This week’s listmaker: Ranger Bumcrumb is an up-and-coming TV critic. He owns a flannel shirt for every year he has been alive. He recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to have the cheese residue removed from his laptop keyboard.
SPOILER ALERT: This Punchlist gives away a good portion of the episode. If you haven’t seen this episode, you may want to watch it before reading.
The Greatness of Bob’s Burgers in Seven Scenes from a Recent Episode.
Bob’s Burgers is an animated sitcom currently airing on the Fox network. Series creator Loren Bouchard was a writer, producer, and editor for the Comedy Central animated series Dr. Katz back in the nineties, and during the aughts, he created the animated series Home Movies. His current show follows Bob Belcher, burger restaurateur, and his family and friends. In terms of tone, Bob’s Burgers falls somewhere between The Simpsons and King of the Hill. It is critically acclaimed and reasonably successful, but each season there seems to be some question about whether it will be renewed.
The show is in its fifth season on Fox. Most recently, the show aired a Halloween episode, which it has done every year since its third season. In a way, an obligatory holiday episode should begin to make even the most die-hard of fans a bit nervous. Sure, a show needs ideas, and sometimes those ideas are going to be seasonal. But of the factors that can contribute to poor comic writing, an over-reliance on holiday stand-bys is right up there with celebrity guest stars and clip shows. There are a lot of ways it can all go wrong. But this episode, “Tina and the Real Ghost,” doesn’t.
In the hallway at school, the week before Halloween. Tina, the show’s resident adolescent, is talking to her crush, Jimmy Junior, while younger siblings Gene and Louise look on.
TINA: So, just to nail this thing down…we’re going to the cemetery together?
JIMMY JUNIOR: Jeez, Tina. Everybody’s going at the same time. We’re not going together. It’s a group activity. Kids go and break into the mausoleum. It’s a rite of passage.
TINA: Mmmhmm. So you think that’s like…8:30? Maybe touch base around 8:15?
JIMMY JUNIOR: Eschh. I’ll just see you there if I see you. (JIMMY JUNIOR leaves.)
LOUISE: God. He was all over you.
Meanwhile, parents Bob and Linda Belcher are decorating their restaurant, Bob’s Burgers for the season. An exterminator named Marcus arrives to take a look at some strange bugs that Bob has noticed in the basement. The exterminator is voiced by Andre Royo, who played the addict Bubbles on The Wire.
The show has great voice talent, notably Bob himself who’s voiced by Jon Benjamin, of Dr. Katz, Home Movies, Archer and the sadly limited-to-one-season Comedy Central show, Jon Benjamin Has a Van. The incomparable Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show) voices Louise. The show attracts plenty of celebrity guest talent, too, but they don’t make a big deal out of it. This Halloween episode, for example, also features Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele) as a snarky ghostbuster. Award winning film and stage actor Kevin Kline has a recurring role on the show as Bob’s landlord, Calvin Fischoeder.
Marcus the exterminator freezes halfway down the basement stairs, refusing to descend another step. He says he senses an otherworldly presence. It’s really bad, he says. Someone needs to get it into a vessel and get rid of it. But not him. He’s going to run away, he says. And he does. That night, Linda and the kids have a séance to try to get rid of the ghost.
LINDA: All right so here’s our vessel. I brought my easy breezy shoe box. it used to hold the world’s most comfortable heels…now it’s going to hold a ghost.
TINA: What a life this box has had.
LINDA: Okay. Here we go. We’re going to make contact with the other side. I just need one more sip of my séance wine.
One of the recurring jokes of this episode is that the ghost’s name (revealed via Ouija board during the séance) is Jeff. Jeff is thirteen years old. It’s immediately clear that Tina, also an adolescent, is drawn to him.
One of the best things about the Belcher kids is that you rarely see them sitting on a sofa watching TV or staring at some kind of device. They’d rather be out on the street looking for junk, or at the beach throwing rocks at dead marine life. Or charging kids money to look at a nude beach through a telescope.
In he school cafeteria the next day, Tina, Gene, and Louise are eating lunch with the box when Jimmy Junior comes along with classmates Zeke, Tammy, and Jocelyn.
ZEKE: Why is everyone looking at a box? What am I missing? I’m bored. Somebody explain it to me quick!
GENE: It’s a ghost. His name is Jeff. It’s a strong Christian name.
JIMMY JUNIOR: You have a ghost, Tina?
TINA: Oh. Hi, Jimmy Junior. This is Jeff. He’s a ghost, he’s a boy, and we’ve been spending a lot of time together.
