Bob's Burgers Review: "A River Runs Through Bob" (Episode 4.01)
The news that Bob’s Burgers was already renewed for a fifth season was a canny PR move on the part of Fox, coming as it did just days before the premiere of the show’s fourth season. What better to encourage Seth MacFarlane fanatics to tune in a half-hour early, and to keep longtime Simpsons fans tuned in after that new episode aired? Or at the very least, it gave Breaking Bad viewers a quick jolt of humor before being dropped into the abyss.
Smarter still was knowing the first episode of Bob’s Burgers’ fourth season kept the entire plot centered around the Belcher family, taking them out of the restaurant and away from any ancillary characters. And because the show, for all its rapid-fire wit and strange charm, sticks pretty closely to your typical sitcom dynamics: two adults and their three distinctive kids get into all manner of hijinks with lessons learned at the end.
It’s how they skew that formula on this show that keeps comedy nerds like this coming back for more. Lessons learned: don’t eat an undercooked fish (the title of this episode should tell you all you need to know about that), stay away from sex-hungry survivalists offering up something called “trust lotion,” “insects can and should be weaponized,” and, to quote Eugene Belcher, “You don’t just throw away satin!”
The hijinks get underway as the Belchers take a quick family camping trip to help Tina make up for being sick and missing her Thundergirl (a Girl Scouts-type group) outing. In the campground, Bob and Linda get separated from the kids after falling unceremoniously into the river. The kids—aided by some supplies nicked from the survivalists in the adjoining campsite—take off to track down their folks, and the parents, nude and filthy, try to get back to their children.
In many ways, it was a perfect premise, allowing for new and regular viewers to delight in the dynamic between Bob and Linda (loving, then spiteful, then loving again), and to marvel at the weird and wonderful interactions between the kids. I especially loved watching the children get “enlightened” by the survivalist manual they took (“Apocatips for the Apocalypse”), and Tina’s rant at the Thundergirls troop they find in the woods: “You’re all cogs in a cookie-selling machine!”
As with most episodes, things get relatively back to normal. They are back together by the end, and winging their way home, but Bob and Linda are still naked and filthy (smelling like puke and fish), and Eugene has a random pair of underwear wrapped around his neck.
Watching this new episode after The Simpsons only served to highlight how similar the two sitcoms are in their core ideas, but how Bob’s Burgers skewers the conventions in ways that the show before it (and most definitely the shows after it) are unable to do. Bob’s throws witty pop culture references into each episode—the John & Yoko Rolling Stone cover nod when Bob & Linda wake in the woods was particularly nice. The rest shove them so far down the viewers throats, it’s a wonder we all don’t gag involuntarily as we watch. Each have their charms, but Bob’s Burgers is standing head and shoulders above the animation competition. As this episode proved, the fifth season was earned, and I can’t wait to see where they take us next.