Bob’s Burgers is one of the only shows on TV that can take a tried-and-true sitcom plot–a character forced to confront a strained relationship with a parent during the holidays–and make it really weird, without losing any of its charm and heart. “Father of the Bob” does feature a touching father-son reconciliation moment, but it takes place in a gay cowboy bar (line dancing on Fridays, Scandal on Thursdays).
The B-plot is another storyline that could’ve delved into cliché so easily. The kids forget to buy Bob a gift, so they gather up materials from Big Bob’s basement, and each attempts to make a meaningful gift for their dad. “Attempt” is the correct word here, as Tina and Louise get competitive and create monstrosities of leftover basement junk (I would absolutely love Tina’s utility chair, complete with a napkin holder, though, “so I can wipe the floor with you”). Gene, on the other hand, immediately gives up and decides to relax in a bath of baked beans.
I’ve stated before that I’m not a fan of Gene’s shrill, off-the-wall grossness, and I do think it really only works when he blends it with his artistic side, à la Bobby Hill. But the idea of Gene taking a relaxing baked bean bath and his genuine belief that it would be an interesting Christmas present for his father is kind of hilarious.
We’ve seen before that Louise is competitive to the point of mania, but it’s Tina who gets really into the trash-talking spirit of things (“D-did you hear my trash talk?” she asks hesitatingly, always seeking validation despite her inner confidence). We tend to think of Tina as meek because she’s often so unsure of herself, but it’s easy to forget she’s inherited her mother’s tendency to fully commit to something, occasionally to an obsessive level even Tina herself seems uncomfortable with. That’s why Dan Mintz’s line readings of her boastful brags (“Dad will never walk again. By choice. Nor will he love either of you again. By choice.”), paired with that weak plea for assurance they were heard in the first place, is so perfectly Tina.
While last week’s episode focused on Bob and Gene’s father-son relationship, this week pulls it back one generation prior and reveals what Bob and his father’s relationship is like. It’s been hinted that this is not a particularly close relationship. In “Bob Fires the Kids”, a flashback shows a preteen Bob, confined to work in his father’s diner, forced to play only with scouring pads and soap animals named “Mr. Doglovitch” (my favourite name Bob has ever given an inanimate object, and perhaps the origin of his tendency to talk to inanimate objects in general). This episode does confirm that, despite his frustrations with working for his dad, Bob has always loved cooking and experimenting with food (and food puns). Big Bob’s, though, is a die-hard, old-school diner, and Big Bob himself is not particularly keen on deviating outside the norm with fancy ingredients and unusual pairings.
Big Bob dismisses Bob’s “Baby You Can Chive My Car” burger (this episode is full of great 70s and 80s-themed burger puns), just as, a decade later, Bob would dismiss his father’s offer to co-run the diner. It’s a case of two people being so incredibly proud of their life’s work that they refuse to consider an alternate viewpoint. Bob and his dad have no idea how similar they are, right down to the oddball regulars who trade banter at their respective restaurant counters, and each man’s unwavering belief that their way is the right way is what prevents them from admitting that, despite their divergent paths, each is proud of what the other has accomplished.
And while Linda functions as a buffer between the two Bobs and a source of constant, aggressively cheerful interceptions (possibly the result of “Christmas Magic”, i.e. wine), the episode neatly sidesteps falling into that same sort of wide-eyed, saccharine enthusiasm that defines a lot of TV Christmas episodes. Instead, it has Bob and his dad resolve their issues the only way they know how: with begrudging respect and an awkward acknowledgement of love. And line dancing. Lots of line dancing.