Bob’s Burgers is back! I started missing this show in my life the second it ended, with last season’s excellent “World Wharf II”. I’m happy to say that it’s continuing to raise the bar when it comes to high-concept hilarity that never lets us forget how attached we are to this cast.
What started as a show based around the lives of the Belchers within their restaurant and their home (Linda’s dinner theatre and bed and breakfast disasters, Bob getting stuck in the crawlspace) has become adept at placing the family in more unique, abstract situations, allowing their characters to have some breathing room and flourish. We first got a taste of how good Bob’s Burgers would become with Season 1’s “Art Crawl”, the moment where the show really began to gain confidence in its own writing (incidentally, this weekend was Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche outdoor art festival–the phrase “shut your mouth, it’s Art Crawl!” was uttered by at least one member of our group roughly once per 15 minutes the entire night).
Tonight’s opener, like last season’s “The Frond Files”, recalls 80s film classics (Die Hard and Working Girl), in the grand Bob’s Burgers tradition of having the Belcher kids compose a wonderfully inappropriate musical homage (see: season 3’s amazing “Topsy”).
The kids at Wagstaff are invited to submit their own musical theatre projects to be selected for the school’s fall performance, and Gene’s passion project is a Die Hard musical (“Ever since I saw Die Hard and wondered, why is no one singing? Why is no one dancing?”). Unfortunately, Gene’s idea is rejected in favour of Courtney’s (Gene’s locket-sucking ex-girlfriend), a Working Girl musical. The entire story is told in Mr. Frond’s office in a series of flashbacks, occasionally in Rashomon-style (I especially love Courtney’s version of the lunchroom scene, where Gene unceasingly shrieks about tacos).
I sometimes find Gene-centric episodes a bit exhausting. He’s a frenetic character, and having him the focus of an episode can mess with the pacing; it was one of the reasons why I found last season’s “Gene it On” a bit weak. But the beauty of “Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl” is that it allows each character’s individual strengths to shine through as they try to make Gene’s dream come true. Louise, naturally, knows that the school has a secret boiler room behind the other boiler room that may have been previously used as an opium den. Tina attempts to cheer Gene up in her uniquely Tina mix of disappointment and optimism (It’s like I scream into my pillow every time I don’t get a horse on my birthday–there’s always next year!”).
The kids scheme to put on a Die Hard protest musical in the secret boiler room boiler room on the same night as Courtney’s Working Girl musical–charging five bucks a ticket, of course. This is a Louise plan, after all. It’s a move we expected, just like we knew Tina’s decision to be in Courtney’s musical instead of Gene’s was butt-motivated.
When I was in university, I took a class on Hollywood musicals, and learned to love and appreciate the “putting on a show” narrative that is so beloved by that genre. The second act of the episode is a series of vignettes that aren’t as strong as the first and final acts, but again showcase the charms of the show’s great secondary characters: Zeke’s enthusiasm for tackling small children, Andy and Ollie’s terrifying co-dependence, Regular-Sized Rudy’s timid flailing and wheezing. None of this matters in the end, when, in a fit of megalomania, Gene decides to make Die Hard: The Musical a one-man show.
The final act of the episode, in which Gene and Courtney decide to combine both musicals to make one epic crossover, is enough to make everyone feel better about the godawful Family Guy/Simpsons travesty of last Sunday. Instead of forcing each character to sacrifice their personalities to conform to the source material, the final result is a joyful celebration of what makes all these kids great–and consequently, this show.
A few choice quotes:
- Bob: “Working Girl’s the movie that made me feel like I could be anyone I wanted to be.” Louise: “And you chose THIS?”
- Courtney’s Dad: “He’s musical-battling us, I’ve seen it a million times!”
- Gene: “I smell a Tony! Which is also what I happen to call my farts.”