Jenny Slate as Tammy Larsen, Kristen Schaal as Louise, Eugene Mirman as Gene, Dan Mintz as Tina, Bobby Tisdale as Zeke.
This week’s Bob’s gives us a lice outbreak at Wagstaff Elementary. It’s amazing this hasn’t happened yet, considering how lice episodes have proven to be near staples for similar animated sitcoms: The Simpsons, King of the Hill, The Cleveland Show, South Park — and even As Told by Ginger.
From the get-go, that means “Lice Things Are Nice” faces a mighty obstacle. It must find a way to make an outplayed idea unique.
In theory, Bob’s should have no trouble, thanks to its unique cast of characters. As I’ve mentioned before, the Wharf personalities — how they interact with the central story and with each other — are usually what make most installments fresh, even when the premises aren’t. Quirky characters, especially in this universe, yield quirky reactions and solutions. Tina learning to drive a car, for example, is not a novel idea by any means. But what made “Tina-rannosaurus Wrecks” so fun to watch was seeing how her guilt and personality clashed with her father’s to create a fulfilling opportunity for both growth and comedy.
Lice seems like a similarly good chance to create new drama with Louise and her hat. (Remember how fun “Ear-Sy Rider” was?) Or with Gene and Tina, in the form of a potential lice disaster affecting their budding love lives. Unfortunately, this week’s Bob’s doesn’t land any big emotional punches because it leans on a clunky twist, incorporates a surplus of the show’s personalities (thereby muting the key ones), and shirks a central focus. These attributes make “Lice Things Are Lice” slightly underwhelming overall, but they don’t render it humorless or joyless. Fortunately, many of the one-off lines, puns, and interactions found here are still some of the season’s best so far. Here’s a closer look at the highlights and lowlights, via the characters involved:
“Lice Things Are Lice” begins and ends with Tina. She’s gunning for her Thunder Girls nursing patch because she has a “zeal to heal” and, as one does, wants to protect all the primo butts in the world.
Tina briefly steps in as the school nurse’s right-hand girl, corralling louse-y students into quarantine and trying to maintain order with her peers. It’s not until Louise’s hat and hair are threatened that big sis comes to the rescue and sides with the students, freeing everybody to create a cat-and-mouse chase between the nurse and the kids. (No real hat drama.) That kind of teacher’s pet situation tends to be rich adversarial ground for Tina and her do-good conscience, but it’s never quite fleshed out here. (The ensuing chase, however, does serve to remind us that Tina’s run is hysterical.) Tina protecting her little sister could have also been a touching moment, but it goes unnoticed as Tina fades into the background. Which is a shame, because when she returns knowing the nurse is supposed to have glasses, the discovery is unearned and random; more importantly, it’s not tethered to anything as interesting as Tina and Louise forging a stronger sisterly bond. This makes the end feel like it was achieved less with teamwork and more by happenstance — not a bad thing, but not a particularly compelling selling point for the characters this week, either.
Samantha Bee voices the school’s new nurse, a legit lunatic who wants Wagstaff kids to get sick so she can enjoy a more exciting work life. She’s the kind of person who relishes the thought of an E.R.-level emergency and rolls her eyes at Zeke kicking himself “in the beans” while wrestling. Bee plays Liz as a complex antagonist, one whom you might find yourself feeling bad for and fearing at the same time:
Her subtler character details are great: This isn’t the first time Nurse Liz has shaved her head in the name of medicine. And she’s never been able to get a real hospital to hire her. What the heck did she do in the past? (As previously mentioned, sometimes it’s the things Bob’s doesn’t show us that create the most vivid gems.) Liz’s present story unspools as the most engaging until, again, the last-minute reveal that she’s nearsighted, reliant upon glasses, and evidently forgetful makes her involvement forced and cheap.
Louise and Tammy
Tammy and her new indoor hat are believed to be patient zero, so she’s quickly removed from her role as the school’s Queen Bee. Jenny Slate, as usual, nails it as the stressed diva-in-the-making: I especially loved watching the power shift when Jocelyn stepped in as the school’s new news reporter. And since a subplot involving Louise’s hat is never fully embraced, the youngest Belcher shines brightest when she’s alongside Tammy, essentially filling in as a would-be Jocelyn. For a brief stretch, after the Tom and Jerry-esque chase, watching the two butt heads while saving the recaptured students from Nurse Liz and her electric razor is tons of fun.
