Friday, May 23, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Bob's Burgers, "World Wharf II: The Wharfening (or How Bob Saves/Destroys the Town, Part II)," and The Boondocks, "Freedom Ride or Die" (tie)

Louise teaches Teddy how to read.
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

So special guest star Kevin Kline's ad-libbed attempt at beatboxing while voicing Mr. Fischoeder, the eccentric owner of both the Wonder Wharf and the Belchers' apartment building, didn't quite make the final cut of "World Wharf II: The Wharfening" like I had expected. But plenty of hilarious bits of business made it into the conclusion of Bob's Burgers' two-part fourth-season finale. My favorite running joke in "World Wharf II" has characters being able to find time, even when Bob's life is in danger, to make the usual potshots at either Bob's age ("It's not your time, Dad! I want to put you in a nursing home next year!") or his hirsute, sad-looking body ("Your butt... Up here, you're okay, but down here, it gets bad.").

Throughout "World Wharf II," which marks the first time the show has ever placed Bob in such peril (the camping episode doesn't count), I was reminded of how often Diff'rent Strokes and its mid-to-late-'70s misery-porn precursor Good Times would subject their characters to cliffhanger situations that were as perilous as Bob and Mr. Fischoeder getting kidnapped and tied to the pier together by Mr. Fischoeder's greedy brother, but were much more depressing. Kidnapping was a favorite dramatic device of the Diff'rent Strokes writing staff (Arnold and Kimberly were kidnapped by a rapist who attempted to sexually assault Kimberly, and Sam was later abducted by an insane dad who wanted Sam to replace his dead son), while on a very special, chroma-key-heavy two-parter of Good Times, a deaf kid almost fell into an elevator shaft because he couldn't hear the Evanses' warnings about the shaft and was too busy trying to entertain them with an impression of the crappy chroma-key flying FX from The Bugaloos.

Bob's Burgers is so much better than those older shows and their misguided and wildly inappropriate (especially when they're accompanied by studio audience laughter) attempts to raise the stakes and be taken seriously by the press (I'd like to know what sort of drugs were involved in the decision to place Kimberly in danger of being raped as if she were Edith Bunker, during a family sitcom that's meant for little kids). If there's anything that's serious about last week's "Wharf Horse" and "World Wharf II," it's the issue of gentrification (Felix's scheme to get his brother to sell the wharf is a comedic take on a not-so-funny real-life matter), but Bob's Burgers never feels the need to preach about the evilness of gentrification or go down a completely somber path regarding the issue. It's sort of the same approach King of the Hill brought to gentrification in my favorite late-period King of the Hill episode, "Lady and Gentrification" (an episode that gets extra points for giving guest star Danny Trejo the following line to say: "They put salmon in the fish tacos, Hank! Look at it! It's salmon! They're ruining everything!").

Even when Linda panics after realizing Bob's been kidnapped or when Teddy starts weeping over Bob's disappearance, the writers keep things light, hence the characters' comments about Bob's weird body. It helps that those writers are the sister duo of Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux, my favorite writing pair on Bob's Burgers (they were behind series highlights like "Art Crawl" and last year's "Boyz 4 Now," as well as a bunch of jokes in episodes they didn't receive on-screen credit for, like Gene's line about Linda's apron in "Lindapendent Woman"). I feel like the Molyneuxs remembered what those lurid Very Special Episodes of Diff'rent Strokes were like and thought, "Those shows were awful. Let's not be like those shows during this two-parter."

The Molyneuxs' skills with funny rat-a-tat-tat dialogue make "World Wharf II" such an enjoyable mock-dramatic experience (while "Wharf Horse" is credited to Nora Smith, who wrote "Mother Daughter Laser Razor"). "World Wharf II" is also noteworthy for being the first time the Belchers say "I love you" to each other. Of course, when Bob's Burgers finally gets them to say "I love you" after Bob's rescued, the Molyneuxs and the other writers undercut the potentially sappy moment with offbeat touches like abrasive Louise's slightly standoffish version of "I love you" ("I love you all. But that's just between us.") and the Belchers saying "I love you" so repeatedly that Mr. Fischoeder groans in disgust, a noise that Kevin Kline must have also made while skimming through the script of Life as a House. They're great examples of how Bob's Burgers gets the characters to express their affection for each other without becoming too goopy. There's only one thing that's corny about Bob's Burgers, and it's all those genuinely funny puns.

