The ladies of the Belcher clan bring Bob’s Burgers back in 2014, and the result is, expectedly, both heartwarming and hilarious.
After almost a month of torturous waiting since their mediocre Christmas episode, Bob’s Burgers returned to their masses of fans with two episodes centered on the ever-lovable daughters of the Belcher clan. Now, I’ve always (okay, since season two) pitched that the Belchers, for all their goofy cartoon-sitcom moments and plotlines, have one of the most endearing and realistic family dynamics on television and these episodes only served to prove my point. Despite both episodes being adorable on par with the greatest episodes of TV’s best restauranteering family, there was one clear winner in my humble opinion. Let’s explore.
“Slumber Party” follows Louise (Kristen Schaal), the smart-mouthed, bunny-eared, youngest-daughter/troublemaker as she endures a surprise, unwanted slumber party devised by her mother in a kindhearted (but, again, unwanted) attempt to make Louise more social. The B-story involves matriarch Linda (John Roberts) and her obsession with a raccoon coup d’etat (neither of those words are autocorrect issues) unfolding in the dumpster behind the restaurant.
“Presto-Tina-o” is a Tina (Dan Mintz) episode that follows her struggle to get closer to her “lispy dancer” (and boy next door) Jimmy Pesto Jr. who is entering a magic competition despite really just wanting to dance his goofy little heart out. The B-story follows Bob’s battle with a cheapskate magician, in town for aforementioned magic contest (actually, I’m pretty sure it was technically a convention, but that doesn’t really matter).
The saddest part is that both episodes tease at putting the Belcher kids front and center, but never quite put them all in the limelight: in “Slumber Party” Gene and Tina fill their unwanted, but “required” roles at Louise’s unwanted, but “required” slumber party, as the bratty brother and the aloof older sister. In “Presto-Tina-o” the Belcher sibs do what they do best, support one another’s crazy endeavors. This time it’s Gene and Louise backing Tina’s mission to become Jimmy Junior’s magician’s assistant, and then, to sabotage Jimmy Junior’s magic act. While there are some great one-liners from all the kids in both episodes, these are really single-character storylines, and both girls really get to shine in their respective tales.
Louise, in “Slumber Party”, finds herself in a battle to scare away a gruesome foursome of awful classmates to get out of her pushy mother’s forced sleepover. Meanwhile, Linda recounts her happy history of sleepovers, like the one where she met her lifelong best friend, and then spends the rest of the episode trying her best to get Louise, ever the loner, to enjoy the whole process with the hope of finding a best friend of her own. Louise works her mischievous magic and dispenses with three girls easily, much to the chagrin of Bob, who spends most of the episode as a late-night chauffeur for crying children (who hasn’t known/been that kid), until he ends up roped into being a raccoon wrangler by his wife. On that note, Linda, who spends most of the episode trying to coerce Louise the bully into enjoying a slumber party, spends the latter third trying to coerce a bully raccoon into a trap, there’s a fitting analogy to be had there, as both traps work. While the parents are busy dealing with raccoons, Louise spends the final act in a running pillow-fight through the family apartment ending in the revelation that the final party-holdout, the boring Jessica (a.k.a. “red-headed wallpaper”, and played by Kathryn Hahn) is really a sneaky bedwetter who gives the equally-sneaky Louise a real run for her money. By the end, both kids realize that neither of the two ever wanted to be at the party, and begin a friendship because of it. It’s a charming moment for Louise, who rarely shows any sort of fondness for anyone outside her family, and there’s a certain joy to seeing the shy kid make a friend. Meanwhile, Linda is left with a happy daughter (who’ll never admit it) and her favorite raccoon back in the alley, it’s a wonderful bit of perspective to watch a mother’s well-intentioned meddling pay off.
In “Presto,” Tina is back to her usual schtick of pining over the boy next door, but (per usual) he just wants to dance and dance, and she just wants to put her mouth on his mouth. Tina goes through her paces with her trademark awkward, reckless confidence and quickly goes from Jimmy’s magician’s assistant to plotting revenge against him for kicking her out of the act. Meanwhile, Bob tries to appeal to a gaggle of traveling magicians with discount food, only to find that the magicians are just a lot of cheap loiterers. Bob lashes out against the rudeness of the bunch, though finds himself the butt of a series of magic-trick-themed pranks that, despite H. Jon Benjamin’s trademark ridiculously-excessive-reactions-to-minor-inconveniencies, fall mostly flat in the joke department. There’s also a really minor storyline where Louise tries her hand at sleight-of-hand-pickpocketing, but it’s really not worth any more words than I’ve already given it. The three humdrum stories come together at a magic competition where Bob tries to win his dignity back, Louise sabotages then tries to save Jimmy Junior’s act, and then Louise steals from Bob’s magical nemesis, only to discover that they were both playing into his clutches. Meanwhile in the main story, Tina and Jimmy Junior end up back where they started, though Tina learns valuable lessons in both revenge and the mixing of love and magic.
While it’s utterly charming to watch Tina continue to blossom into a confident, empowered young woman, watching Louise break her barriers and make a new friend was a greater moment in television. In both story structure and overall comedy, “Slumber Party” was a strong return for a fantastic show, while “Presto” ended up being a delightful, though not-as-impressive, follow-up. It’s heartwarming to see that even in the midst of its fourth season Bob’s Burgers can stay as charming and funny as its early seasons.