Friday, November 7, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Bob's Burgers, "Tina and the Real Ghost"

Gene's next Tom Hanks-inspired costume ought to have him dress up as both Joe and the Volcano.
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.

The funniest line in "Tina and the Real Ghost," this year's Bob's Burgers Halloween episode, takes place when Louise unveils her Halloween costume, which simply consists of her regular clothes combined with a toothpick, a pair of leather driving gloves and a certain white satin scorpion jacket. She says, "I'm Ryan Gosling from the major motion picture trailer Drive."

The moment is also emblematic of the beautiful efficiency of the writing on Bob's Burgers. On Family Guy, this would have been an excuse for the show to do another cutaway gag and pointlessly probe into why the girl said "major motion picture trailer." Bob's Burgers doesn't feel the need to do that. It rarely opts for cutaway gags (there have been flashbacks though, to either Bob as a kid or Tina as a baby, and we get occasional glimpses into Tina's elaborate fantasies about male classmates, either human or zombie). Louise's line is already funny enough as it is that it doesn't need to be embellished with a cutaway gag. We're left to imagine Linda and Bob trying their damnedest to prevent their most mischievous and conniving kid from watching the ultraviolent Drive in its entirety, and letting us picture that in our heads is funnier than actually depicting it. That's smart writing.

The same could be said about the rest of the episode, which was written by Steven Davis and Kelvin Yu and centers on Tina's crush on what she's led to believe is a ghost in a shoebox named Jeff ("I'm pretty sure that's his handwriting. It's girlie, but it's just because he's sensitive," says Tina about a message on a girls' room mirror that she thinks was written by her spectral boyfriend). Once again, Bob's Burgers does terrific and funny work exploring the imaginative and romantic sides of Tina, who's somehow a more fully realized character than most girl characters on live-action sitcoms who are about the same age as her. As Katie Schenkel once said over at The Mary Sue, "the show took what could have been a cheap running gag of 'let's laugh at the weird girl' and turned her into the best character on the whole damn show."

Tina's date with a shoebox makes me wish Basket Case were rebooted as a rom-com where the female lead dates a guy who's deformed and lives in a basket. Now that's more watchable than a Katherine Heigl movie.
It helps that the show doesn't punish Tina for being her libidinous, erotic fanfic-writing self like the Griffins cruelly do with Meg for being awkward and unpopular on Family Guy; Bob's Burgers always takes Bob's or Louise's position that "Sure, Tina's weird, but let's not be a dick to her about it." In the case of Louise in "Tina and the Real Ghost," she quickly realizes the cruelty of her Ouija board prank of tricking Tina into thinking Jeff is real and attempts to undo it. Louise's remorse exemplifies another thing I appreciate about Bob's Burgers: the support the Belchers have for each other, without having to get goopy and '80s sitcom huggy about it, expressive and affectionate Linda aside (if Louise wound up on Full House or Family Ties and she had to experience one of those shows' hugging scenes, she'd punch Bob Saget in the face or light Michael Gross' beard on fire). On Bob's Burgers, there's no time to be goopy and huggy. They've got burgers and side orders of puns that need to be cranked out.

Stray observations:
* There wasn't even enough time for the opening titles. "Tina and the Real Ghost" is the fourth consecutive Bob's Burgers episode to go without opening titles. The absence of the titles is making me wonder if the Bob's Burgers writing staff is running out of puns for the names on the exterminator vans and the failed businesses next door to Bob's. I remember watching an interview where the late Stephen J. Cannell talked about how the Rockford Files writing staff used to have problems coming up with new humorous messages for the answering machine gag at the start of Rockford's opening titles.

* Those alien noises that come out of special guest star Jenny Slate--whether they're Tammy's horror movie screams during this Bob's Burgers Halloween episode or whatever this is during Kroll Show--never lose their funniness.

* Gene's costume as half-Turner, half-Hooch makes me realize there aren't enough Tom Hanks project-inspired costumes out there on Halloween or at cons. Bosom Buddies, The 'Burbs, A League of Their Own and Apollo 13 are long overdue for the cosplay treatment (but definitely not Cloud Atlas; keep that yellowface/brownface/redface/blackface shit away from Halloween next year or any other year, white people, or prepare to get stabbed).

* It's funny that this episode where Louise cosplays Drive premiered immediately after BBC Three aired a rescored version of Drive, which was music-supervised by Zane Lowe. The Radio 1 DJ recruited artists like The 1975, Baauer of "Harlem Shake" infamy and L.A. R&B singer Banks to record new original tracks for the movie, and the results were lukewarmly received (Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the few who likes the rescore). I really like "Get Away" by Chvrches, which was chosen to replace Kavinsky's 2010 song "Nightcall" in Drive's opening titles, but thematically and tonally, it doesn't really fit with the establishing of Ryan Gosling's nighttime activities as a getaway driver during the opening titles, despite the song being called "Get Away" (the romantically minded "Get Away" would have been better suited for any of the later scenes where Gosling bonds with Carey Mulligan). The Drive rescore is an interesting experiment for about a track or two, but it's otherwise unnecessary because the music that was used in the final cut is so irreplaceable. Okay, maybe I'd rescore that hammer-to-the-hand moment at the strip club with Black Sheep's "U Mean I'm Not" because that tune is life.

* Once again, co-composer and series creator Loren Bouchard and the duo known as the Elegant Too excel in the music department. The episode's silly song about Jeff is like a cross between the ballads of Serge Gainsbourg and Nelson Riddle's "Lolita Ya Ya" from the Stanley Kubrick version of Lolita.

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