Other memorable quotes:
* Tina: "I have a great new nail polish I've been dying to try. It's called Clear." Gene: "Sure, if you want to look like a prostitute."

* "Quit squirming around, Bob. Do you have worms? 'Cause I do, and you're making them crazy."

Here we see Donald Sterling taking his mistress out for a racist night out at the wharf.
* Fanny (Jordan Peele): "Hey, what are you looking at? My boobs are up here."

* I like how John Roberts, as Linda, can be heard breaking character and chuckling when Tina's able to identify Mr. Fischoeder's butt in the picture Bob sent to Linda: "How do you know what Mr. Fischoeder's butt looks like?" "I have photographic butt memory."

* Linda attempts to decipher Bob's garbled cry for help in his text: "Could it be... 'I tried blow'? We were gonna do that together. Just once."

* "You have to pull yourself together! You have two children and a Louise to take care of!"

* Teddy suspects a waiter (Paul F. Tompkins) of kidnapping Bob and proceeds to channel Mel Gibson in Ransom: "Let me at him! Give me back my son!"

Like all other viewers of Game of Thrones, Bob and Mr. Fischoeder experience excruciating pain while having to remember all those boring scenes of Ramsey torturing Theon.
* "And now I'll never know who wins Game of Thrones/Oh, things are bad!"

* "No, no, we need your dad. You kids are a two-adult, two-bottle-of-wine-a-night job."

* Fanny: "Shut up! I can't think!" Mr. Fischoeder: "What else is new?"

* "You saved us, Linda. Thank God we live in a time where women can learn to swim."


An equally irreverent approach to a serious issue also distinguishes The Boondocks' latest episode, "Freedom Ride or Die," which flashes back to 1961, when a young Robert Freeman became part of the Freedom Riders movement--against his will, of course (this time, young Robert's voiced by a digitally sped-up John Witherspoon, instead of now-absent ex-showrunner Aaron McGruder, who previously voiced young Robert during a non-canonical flashback to Rosa Parks overshadowing Robert's attempt to make civil rights history in 1955 Montgomery in "The Return of the King"). While trying to hide out after getting caught starting a different kind of movement inside a whites-only bathroom in a segregated bus station ("It was a dump for freedom. A stinky load for the dignity of the black man."), Robert accidentally hops onto a Freedom Rider bus headed for Birmingham and immediately wants to get off because of all the violence down there. Rev. Sturdy Harris (special guest star Dennis Haysbert), the leader of the protesters, believes that Robert, who's uninterested in getting himself killed and finds Sturdy's non-violent form of activism to be completely insane, is born to be a Freedom Rider and continually prevents him from jumping off the bus.

Robert answers the call of dookie.
No Boondocks episode involving historical figures from the civil rights movement could ever top the quality of the Rev. Al Sharpton-angering "Return of the King," especially when McGruder's no longer involved. "Freedom Ride or Die" doesn't even try to revisit the highs of "The Return of the King" or outdo them. But thanks to the solid satirical writing of Boondocks veteran Rodney Barnes, as well as the fact that it's not burdened with the fourth season's inane "Granddad in debt" arc, "Freedom Ride or Die" is easily the funniest episode of this underwhelming McGruder-less season (however, there was no need for present-day Uncle Ruckus to explain the Speed reference; that just killed all the funny out of the bomb-on-the-bus gag).

"Freedom Ride or Die" even contains the reliable laugh-getter of Robert taking out his belt (the same belt he'll later use to frequently punish Riley with), a sign that this Boondocks episode's a solid one. The sight of Robert attacking racist rioters with his belt makes me wonder why neither Wesley Snipes nor Michael Jai White have ever made a martial arts flick set during the civil rights movement. Who gives a shit what Sharpton would say? A '60s black activist martial arts flick would be brilliant.

Other memorable quotes:
* "Take that, you cracker-ass cracker! That's why I shit in your bathroom and used up all your special white people quilted toilet paper!"

* "I noticed she was reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, a book I had meant to read many times."

* Young Robert to Sturdy: "You want to know how to end Jim Crow? Get out of the fuckin' South!"

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