March saw another brief Bob's Burgers absence, but Sunday's return rewarded fans with a double feature that put the kids at the forefront and the parents amid backdrops of absurdity.
The first treat, "House of 1,000 Bounces," sends Gene, Tina, and Louise to Regular-Sized Rudy's birthday, an intimate gathering that runs the risk of becoming a dud thanks to a rival party and a bounce-castle shortage. It becomes a particularly exciting disaster, thanks to Louise's scheming and the return of Douche Prince Sasha. Back at the restaurant, Bob tempers his own disaster, as he learns he's not Tippi Hedren and conquers his pigeon fear.
"Stand by Gene," isn't directly related, but it does feature a little more Rudy and a lot more unsupervised adventure. Watching them paired together, the two installments function like spending an entire weekend with the neighborhood kids. On Saturday, say, we go to a friend's birthday party, and then, on a seemingly slow Sunday, Bob gives GTL (not gym, tan, laundry, don't worry) personal health days. Both episodes are also made interesting by minor characters who dip into the main plots enough to essentially steal the show. As much as Louise helms "Bounces," for example, it's really Rudy's story; and in the background of Gene's conquest for a two-butted goat, there's Jimmy Jr. having a mid-quarter-life crisis over his friendship with Zeke. Let's shift gears and take a closer look at the characters and their weekends.
Featured prominently in both episodes, Louise plays up her role as instigator. In "Bounces," she teams with Sasha to execute the perfect castle heist, and fights hard to give Rudy the birthday party that (she thinks) he wants — selfishly, it's the party she wants. As Rudy reveals, he never really cared about the bounce house; he just didn't want to get in trouble on his birthday, and he was more concerned with enjoying everyone's company. Namely, in the form of turning a script he wrote into a reality. In her second attempt to save the party, Louise successfully transforms the park ranger's kiddy jail into the grand stage for Rudy's Untitled Office Supply Puppet Show Project, f.k.a. the Untitled Spoon Puppet Show Project.
For Louise, "Bounces" and "Gene" involve classic everything-isn't-just-about-you notes. But in "Gene," perhaps high off her last good deed, she cedes control sooner. Initially, she wants to vomit on Wharf rides, but when the neighborhood kids side with Gene on the magical prospect of a two-butted goat, she somewhat relents. (She's never going to give something up unless there's a benefit for her somewhere: In this case, if there's no two-butted goat, Gene has to clean up the restaurant upon their return, all by himself.) For the remainder, she's positioned as a reminder for Gene that victory depends on proving the goat's existence. But I was happy to see that when the goat appeared not to exist, she genuinely felt bad. Character development isn't really supposed to stick in the sitcom-y world of Bob's Burgers, but maturation, even at a glacial pace, is fun to track.
As far as Rudy's birthday is concerned, Gene supports Louise. He's there to quip ("You can count on me … boobs!"), bounce (with lots of cake in hand), and act (he gets the part of Calculator in Rudy's play), but he mostly does so in the background. With regard to the goat quest, however, viewers get a Gene they don't often see. The middle Belcher is typically portrayed as Bob's' Grand Tootbah, the comedy relief who might be characterized as a lover of farts, art, disobedience, and how those things can intersect. Here, he's a hero and a leader — even if you get the feeling that his heroics (e.g., him carrying literally everybody across poison ivy to see the goat) in "Stand by Gene" are exaggerated through the lens of J-Ju's self-consciousness:
The best part about this Gene is he's not entirely unbelievable. Is Gene normally a Herculean force? No. But if there's a two-butted goat and the prospect of fartmony involved, you bet! I'm unsure Gene really learns anything here, but I enjoyed seeing the rarer side of his character. "Stand By Gene" reinforces the fact that he's willing to go the extra step for his goals, even if those steps have to be surreal and hyperspecific for the setup to work. (Also, N.B.: mild disappointment > regret!)
Tina worked in the background this weekend, which was kind of unfortunate, but also okay because she grabbed a lot of the spotlight with last month's lice-capades. The big questions I had for her: 1) Why are you at Rudy's birthday party? 2) What is going on with your J-Ju romance?