Mr. Frond and Co.
This is a big ensemble episode that boasts appearances by Regular-Size Rudy, Jocelyn, Zeke, Jimmy Junior, Andy and Ollie, Ms. LaBonz, Mr. Ambrose, and Mr. Frond. For some viewers, that might be too much of a good thing. If you love Zeke, for example, you might think he didn’t get enough screen time because the writers tried to incorporate everybody else, too. (Even Gene is lumped into this group. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t toss out a couple winning lines, like his confession about Tina’s fake glasses, but he’s still very peripheral.)
The best nugget from the ensemble comes when Mr. Frond reveals he can’t have lice or ruin his hair because he has a date coming up. When Tina confronts him, he confesses the date might not be with Aunt Gayle. If you’ve missed the longer-arcing stories this show has been weaving into the season, this is one nugget you’ll love. And hopefully, the writers are teasing another Gayle-Frond tryst, rather than trying to quash that narrative. (We need more of that romance! Even if Frond now looks like a rejected Street Fighter character.)
Bob, Linda, Teddy
The B-story involves Bob, Linda, and Teddy breaking in new seat cushions that make farting noises when you sit on them. It’s a refreshingly simple subplot, which culminates with one real — and charming (yes, adorable, even!) — fart. It also leads to one of the best credit sequences in recent memory:
With so many characters showing up in “Lice Things Are Lice,” it’s hard to find a focus. The episode doesn’t belong to anybody in particular — even when Tina gets approval for her badge at the end, it’s not fulfilling — and it’s not particularly special in the grand scheme of the show. (No major developments occur, aside from Frond’s Gayle line.) As far as the actual lice plot is concerned, it’s fairly predictable: There’s a quarantine, there’s the threat of getting a head shave, and there are no lice. This installment never quite makes its main story unique to its universe, because all the characters battle for the spotlight and, as a result, bounce off haphazard developments instead of shape them. (Everything is most true to form in the B-story, but that’s not the important one.)
The silver lining of all that means “Lice Things Are Lice” plays less like any one person’s tale and more like a highlight reel of funny vignettes. As a comedy, the goal here is to make you laugh. It definitely does. So if that’s what you expect going in — and can get past the awkward insertions of things like the medical encyclopedia and Liz’s vision problems — you’ll be able to appreciate its more random treasures: the puns (see below), Marshmallow’s help with the cushions, Rudy’s asthma lines, and Teddy’s fart-y shame, among many others.
Of course, we could also look at this episode as a generous gift from the writers and the cast: How often are all these idiosyncratic characters crammed into the same 20 minutes of television? It’s a pleasant surprise, even if it’s not a super satisfying one.
Bob’s Bonus Sliders
- The wordplay here is one of the biggest saving graces. My faves: “suckling duckling,” “zeal to heal,” “stool sampler,” “comb the hallways,” “Marshmallow’s here and she brought her rear,” “stop those louse-y kids,” “lice and easy,” and “look what the lice dragged in.”
- Total Eclipse of the Havarti Burger — also glad to see the BOTD isn’t a problem anymore!
- I’d pay good money to see Tina re-enact what she thinks happens in The Hurt Locker.
- Frond makes it sound like he’s seeing someone else. Ms. LaBonz mentions she’s seeing a new gentleman. Could it be?! (Just kidding, but also not really. I wonder if they’ve ever dated?)
- “They look sweet, but they’re full of farts — just like the kids!”
- R.I.P., Portion Control Joel.
- If you ever thought Bob was Mediterranean, well, he officially says he’s not. (Here’s a more elaborate explanation, via Reddit.)
- Jocelyn doing her best Jimmy Fallon “Ew!” impression was fantastic — Jocelyn was my favorite this week.
- “Screams can be a cry for help.”
- Let’s get Louise some Ovaltine?
- I’d be down for a Mr. Ambrose episode.
- It’s time for another hiatus. Next Bob’s comes April 3.