"Wharf Horse," the first half of Bob's Burgers' fourth-season finale (and the show's first-ever two-parter), would have been perfect as a feature-length Bob's Burgers film a la The Simpsons Movie. In fact, the episode plays a lot like Bob's Burgers: The Movie. "Wharf Horse" skips the show's usual opening titles, which is what most blockbuster movies do these days to keep ADHD-addled moviegoers from bailing during the first few minutes. The episode's big musical number is even more ambitious than the song Gene wrote for Louise's science fair project in "Topsy," a highlight of Bob's Burgers' third season. The climactic rollercoaster scene is full of beauty shots of the beach town that prove how much the show's animation quality has grown since the now-primitive-looking first season (rewatch "Art Crawl," the show's first great episode, to see how much the animation has improved since those early episodes). Last but not least, Linda gets to sing an enjoyable 007-style end credits song about Bob, Felix Fischoeder (Zach Galifianakis), the shady developer brother of landlord Calvin Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), and Felix's plot to tear down the town's beloved Wonder Wharf (complete with minimalist graphics that are reminiscent of Maurice Binder's 007 opening title sequences).
Felix hands Bob the opportunity to open up a new burger joint next to a bunch of condos he plans to replace Wonder Wharf with, and Bob takes it. But by the end of "Wharf Horse," Bob listens to his kids' concerns about the fate of the wharf, realizes that he'd rather sacrifice the chance to be more successful than assist in the wharf's destruction and changes his mind. Felix isn't pleased, and he pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot Bob and Calvin in the episode's faux-soapy cliffhanger.
If there's any storyline that suits the scope of a Bob's Burgers film, it's Bob's dreams of making his family's modest burger joint more popular, a recurring thread that, outside of the Super Bowl commercial shoot episode, has become less of a thing this season, so that's mainly why this current season of Bob's Burgers hasn't been as interesting to me as the previous two. The small business aspect of Bob's Burgers was what first drew me to the show (other than the involvement of Dr. Katz and Home Movies veterans Loren Bouchard and H. Jon Benjamin), which is why I'm glad to see the season finale going back to that core of the show and building some light drama out of the future of the restaurant.
Bob's business isn't some one-episode venture like Hayley selling fake IDs on American Dad or Homer growing and selling "tomacco." The restaurant is central to the show's premise of a chef who, like the Tony Shalhoub Big Night character who inspired much of the show, considers himself an artist and is always grasping for greater success but is doomed to never reach it. That's why the show's opening titles, which I sort of hated seeing being cut out of "Wharf Horse," are so great: they amusingly elucidate the business anxieties of Bob and other small businessmen like him in the age of economic downturn. Bob's relatable struggles to keep his business afloat, whether they're when he's competing with Jimmy Pesto from across the street or when he's dealing with Felix in "Wharf Horse," have helped distinguish Bob's Burgers from the increasingly formulaic dumb-dad hijinks of the other Fox "Animation Domination" shows. Plus what other animated Fox show contains the beatbox stylings of Kevin Kline, the moment I'm looking forward to the most in next week's conclusion, "World Wharf II: The Wharfening"?
Stray observations/memorable quotes:
* The synopsis for "World Wharf II" hints that Linda and the kids will come to the rescue of Bob, Calvin and the wharf itself in some sort of suitably cinematic fashion. Hopefully, we'll also get some more of the hilarious Jordan Peele as Fanny, Felix's vapid trophy girlfriend and Linda's new shopping buddy, even though Peele's basically reprising his Meegan voice from Key & Peele.
* "Does putting a Band-Aid on a fart make it go away?" "That doesn't make sense." "Yes, it does."
* "A lot of memories on that wharf. I told Bobby I was pregnant with Louise on the Ferris wheel. He just kept screaming." "I did."
* "You can tell your developers that I'll sell." "Yah mo B there!"
* "I'm gonna die and I never got to see Hall & Oates live!"
* "Look, Mr. Fischoeder, I thought I wanted nice things, but I don't even like nice things. I mean, look at this shirt. This is my favorite shirt." "Ooh. That is so sad."
* Mr. Fischoeder, after riding his first rollercoaster in ages and being reminded of the appeal of rollercoasters: "Papa always said people like things that go up and down and side to side and jiggle all their stuff around. And Mother sewed that on a pillow."