Through no fault of its own, the 200th episode of “Bob’s Burgers” — titled “Bob Belcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Kids,” after Judith Viorst’s meme-spawning children’s book — is kind of a let down.
Written by Steven Davis, Season 11’s sixth entry tries to solve a simple mystery: Who burned down the restaurant? OK, “burned down” might be a little much, but the kitchen has been rendered inoperable on the eve of Ocean Fest, and Bob (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) is understandably livid. As Linda (John Roberts) plays peacekeeper, Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) each try to explain their side of the story, and the half-hour builds to a fitting and fun closing lesson.
The episode itself is pretty good, actually. Everyone gets their time to shine (plus Teddy, Huge, and Jimmy Pesto all show up), the mystery goes hand-in-hand with the comedy, and there’s at least one fascinating animation choice. (Keep an eye out for Linda’s creation.) Episode No. 200 is only disappointing in the context of its release. “Bob’s Burgers” has gone all out for so many random episodes in the past, from its many musicals to a Miyazaki homage, that it would be fair to expect more ambitious storytelling for a landmark entry like this one.
But taking a step back, it becomes clear how “Bob Belcher and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Kids” serves as an ideal embodiment of what’s helped “Bob’s Burgers” last so long. Episode No. 200 is about resiliency and family unity. In doing so, it honors the foundation of the restaurant, the family, and the series itself. Rather than succeeding as a never-before-seen departure from the norm, “Bob’s Burgers” embraces the magic of the mundane in a way so many of the best sitcoms have before it. “Cheers” is about life at a bar. “Friends” is about, well, friends. “Seinfeld” is about nothing. “Bob’s Burgers” is about a family and their restaurant. Grounded in an identifiable reality, the Fox comedy (among many analogous Fox comedies) knows how to make the family-owned small business look not only attainable, but aspirational.
What separates it from other classic TV sitcoms is its animation, and that’s also what makes it more magical. With the creative freedom to go anywhere and the time-stopping permanence only television can contain, “Bob’s Burgers” delves into offers limitless possibilities over seemingly limitless episodes. It’s a fantasy, but it’s also a reality, and over 11 seasons, the series utilizes each to show us the beauty of staying the same.
Episode 200 is a tribute to resiliency.
And resiliency is what “Bob’s Burgers” is all about.
For one, Loren Bouchard’s animated family sitcom is meant for marathons. So comforting, so comical, and so colorful, the series is impossible to let go. With 200 episodes (and counting), there’s no reason to stop watching, re-watching, or re-re-re-watching; by the time viewers stream all 76 hours of “Bob’s Burgers,” they’ll be ready to start over again, their memories just fuzzy enough on those early episodes to dive back in.
That kind of perpetual cycle breeds dependency. It’s why there’s so much hubbub over “The Office” leaving Netflix and “Friends” switching to HBO Max. Series like these — which are almost always sitcoms — embed themselves in people’s routines. Doing the dishes? Turn on an episode of “Seinfeld.” Folding the laundry? Why not watch a little “Big Bang Theory”? While plenty of people get hooked into dramas like “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad,” they’re longer, darker, and thus a bit harder to digest in quick bites. (RIP Quibi.) A show like “Bob’s Burgers,” neatly divided into enlivening 22-minute bursts, can convince you to sample it again and again throughout the day. (It’s just 20 minutes! You deserve it!)
But beyond the length, what about “Bob’s Burgers” is so irresistible? There’s an argument to be made for a lot of individual factors, be it the exquisite voice work to the bright, welcoming color palette, but so much of “Bob’s” appeal comes from its core structure. Like the townhouse itself, the series offers two shows in one: One half is a workplace comedy, the other is a family sitcom. Plots can stem from business opportunities or personal escapades, and episodes can utilize both: The kids can carry the A-plot at school, while the parents can add a little fun from the restaurant. That kind of versatility helps keep the stories fresh, year after year — thanks, of course, to the imaginative animators, writers, and producers who work so wonderfully within their generous framework.
