In five seasons of eligibility, “Bob’s Burgers” has been nominated for Outstanding Animated Program four times and won once. That’s a pretty impressive track record in a category that’s had a different winner every one of those years, and when considering it’s the only show to be nominated in each of the last four years. “Bob’s Burgers” has curried favor with the TV Academy, and deservedly so. Loren Bouchard’s Fox sitcom is consistently original, entertaining and hilarious — so much so, its biggest problem may be that it has too many good episodes.
You see, unlike many other top categories, animated programs are only judged on one episode, and that episode must be submitted before a series is nominated — not after the program has earned its slot. That means the good people at Fox have to be choosing (or have already chosen) which episode to highlight for Emmys voters. What will it be? Well, the answer isn’t as simple as, “Which one is best?” (even if that had an easy answer).
So let’s take a look at past years’ submissions along with a few telling alternative choices to see how and why their strategy has been working, as well as what episode they may want to consider for Season 6.
Season 2 – 2012
Best Episode: “Bad Tina”
Submitted Episode: “Burgerboss”
Did It Win? No.
With only nine episodes to choose from, the good folks at Fox (and “Bob’s Burgers”) must’ve picked pretty well to earn their first nomination ever. And “Burgerboss” is certainly an excellent episode of television, with Bob attempting to beat a high score on a video game because his arch-rival Jimmy Pesto has the high score (as well as other deep-rooted interests). Bob is an empathetic character to be sure, but he’s always lovable — even in smaller doses. Meanwhile, while early seasons of “Bob’s Burgers” often focused more on him than they did the kids, the kids are what’s really special here. “Bad Tina” highlights that, shifting focus from a rivalry with Jimmy Pesto to Tina’s attraction to Jimmy Pesto, Jr. She breaks bad (to a small degree), which could have drawn parallels in the minds of Academy members between “Bob’s Burgers” and “Breaking Bad,” a dramatic favorite at the time. Maybe that’s a stretch, but hey — all’s fair in love and politics.
Season 3 – 2013
Best Episode: “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”
Submitted Episode: “O.T. The Outside Toilet”
Did It Win? No.
This was the year “Bob’s Burgers” really took off. Seasons 1 and 2 were delightful and impressive, top to bottom. But they were still searching for their narrative groove. Bouchard & Co. found that in the kids, meaning this pick is actually better than their best episode. “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal” features a few keepsakes of the old guard, including Bob’s special relationship with his food and a twist ending they didn’t need to really play upon (but worked beautifully, in a comedic sense). “O.T. The Outside Toilet” was a much better pick, specifically because of how the story depended on the kids. This was Gene’s episode, as he befriends a talking toilet in a wonderfully weird homage to “E.T.,” and it could have won, had “Bob’s Burgers” not run into the reigning king of the genre, “South Park,” and that year’s satiric take on the death of decency via reality TV.
Season 4 – 2014
Best Episode: “The Kids Rob a Train”
Submitted Episode: “Mazel-Tina”
Did It Win? Yes.
And then they were a winner! “Bob’s Burgers” took home its first trophy for Outstanding Animated Program in 2014 for “Mazel-Tina,” an episode focused on Tina’s spoiled friend named Tammy (Jenny Slate) who didn’t invite Tina to her bat mitzvah, but did hire her father to cater it. It’s an outstanding episode fit for the whole family, and very much focused on Tina. The only other choice could have been “The Kids Rob a Train,” which spreads the love between all three children more evenly — though that’s not necessarily a good thing. Tina seems to be the cultural favorite or, at least, the most impactful. Beyond Louise’s bunny ears, Tina’s voice, glasses and moaning are all trademarks of the series. Fox bet big on her, and they won. Perhaps that’s a wise path to continue down.
Season 5 – 2015
Best Episode: “Eat, Spray, Linda”
Submitted Episode: “Can’t Buy Me Math”
Did It Win? No.
‘Lo and behold they tried it again, betting heavy on Tina in another great episode showcasing the most insecure sister, daughter and zombie-lover out there. “Can’t Buy Me Math” was an excellent follow-up selection to what won them the trophy a year prior, but Cartoon Network’s “Over the Garden Wall” came out of nowhere to take home the 2015 award (despite airing only 10 episodes in 11-minute segments). “Eat, Spray, Linda” would have been a riskier selection. Rather than focusing on Tina or even one other character, the episode lets the family dynamic take center stage, arguably allowing the parents’ story to dominate. Moreover, its titular reference isn’t exactly a well-respected film, and the story is a bit more familiar than “Can’t Buy Me Math.”
Season 6 – 2016
Best Episode: “Glued: Where’s My Bob”
Submitted Episode (Our Suggestion): “The Horse Rider-er”
Dark Horse: “Stand By Gene”
Season 6 was a remarkable year for the series — arguably the best yet. And that makes it particularly hard to choose just one episode to submit. If strategists are looking for the episode that embodies the series overall, it would be hard to ignore the season finale, “Glued: Where’s My Bob.” From the musical number midway through to the seamless integration of so many key supporting characters (“Hi, Marshmallow”), the episode also managed to define exactly what makes the series exceptional. When Bob’s frustrations boil over after being glued to the toilet for hours, made into a garish display by his nemesis and missing out on a coveted interview, Bob screams, “This kind of stuff happens all the time! […] This is a perfectly average day at Bob’s Burgers!” And it is, but the Belchers’ average day is so much more interesting because their world is so novel.
“Glued: Where’s My Bob” managed to highlight so many of those facets, but if Fox executives think voters are looking for a story more singularly focused (and star-heavy), few showcased the originality, charm and unique appeal of one Tina Belcher as “The Horse Rider-er.” With Paul Rudd stepping in to voice Tina’s imaginary friend (who’s also a horse), this one is a beguilingly strange entry that embraces the show’s quirks completely. It would stand out, undoubtedly, and time has proven that betting on Tina is a good idea. That being said, betting on the landmark episode, “Stand by Gene” — the series’ 100th overall entry — certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea either, even if history shows the Academy’s preference for Tina over Gene.