too much, and an episode solely based on their romance probably wouldn't stand on its own. This is the perfect dose.
Aside from getting a taste of her own medicine with Zander, Tina functions secondarily here as Louise's conscience, a silent moral conduit for the story, as well as for further characterization. For recall: Louise is the true star, and this episode is, essentially, another installment about the youngest, most tyrannical Belcher ceding her desires for control, showing us she's capable of accepting defeat in the form of major life lessons.
Said lesson is served up as an epiphany that sounds less like an epiphany and more like a thought she previously hated, because Louise is really Mandark's little sister:
(After checking her hormones at the door, does Tina also have a moment of self-realization? She seems to learn that it's a turnoff for someone to be as girl-crazy as she is boy-crazy. Does she wonder if she comes off so strongly? Maybe not. Probably not.)
Meanwhile, Linda and Gene are put on the periphery of the episode. Gene only wants two things: To eat the rib-roast dinner, and to crack a few well-timed jokes. (He compares his dad's meat to his trouser meat, then takes a few things waaay too literally.) Linda mostly facilitates Bob's arc, which, aside from Louise's, involves the biggest turnaround.
Bob spends the bulk of the dinner party pouncing on the shot at a new friend, either to break the monotony of his lifelong midlife crisis … or simply because he's put Steve on a tremendously tall pedestal. It's messed up. (How do you not invite Teddy to your dinner party, especially after the heart-attack episode?) Teddy is right to be a little jealous and a lot hurt, which leads to another one of their high-octane fallings-out and makings-up.
Ultimately, with the help of Linda, Teddy, and some diarrhea-inducing crème fraîche, our Sweaty Martha Stewart learns not to over-romanticize friendships. He doesn't say as much, but he submits to a forced hug with Teddy and Steve, which essentially translates to: Okay, you guys are right, Steve kind of sucks, no new friends, no new friends.
Or … does it leaves the door open for a third addition to Bob and Teddy's burger crew? (Nobody cares about Mort.) The possibility underlines a very nice thing about this episode in general: It planted seeds for continuity in all the right places. Gayle and Frond are a success, thanks to a creepy homespun doll; Steve will either frequent Bob's more often, or become best friends with Frond; and Zander must return, lest he never calm the raging flames of his heart and kleptomania. All the characters seem well-slotted in their spotlight time — a little more Gene would have been nice, but this wasn't really his episode — and the pacing and story arcs were measured to near-perfect precision. It was, overall, the best welcome-back present viewers could ask for from Bob's, a tried-and-true premise that traipses into hilarious new territory. Love is at the forefront and all of the show's other strengths (wordplay, slightly blue humor, and timing) serve as strong reinforcement pillars.
And yeah, love is a funny thing, so nothing subverts stale social commentary or the idea of a clichéed moral like a good butt-grab.
Bob's Bonus Sliders
- Urine trouble!
- "It smells like pencils!" is the perfect thing to scream out the next time you're in an awkward situation.
- Chitty Chitty Bangs Bangs forever.
- Get Back Out There and Make New Friends After the Divorce is actually a book written by Indiana Jones (just kidding, but there is a HuffPo article on this very topic, if anybody is interested).
- New 2016 resolution: Every time you eat a ham sandwich, give $100 to pigs.