Written by Christopher Diggins
Sliding Bobs Plot Summary
When Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) starts to lose his hair, Linda (John Roberts) reminisces about his mustache and how it made her fall for him; the kids make up their own versions of how Bob and Linda met.
Heading into a sixth season can be a tricky prospect for a show. After five seasons, most of the obvious plots have long since been exhausted, and the audience is likely so familiar with the conventions and characters that it is extremely difficult to really surprise them. To combat this, some shows try to dramatically reinvent themselves to keep things fresh. Others choose to simply coast on past success, repeating the same jokes and formulas as they fade into mediocrity. But a third kind take this familiarity that the audience now has and use it to their advantage. They utilize their character dynamics to the fullest to create interesting and fun scenarios, confident that the audience understands their characters well enough to follow along. This is the path Bob’s Burgers has chosen, and ‘Sliding Bobs’ is a delightful example of that.
Like so many other great episodes of this show, ‘Sliding Bobs’ is almost entirely centered around the Belcher family just interacting with each other. It starts when Bob, fresh off an exercise session, notices that he’s beginning to lose his mustache hair. This causes Linda to recount how Bob’s mustache was the reason the two met in the first place, which it turns out happened in a decidedly “Bob and Linda” way. But the real fun begins when this story leads the kids to speculate about what might have happened if Bob didn’t have his mustache that night. We’ve seen plenty of episodes with the kids telling three different mini-stories before, but it’s a format that hasn’t worn out its welcome yet, and either way it’s hard to argue with the consistently funny results.
As you might expect, each story works wonderfully not just because they’re really funny, but how perfectly emblematic they are of each of the kids’ character. Gene (Eugene Mirman) tells an outrageously absurdist tale about how Bob ends up as a Robocop pastiche with a robotic mustache, a natural result of his weird and imaginative outlook. Louise’s (Kristen Schaal) story is relatively more grounded: other than a successful wish on a fortune teller repairman, it’s just a story about Bob’s desperate attempts to grow a mustache to impress Linda and the two of them dealing with the aftermath of said wish leaving him covered in hair. At least, until Louise clearly becomes bored with telling a story and simply ships Bob and Linda off to a carnival freak show and jail, respectively. It’s probably the weakest of the stories, but it still has more than enough of Louise’s caustic wit to remain entertaining.
Tina (Dan Mintz) and her story absolutely steal the show, though. She provides the emotional throughline for the episode, as Tina is devastated by the idea that her parents might not have been destined to end up together. So her story begins as a desperate attempt to keep them together without Bob’s mustache, but it rings so false to Bob and Linda’s character (not just to us, but to the Belchers themselves) that she quickly abandons all hope and tells a dismal tale of Linda marrying her ex-fiance, Hugo. Hugo will be familiar to avid watchers of the show, and in fact Tina’s story becomes a hilarious and brilliant retelling of the first act of Bob’s Burgers‘ pilot episode, only with Bob and Hugo switching roles.
Seeing Gene, Louise, and Tina (now the children of Hugo) acting as their complete opposites is great, and it’s also the perfect expression of Tina’s existential despair. To her, the idea of not being interested in Jimmy Jr. or zombies isn’t just a reversal of her personality, it’s a betrayal of her core self. Of course, little on Bob’s Burgers is ever too serious for too long. Tina’s crisis is largely played for laughs, and it’s rather quickly resolved by Bob and Linda trying their best to comfort her (and almost immediately settling on whatever makes her feel better). It’s not high drama, but it provides just the right amount of emotional heft to go along with the laughs.
The kind of character work you see in Sliding Burgers isn’t the establishing stuff of an early season. It’s the kind of highly specific work that can only be achieved with characters we’ve already grown to know and love. Even within the kids’ stories, the way all the Belchers behave is true not only to the way we know them, but the way that each individual kid views their family. It’s subtle, but you can infer a lot of the family dynamic just by paying attention to how everyone acts in each story. Bob’s Burgers has always been a wonderful show, and it’s great to see them using the foundation they’ve lovingly built over the years to put together a strong season premiere. Here’s hoping the rest of the season can be this good.
Rating: 9 out of 10