Tina's more substantial subplot involves figuring out her destiny during "Stand by Gene." Surrounded by a handful of potential male suitors (not really), she ponders the identity of her true love: Rudy, Zeke, Darryl, or Jimmy? Wait — I thought we gained considerable ground in February. Back to square one? Bob's, I guess you know how to mess with my heart and keep things interesting.
On first glance, the birthday boy rides passively along during "Bounces" as the excuse for a heist and an ephemeral water war. He's here to let everybody tell him what he should do for his birthday — even though he immediately says he wants the centerpiece event to be his play. It's not until the very end, however, that Louise makes him explode, giving fans a first glimpse at a non-pushover Rudy. He's still kind of pathetic, but he at least breaks character to tell the honest truth and get something he wants. His reward is that play, and though it's a damn shame we don't get to see more of it, his birthday serves as a pitch-perfect character sketch with a well-earned payoff. (Also, another small chapter in the small book of Louise and Rudy.)
Jimmy Jr., Zeke
These guys don't show up at Rudy's birthday, but they rule Gene's goat story. What's so interesting about their involvement is that, just like with Gene and Rudy, we see something new. Gene works as the wrench that's thrown into this duo's BFF-ship, as Zeke admires the Belcher boy's hunger for reckless adventure. Tammy and Jocelyn are hilarious as devils on Jimmy's shoulders, pushing him to psych himself out with every passing Zeke gesture and line. The dynamic switch creates a subplot in which Jimmy deals with jealousy and fear of replacement, all while trying to enjoy himself and win Zeke back. We learn Jimmy Jr. can be a bit territorial, and we also learn that's not the Jimmy Jr. we want to emulate. Thankfully, Gene says no to wrestling.
Bob, Linda, Teddy
These three own the much simpler B-stories: In the pigeon subplot of "Bounces," Bob essentially busts his own ornithophobic myth (and maybe finds a new friend). It's entertaining, but the more involved thread comes in "Stand by Gene." The adults spend the slow day starting a Narts competition (i.e., napkin darts; it's like H-O-R-S-E, but with wet napkins and targets). Competitive edges quickly emerge: Losing angers Teddy, rattles Bob's confidence, and seems to be a sportsmanship-compromising impossibility for Linda. After Bob and Co. fail to dethrone Linda as the Narts Queen, Bob learns to root for his wife, rather than let his losing sour the whole game. Aside from all the humor that comes with watching a frustrated Teddy, the Narts bit also provides a genuinely adorable peek into Bob and Linda's marriage.
Even More of Your Low-Key Faves
Much like last month's stacked gem, this week's double feature rounds up a sizable amount of the Wharf's characters and balances them to an even more impressive degree. Along with those noted above, we see Andy, Ollie, Jeremy, Mort, Ranger Dainko, Harley, and Rudy's mid-life-crisis-afflicted divorcee of a dad. (See where the regular-sized guy gets his personality?) We're also introduced to a couple newbies: Sasha's bratty cousin, Dahlia, and his snobby aunt, Caitlin.
Although both episodes give nuanced looks at minor and major characters, part of me wishes the stories still had more consequence. There's been a shift midway through this season to pivot away from installments that have potentially long-term effects on the Bob's universe (such as the Gayle-Frond date, or Valentine's Day), and back to more classically contained ones. The show nails both approaches — and sometimes blends them, as with Frond's confession during the lice outbreak; I was just getting excited Bob's was experimenting with more consistent continuity.
Since we're back in more traditional format territory, "Bounces" and "Gene" don't have to be viewed back-to-back or with much context. (And depending on how you watch the show, you might prefer that.) Separate or together, the pair ultimately play out as impressive juggling acts of stories and characters.
Bob's Bonus Sliders
- Teddy's first Bloody Mary sounds like it was a smashing success.
- "Pull up a seat, and let's get spooning."
- "She's my cousin, but I wish she was-in."
- What was the last living thing Teddy held?
- "I'd let that dump me."
- Don't tell Hugo about the bird.
- Louise + Rudy = <3 ?
- The office-supply wordplay with the spoon project was flawless.
- "Say butt, say what?"
- "Wrong day to experiment with dress shoes and no socks!" That was amazing, Rudy. Also, was that his birthday present? Oof.
- And now, back to a regular schedule: Next episode airs April 10.