After a week off, Bob’s Burgers returns to air with another strong outing, this one penned by series creator Loren Bouchard himself (his first writing credit since episode two). And, despite its being weighed down a bit by set-up in the early going, “Burger Wars” builds up momentum quickly and ends up a fine addition to a late-season run of episodes that have contributed to the show’s growing (if still modest) reputation as something worth paying attention to. In fact, just this past week fans were greeted with the happy news that Fox has picked up the show for a full second season, and if it can continue to build on the foundations laid in episodes like this one, Bob’s Burgers could well have a long and fruitful lifespan ahead of it.
This week’s story begins with the return of Mr. Fishoeder, last seen down at the fog-laden docks in some disreputable hour of the night, where he offered Bob a side gig driving a taxi in “Sheeh! Cab, Bob?” In his capacity as Bob’s landlord, Fischoeder now informs the Belcher patriarch that his days of late rent-paying are soon to be over. He’s prepared to turn over their lease to Bob’s arch-rival, Jimmy Pesto, for annexation as a new gift shop if Bob fails to pay the rent by week’s end. As Bob and the family look to drum up business, steadily-escalating hostilities ensue between the restaurateurs, climaxing in a slap-fight-to-stalemate and finally ending with Fischoeder’s change of heart after finding salvation in Bob’s “Meatsiah.” After that initial whiff of the hoary old “neighbors fighting” sitcom trope, “Burger Wars” manages to go to some delightful lengths of zaniness while packing in plenty of Burgers’ trademark dense dialogic asides and, by its end, serving up at least a couple truly inspired moments of “beefartistry.”
But what most immediately struck me about “Burger Wars”, and the thing that I think sets it apart from the rest of Bob’s Burgers to date, was simply the sheer number of characters featured in this episode. I touched on the growing cast and widening scope of the show in my last review, but things really went up a notch this week. By my count, over a dozen different characters had multiple spoken lines in “Burger Wars,” which is immediately noteworthy to me for at least two reasons:
The first reason is that dedicating so much screen time to so many non-Belcher characters forces the show to prove its worth independent of its breakout star (or as close to a breakout star as this show is likely to have) by decreasing our weekly dose of Kristen Schaal. To that end, I think that Bob’s Burgers acquits itself beautifully this week, delivering plenty of funny without relying heavily on Schaal to do much heavy lifting, a feat that many might have thought beyond the show after seeing only its first few episodes. That’s also to say nothing of the fact that having less Louise also gave the other regulars a chance to shine. I haven’t had much chance to talk about John Roberts’ performance as Linda yet, but she was all over “Burger Wars” in her typically sweet, hilarious way. (Her desire to be cremated and her ashes thrown in Tom Selleck’s handsome face was the week’s funniest moment for me; Bob and Jimmy Pesto’s mutual “stalking” montage was a close second).
The second reason that this week’s collection of ancillary characters stands out to me is that it makes us consider the role that Bouchard and the writers see that expanding population playing on the show, both now and in the future. And to that end, I feel compelled to wonder (and I wish I could have put off invoking this name a little bit longer), just how Simpsons-y does Bob’s Burgers want to be at this point?
Specifically, I wonder how much of a world they intend on creating to surround the titular burger joint on a weekly basis, and how much of it they want coloring our perception of where the show’s primary focus is supposed to be. The unnamed town presented in Bob’s Burgers is, much like The Simpsons’ Springfield in early seasons, already clearly populated by enough memorable faces (and voices) to stock several series-worth of casts. For example, we spend a few scenes with the town’s mysterious patron/mogul/rich-weirdo-in-charge, Mr. Fischoeder, which also means we’re treated to a terrifically game performance by Kevin Kline. Jimmy Pesto (voiced by Jay Johnston, of The Sarah Silverman Program and, forever, Mr. Show) is back, as are the creepy twins from “Art Crawl,” whom we now learn are the younger Pesto sons, Andy and Ollie (played by real-life siblings Sarah and Laura Silverman). Andy Kindler’s Mort and Larry Murphy’s Teddy are, as usual, lurking around the edges, and by the time that Louise or Gene get a line-in edgewise, we realize that they’re barely registering as side notes in an episode with essentially one straightforward “A” plot.
Of course, that’s also a large part of why I think “Burger Wars” (and, as I intimated the last time out, the broader setting of Bob’s Burgers itself) ultimately succeeds. Attentive viewers will note that every character that we get to know a little better this week had already appeared, in at least some capacity, in previous episodes of the show. Even if we only really engage them through Bob and his family, these people are still the self-validating populace of a locale that, as far as we’re concerned, was always full of life beyond the Belcher household.
Brendan K. O’Grady is a freelance writer, critic, and part-time academic in Austin, Texas.