Despite the fact that Thanksgiving hasn’t even arrived yet, Christmas came early — quite literally — for the Belchers last night. (The super-early episode and ensuing gap is because of Fox’s scheduling quirks, according to reports, so this is likely the last of the new Belchers you’ll see this holiday season.) And what better way to celebrate than with a Santa vs. Louise episode?
“Nice-Capades” begins with the kids stumbling upon a man (Henry Winkler) bogarting a massage chair in one of those fun, Brookstone-esque stores. After terrorizing him like a bratty Inspector Gadget, Louise kicks him off the chair so she and her siblings can claim their much-needed physical therapy. Success! The only problem is that he’s not just any man; he’s the Wharf’s local, white-bearded mall Santa, a realization that nearly ruins Louise after the fact:
Louise, who apparently still believes in Santa, realizes she must obey the behavioral rules of the holiday to receive her dream gift: a pet shark! (She wants to film a DIY Sharknado, of course.) Though she knows this mall Santa is not the real deal, she buys his shtick of being a messenger for Saint Nick. Her naïveté, however, doesn’t run deep enough to stop her from pulling a fast one on the innocent impostor and the true honcho in the North Pole.
The youngest Belcher reconciles her ethical conundrum here the same way she does most things in life: with a mixture of pride, pragmatism, and a plan. She wants to be naughty and seize her Christmas bounty. First, she tries a backhanded apology for doing this:
Next, some not-so-well orchestrated bribery:
And, finally, the titular “Nice-Capades,” a family-and-friends-coordinated, song-and-dance number on the mall’s Rinky Dink that aims to prove that the kids (and Louise, especially) are angels:
Unsurprisingly, every tactic Louise uses makes things worse. She genuinely owes this guy an apology, and, as she learns at episode’s end, overcompensating to prove you aren’t guilty of something often means that you are. Still, the episode was not just a hilarious platform for her to mature. She does so with the support of her family, who all play their parts for the greater benefit of Louise — much like in the Halloween episode.
It was endearing to see that even when the show’s not about him, Bob still fails. Similarly, Gene played up his oddball, prepubescent humor, while Linda had a chance to showcase her unconditionally manic support and love of singing, all without detracting from the focus of “Nice-Capades.”
Aside from Louise, the only main character who makes a play at leaving her mark on this episode is Tina, who acts as her younger sister’s ideological opposite. Whenever Tina has been unsure about a situation, Louise stands on her shoulder, the devil pushing her out of her ethical comfort zone. The same is true when the roles are reversed, which, in the case of “Nice-Capades,” means that Tina encourages Louise to learn her lesson, rather than see it as a chance to con Santa’s Workshop.
That is why “Nice-Capades” is one the season’s more genuinely heartwarming episodes. Despite her misdeed, Louise has the full support of her family, who push her to a great epiphany: She is coming into her own as a leader. Sure, Louise is a little diabolical and twisted, à la Family Guy’s Stewie, but she thinks for herself and knows the difference between right and wrong. She’s the kind of youngster who reads Tina’s diary for everybody else (which entertains her family and gives purpose to Tina’s urges), watches the Weather Channel with her dad (still the show’s cutest bond), and tells her brother not to show his penis in public (a good change not just for Gene, but for all of humanity). For a show that doesn’t focus on continuity, this episode offers a solid, significant development that can stick.
There wasn’t much of a B-story in this episode, but instead, it featured a series of mini-vignettes. Some felt unnecessary — like the cutaway to the art store, Reflections, and a much-needed Rudy cameo — but they made up for each distraction with loads of humor. The story lines were also, quite simply, a nice reminder that this world has become a very big place over the course of six seasons.
Ultimately, it was easy to overlook the forced timing of the episode. I love any excuse for the Bob’s team to show off their musical prowess, and “Nice-Capades” seamlessly involves all of the best characters with spectacular, bite-size numbers. The episode had no dearth of visual gags (the punny storefronts in the mall, Bob messing up the Christmas gift, and, of course, the intricately costumed ice dancing) and textual humor (the Mighty Schmucks setup and payoff, and Mr. Fischoeder’s bourbon song) in a small amount of time — making it an installment that has to be viewed more than once to fully appreciate.
In other words, this was a very early, very generous Christmas present.
Bob’s Bonus Sliders
- Kicking Santa out of a massage chair is the worst thing you can do during the holiday season. Don’t do it.
- Cheese log!
- Regular-Sized Rudy is back — even if he only exists in memories.
- Calendars are going to have a great year as gifts.
- “I named it after my dink, it’s very rinky.”
- Felix Fischoeder, aka Zach Galifianakis, does the best crowd work.
- “Everyone poops — even Santa.” True.
- Teddy still believes in Santa, too. Good to know.
- “To the moon, Chubs!”
- That image of a mall Santa shopping inside a mall holds a poignant bit of existential irony.
- Merry early Christmas! (You can watch the whole episode here.)