But without being so relatable, “Bob’s Burgers” would’ve never lasted this long.
But all of that wouldn’t mean anything if viewers didn’t want to spend time with this family and in this business. Let’s start with the business. Over the years, “Bob’s Burgers” has seen countless comparisons to “The Simpsons,” and it certainly fits the “animated family sitcom” mold that Fox has built a brand around. But the burger shop is one of the fundamental differences that I find to be extremely important. Homer may be a 9-to-5 worker and American everyman, but his job at the nuclear plant makes him much edgier than your typical office drone (and lends “The Simpsons” ample opportunities to go big with its storytelling).
But who didn’t play kitchen growing up? Who hasn’t dreamed of owning their own restaurant? Who doesn’t want their friends and family to swing by during designated hours, dictated by business hours and shift schedules? Bob’s Burgers is simple yet coveted work, and Bob is the perfect guy to man the grill.
Here’s where the family comes in: Bob, in the Season 11 premiere, stumbles onto a personal revelation that it’s OK to be good at a few things and bad at others. But he’s always lived that way. Bob is really good at making burgers. He’s really bad at personal hygiene, dressing himself, and keeping his temper in check. The imbalance works great because he’s often forced into situations where he has to do his best and hope it works (which is deeply relatable), but also because he’s really good at making burgers. Having that one thing to hang his hat on often keeps him going, and the deep ties it has to his father (who also owned a restaurant) and his sense of self give his burgers meaning beyond the job itself.
The rest of the cast is just as accessible. Tina is the most palpable embodiment of angst ever put to screen, Gene is an endearing, unfiltered wild card, Louise is a highly advanced agent of chaos — yet still devilishly childish — and Linda is a saucy chatterbox whose unrepentant enthusiasm for wine is enough to fuel 10 million tweets, #LifeGoals. Perhaps best of all, this is a supportive, loving family; they embrace each other’s oddities and encourage each other to go further. That kind of positivity is a too-often-untapped TV goldmine, especially when you can bottle it without turning treacly.
The Belchers are also perfectly preserved in time. Bob is old enough for adults to identify with his world-weary attitude, yet still young at heart. The kids aren’t in diapers or aged out of childhood. Tina is a 13-year-old, so she can babysit but she’s not too cool for family time. Louise, at nine, is the sharpest of the lot, often manipulating the group to do what she wants (in a wicked spin on youngest child syndrome). For parents, this is the ideal moment in time, when your kids are all still at home, when you can talk to them, teach them, and have fun with them. The terrible twos are over, an empty nest still far off. For kids, the wacky comedy and free-roaming adventures are entertainment enough, which doubles for older viewers who want to relive their childhood highlights. Maybe you don’t want to be a parent. Maybe you’re too young to think about it. Maybe you just want to look back and not forward. No matter what, “Bob’s Burgers” has you covered.
Because this is television — animated television, especially — the dynamic doesn’t have to change. Everyone stays the same age, even as a wealth of memories build up season after season. “Bob’s Burgers” sustains an unsustainable part of life and let’s viewers appreciate it for even longer than they’ll experience it themselves.
When I joined IndieWire full-time, my first article was on “Bob’s Burgers.” It’s safe to say plenty has changed for me in those six years, from getting promoted to getting married, and even though I don’t have kids, I often think about them. While it would be nice to simply say the show hasn’t changed in that time, it has. Bouchard went off to make another show, the Apple TV+ comedy “Central Park.” Some seasons are better than others. A movie is still in the works. Staff turnover, scheduling tweaks, and narrative developments keep coming, as they always do. But the illusion of fixed continuity remains. “Bob’s Burgers” is the same show I’ve been watching for 200 episodes. Its fantasy is part of my reality and vice versa.
Long may it cook.
“Bob’s Burgers” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox. All episodes are available to stream on Hulu.