The challenge that Greg Thompson apparently gave himself when writing this episode was to see how many references to feel-good cinema from the ’80s and ’90s he could fit into 22 minutes. I’m sure there were some that I missed, but that’s only because I was laughing at the nods to Dead Poets Society, Dirty Dancing, An Officer and a Gentleman, and the film referenced in the show’s title, Stand & Deliver.
There was, of course, very little in the way of feel-good interactions here. Even when Bob had a chance to give a little love back to his neglected eldest daughter Tina, it felt like a way to simply convince her to help him out rather than coming from the heart.
What Bob needs help with is in his work as a substitute teacher at his kids’ school. He arrives with the intention of teaching his students the finer points of cooking. The kids, though, would rather stick to watching terrible movies about cleaning than do any work. Or as the counselor puts it: “This is the class where we teach the dumb-dumbs how to make ice.”
Undeterred, Bob finds a way to capture their attention and get them cooking, starting with “accidentally” ripping a bag of microwave popcorn into a skillet. Soon enough, the kids are all excited about the culinary arts, and are encouraged by Bob to open a “home ec-staurant” for their classmates. Of course, nothing goes that smoothly in the world of the Belchers, and the new endeavor runs afoul of Caf-Co Food Services, the folks who run the school cafeteria, who quickly shut it down and fire the substitute teacher.
The real fun comes when Bob stops by the class to collect some stuff, and his students, in an act of defiance, stand on their desks symbolically tearing open bags of microwave popcorn. It leads to one last stand by the class to serve food to the school (burgers, natch) and a small reconciliation between Bob and Tina, as well as one of the best jokes in the episode after the Caf-Co head and the lunch lady give up on stopping the Home Ec-staurant: “Hildy, let’s go get drunk.” “Whaddaya mean ‘get’ drunk?”
The series has, this season, been maintaining a nice balance between somewhat emotionally driven episodes like “Seaplane!” and “Turkey in a Can” and goofy diversions like tonight’s installment. And even amid the silliness, they still manage to give each character a telling batch of dialogue or action that speak right to their cores. When the writers are able to do that in the midst of ridiculous moments like Linda teaching one of their regulars how to dance, they’re just continuing to prove what an amazing crew is behind this show.