Season 13, Episode 1, To Bob, or Not To Bob »

Bob's Burgers

Bob’s Burgers
Image: 20th Television

Bob’s Burgers has been an understated national treasure since its inception in 2011. Like many others on Fox’s adult cartoon list (The simpsons, family guyking of the hill), Loren Bouchard’s series follows a nuclear working-class American family. But what sets him apart is that the Belchers are anything but dysfunctional: they might be what society would call losers, but they love each other unconditionally. And given that today’s television landscape is largely populated by families who would rather sell themselves than share a hug, Bob’s is a welcome reprieve.

Earlier this year, the series leveled when he got the big screen treatment. So there’s a good chance that, in its first season since going into cinema, Bob’s will get an influx of new viewers. And thanks to the episodic nature of the show, newbies will have no trouble jumping to any point in the story.

And they might as well start with the Season 13 premiere, “To Bob, Or Not To Bob.” Written by the writing team of brothers Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin, the episode is a Bob’s Burgers classic that combines some of the show’s hallmark elements: financial anxiety, mutual support, frustrated ambition, theatrical jokes and, of course, Louise fantasizing about edged weapons.

And like the best episodes of the series, the stakes are objectively low but personally high. Because when you’re a struggling restaurant owner who’s managed to make rent on time for the first time in years, it doesn’t look like much on the outside; but anyone who has ever run out of money knows that on the inside, it means a lot.

Such is the case for the Belcher clan at the start of the episode, as they watch the latest flash-in-the-pan business next door close shop. And since Bob’s Burgers is barely solvent (for now, at least), Linda has an idea: why not stretch out in the empty storefront?

Enter Calvin Fischoeder, the flamboyant and wealthy owner of the Belchers, who walks through the door with an elaborate plan. Years ago, he lost a trophy his father had won in the “Best Company in the Bay” category, and he is convinced that his brother Felix stole it. Every year on the anniversary of the trophy’s disappearance, Fischoeder tries and fails to get Felix to confess. But he has a new idea this year, inspired by a production of Hamlet he saw by mistake: He wants the Belchers to perform in a play he wrote about the supposed crime, hoping that watching it will make Felix reveal his guilt, Claudius-style.

Fischoeder offers to waive a month’s rent if they help him; but Linda offers that instead, he can let them use the empty storefront for free for a month. Fischoeder says yes, but Bob, who has never seen an opportunity he isn’t at least a little afraid of, dismisses the idea.

That night, a ghost (of the sheet type, with badly cut eye holes) visits Bob in a dream, this is what happens in your unconscious when you half hear the plot of Hamlet. The ghost warns him that Bob is murdering his own company because of his lack of ambition. So the next morning, Bob relents and tells Fischoeder that the case is on.

Now it’s time for rehearsal, which has me almost as excited as Linda is about directing the play (hilariously titled Hamlet, but good this time). In the 20 minutes of rehearsal they have before the restaurant opens, we get a delightful glimpse of the Belchers as a theater company — involving, among other things, Linda denying Bob’s acting skills; Tina stumbling half-blind in a homemade eye patch; and Louise offering her Kuchi Kopi toy (in a wig, of course) as a prop version of the stolen trophy.

Bob's Burgers

Bob’s Burgers
Image: 20th Television

That night, Bob still vibrates with expansion anxiety. In his dreams, the ghost shows him a vision of the upscale restaurant he might open next door, complete with a classified version of himself sporting chef whites and full hair. But a forgotten burger patty on the grill begs her as it burns to ashes, “Don’t you love me anymore?”

And then it’s on the day of the show y’all! The little house is filled with Fischoeder’s tenants whom he has blackmailed into coming, as well as the ever-supportive Felix and Teddy. The costumes are a regional theater kid’s dream (especially Tina’s Fischoeder mini-costume and Gene’s “busty German maid” outfit), and the dialogue is as plummy as you could hope for ( “Come, my greatest and best son!”).

But Bob’s mind is a million miles away from the show. like Carmy in the bear, he is a chef torn between his love of cooking and his fear of success. And standing on stage in a plastic crown and creepy makeup, he blurts out his own confession: he doesn’t want to develop.

Fischoeder eventually gets an admission of guilt from Felix, who threw the trophy into “Swan Pond”. As the brothers walk out, pursued by the audience, Bob apologizes to his wife, both for spoiling the play and for her lack of ambition. But Linda tells him she only pushed the idea for the new space because she thought he was excited about it. Bob says he likes what the restaurant is now, and he doesn’t need it to be anymore. And while they spit in the face of capitalist dogma, the Belchers continue to have the most favorable marriage on television.

There’s also a throwaway B-plot (but why the hell would you want to throw it away?) about Louise trying to convince Bob to let her use the restaurant’s knife sharpener, with a vision of the younger Belcher sitting on a throne iron into kitchen knives. She ends up pressuring Tina to show her the ropes, and Louise uses her newfound skills – and a sharp blade in “places you wouldn’t expect” – to carve a mustache out of a tomato at the effigy of Bob. The kids present it to him as a trophy for “Best Dad Who’s Also Really Good at Business,” and the Belchers (and Teddy, of course) share a family hug.

Spurious observations

  • Burger of the week: We get four! The I Like Walnuts and I Cannot Lie burger, the Dirty Rotten Tendrils Burger, the Cauliflower Me Maybe Burger and the All the World’s a Sage Burger.
  • Store next door: Tan in Real Life, a dedication to one of the great forgotten mid-2020s romantic comedies.
  • Pest control truck: The Merchant of Vermin, one of many Shakespeare references from this episode.
  • Guest actor of the week: Tony-nominated stage and screen veteran Adam Godley voices the ghost that haunts Bob’s dreams. He was once a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company – where, ironically, he never made it Hamlet.
  • The huge chasm that opened up in front of the restaurant Bob’s Burgers movie information makes a brief appearance in the opening credits timelapse. This company has been through a lot over the years, huh?
  • Past tactics Mr Fischoeder tried to get Felix to confess to stealing the trophy included hypnotizing, spanking and lacing his food with LSD.
  • As usual, every line of Linda is golden: “That’s what Hamlet is about? I thought it was about Romeo and Juliet. “Was it the dream of the soccer ball with penises all over it?”
  • No one in this episode is having a better time than Gene. He jumps at the chance to take the stage as a German maid flirt and shakes off his “bazongas”, prompting Linda to affectionately call him her “crazy cute little boy”. (Gene’s delight in going against gender norms– and the support of his family on this – maybe Bob’s Burgers‘ finest contribution to the pop culture landscape.)
  • “To Bob, Or Not To Bob” joins a great tradition of Bob’s Burgers episodes revolving around theater – “Topsy”, “All That Gene”, “Hamburger Dinner Theater”, and “Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl”, to name a few.
  • Jay Johnston, who voiced rival restaurateur Jimmy Pesto Sr., was kicked from the show last year after he came out that he was part of the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot. The character wasn’t in season 12 and he didn’t speak in the movie. Will we see the return of Bob’s nemesis with a new voice actor this season?
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