Over the past nine seasons of Bob’s Burgers, Bob Belcher has been trying, and mostly failing, to get something nice for his wife, Linda. That’s nine seasons of last-minute scrambling on birthdays and Valentine’s Days to go on a quest, sometimes with his children, to try to get Linda a gift she deserves. Even in the pilot episode, Bob forgets that it’s their anniversary and has nothing to give her, emphasizing to her that he doesn’t have a present while Linda assumes he’s feigning ignorance to set up a surprise.
In the Season 10 premiere, Bob has actually remembered his anniversary was coming. But per usual, the problem is that Bob has hardly any money. He gets Linda an engagement ring—one that he couldn’t afford to buy her when, or since, he proposed. The ring has a teeny, tiny diamond. (“It wasn’t big,” Bob says. “It was very small.”) And it cost him $329, which he will pay in $15 installments over 24 months. With interest.
And then his children lose it.
Bob’s Burgers is a show about a working class family, addressing modern workday problems like burnout and unpaid internships, and it’s at its best when it’s transparent and specific about money. This episode shows why.
Losing the engagement ring at a water park where the kids are spending the day at is an effective storyline because for years Bob hasn’t been able to come up with a good present, and he finally has one. It also hits extra hard because in past seasons Bob has struggled to pay hundreds of dollars when it’s needed. The fact that Bob mentions the ring was $329, and that he has to pay it over months, makes it extra devastating when it’s gone because you know exactly how much it cost him, and how long he’ll be paying it off.
In a Valentine’s Day episode in Season Three, Bob forgoes buying Linda a $250 porcelain figurine she wants because it’s too expensive, only to end up spending $500 on a sentimental gift from what he thought was one of their first dates—when it was actually a date with another woman. It’s another example of Bob spending money that’s technically in his account but that he knows he can’t really afford to try to make up for years of subpar presents and celebrations.
The amounts of money that cause the Belchers pain aren’t astronomical, and the family isn’t so poor that they don’t have food to eat or a place to live. Instead, they are often late with rent money and bounce a few checks when paying their bills. It’s usually a few hundred dollars that can trip them up—like when Bob wanted to buy a new chef’s knife in Season Five that was $300, and Linda asked the salesperson to spread it out over several credit cards.
Like the roughly 32% of Americans who say they wouldn’t be able to get $2,000 together if a financial emergency arose, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (and probably even more Americans who feel panicked about money even if they have money in the bank) the Belchers just can’t seem to get ahead. And those financial details make them one of the most relatable families on TV.
Even though Bob’s restaurant is a mom-and-pop shop, the Belchers’ problems are ones that modern workers are facing. Struggling with accumulating wealth in a post-recession economy is just one of them. Bob also faces burnout, a particularly modern problem, from working seven days a week at the restaurant. In an episode in Season Nine, his family forces him to take a day off, and he resists leaving the restaurant. He ends up at another restaurant, working for a stranger. Just like a freelancer in a gig economy, Bob can’t relax and can’t not work for fear of everything falling apart.
His children also learn about modern workplace issues in another Season Nine episode when they start a business at school to learn about entrepreneurship. Tina, Gene, and Louise quickly learn that management gets to sit around drinking orange soda, while the workers actually making the product the company is selling get fewer and fewer rights and have to work quicker and quicker to keep up with profit margins. It’s a gentle and funny illustration of the real-life stark wage gap between workers and their CEOs. Gene, Tina, Louise, and their friend regular-sized Rudy may as well have been workers in an Amazon warehouse.
Workplace and money problems are intrinsic to the show. Bob and his family hang out often with other service workers and working class people. They run into their limo driver turned friend Nat at the water park. Nat Kinkle (not Nat King Cole, you heard that wrong) is able to go to the water park multiple times during the week only because she is friends with a ticket seller, who lets her in. Bob’s Burgers doesn’t gloss over that it costs money to go to the park—it builds in that fact and an explanation for why a limo driver would be able to participate in the activity when she may not have the money. Nat drives a hot pink limo, but her job is reminiscent of Uber and Lyft drivers who set their own schedules and struggle to get enough work.
We watch Bob and Linda grapple with money every season. But because it’s a cartoon that gets reset and never really moves through time, the Belchers never get ahead financially—but they also never get that far behind. It feels comforting to relate to their struggle while never seeing it progress any worse than losing out on a few hundred dollars. That money may be enough to bankrupt them, but it never gets that far. Just about any episode of Bob’s Burgers can act as a nice reminder that money matters, but it isn’t everything. Linda says as much when she finds Bob at the water park, wet and standing in his underwear, unable to find the ring he bought her. “You don’t need to give me a big old ring to prove you love me,” she says. “Our love is in everything we’ve built together.”
Even when what they’ve built doesn’t include a savings account.
Bob’s Burgers airs Sunday nights on Fox.
Rae Nudson is Chicago-based writer and critic whose writing has appeared in Esquire, The Cut, and Hazlitt, among other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @rclnudson.