Tina, like her father, Bob, is one of the show’s more centered characters. Tina’s super-ego, for the most part, is ascendant. She’s fairly intelligent, modest, wants the best for other people as well as for herself, and has a genuine concern for the other members of her family. Her mother Linda and brother Gene are all id, driven mainly by childish, impulsive desires. As for Louise, the youngest, she’s definitely the family ego, but more on her in a minute.
Thing is, under Tina’s sensible self-control seethes a raw, pubescent beast. Her budding sexuality envelops everything it touches in fantasy scenarios involving butts. In other episodes, her fear of zombies and her sexuality get mixed up in disturbing ways.
Because the awfulness of our sexual natures is kind of central to the human comedy, these scenes, in which Tina is hostage to her own newly created fetishes, are some of the series’ truest and most humorous moments.
After school that same day, Tina takes Jeff to the science center to see the butterflies. She sits on a bench with Jeff’s box. Butterflies flutter about her head.
TINA: The butterflies are beautiful this time of year. The rest of the time they’re caterpillars.
TINA: Are we holding hands? I can’t really tell. Jeff, you’d tell me if you were just a box, right? You’re just a box, aren’t you? I’m on a date with a box. Oh my god.
TINA (gasp): I’m getting butterfly kisses from a butterfly. Is it you, Jeff? Is this a sign?
TINA (kissing the butterfly): Mmmm. Mmmm. Oh boy! You really are real!
GUARD: What are you doing? N-n-no eating the butterflies! What is in the box?
TINA: Um. Jeff?
GUARD: Who’s Jeff?
TINA: Oh wow, um. You’re kind of putting us on the spot here. Is he a friend? Is he more than a friend? We’re just enjoying it right now. Without labels.
GUARD: Oh. (Laughing cheerfully.) I thought it was food or drink. Enjoy your visit!
There are dumb jokes, to be sure, on Bob’s Burgers. But there are also jokes that are really smart. And the smartest of the smarties is Louise, who is the sort of person you would get if you rolled Iago, Rasputin, and Jack from Lord of the Flies into the body of a snack-size Lucille Ball.
When it comes to her family, Louise has just the smallest of soft spots: No one else is allowed to mess with them unless it was her idea in the first place. So when Tina’s mean-girl rival Tammy fakes a love note to herself from Jeff on the mirror in the girl’s bathroom, Louise is indignant rather than amused.
TINA: Uhhhhhhh. I can’t believe Jeff dumped me for Tammy.
LOUISE: Since when can Jeff write on mirrors?
TINA: I’m pretty sure that’s his handwriting. It’s girly but it’s just because he’s sensitive.
(There is a flushing sound. GENE exits a toilet stall.)
GENE: The girls’ bathroom is nice! Each stall has a tiny metal mailbox. I’m glad I was carrying around that postcard for Ken.
TINA: Uhhhh. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the rest of the day.
LOUISE: Come on Tina. Get off the floor. What’s the big deal? He’s not even hot for a box.
TINA: That’s not what I care about. I care about what’s inside.
LOUISE: Also, we don’t know if that’s water or urine you’re lying in.
In Steinbeckian terms, Bob is George to his entire family’s Lenny. They’re petty, obsessive, vindictive, crass, and annoying. But of course, he can’t bear life without them. In essence, his flaws are the same as theirs.
If I, Ranger Bumcrumb, should ever be so lucky as to meet and court a woman and end up in common-law marriage with her (before the vitality of my reproductive organs is sapped by years of self abuse), I like to think that’s how I’ll see my family. As a lovable, funny millstone that threatens to exhaust the last breath of patience from my mortal form.
LINDA: Tina! They’re going to do an ultrasound on your box!
LOUISE: The box didn’t quite make it home with us today.
BOB (under his breath): Kids, there are a lot of people who are very focused on the box. Where is the box?
TEDDY: Did he switch vessels?
TINA: No, he didn’t switch vessels! He switched girlfriends! To an annoying girl named Tammy. Agggh! I hate his stupid ghost face!
LINDA: He dumped you! I’m gonna kill him! Again.
BOB: Ohhh. I knew this would happen. Sort of.
What can we possibly say about Linda Belcher. Just this:
LINDA: Tina’s gonna be okay. I made her a PB&J, she said she didn’t want it, so I ate it. She was still sad, so I made her another PB&J. She didn’t want that one either, so I ate it. Anyway, Tina wants to be alone for a while, and we’re out of peanut butter.