Among the Fox programs airing on Sunday nights, Bob’s Burgers has become the one most likely to deliver a good Christmas special year in and year out, especially now that American Dad has fled to cable. It also still feels like a relatively new series to me, but it’s now in its eighth season. Bob’s Burgers is about a guy named Bob Belcher who runs a burger joint with his family; Wife Linda, eldest daughter Tina, son Gene, and daughter Louise. The restaurant is only semi-successful and everyone in the family is a bit odd, but they actually have a rather sweet family dynamic. “Christmas in the Car” is not the show’s first Christmas episode, but the season 4 episode is probably the show’s best holiday themed special, mostly because of its unique premise.
When the show opens, Linda is eagerly erecting the family Christmas tree on the day after Halloween. Apparently Linda is a real mark for Christmas and when Bob sasses her for her illogical enthusiasm she poo-poos him, as do the children. The show has a quick cut to the Belchers tossing out the now dead tree while all looking mournful, except Bob who saw this coming. We then repeat the gag, only Linda is putting up a tree on the day after Thanksgiving. While it’s a little more understandable (Black Friday might as well be National Decorate for Christmas Day for those of us who don’t leave the house to go shopping) to put up a tree then, a living one will have little chance of seeing Christmas Day. Which is what happens to this second tree. Now it’s Christmas Eve and the Belchers are without a tree. Linda and the kids are despondent while Bob is more concerned with finishing up Christmas dinner so they can have their traditional meal.
Linda isn’t going to settle for a tree-less Christmas (maybe she should just get a fake one?), and finds a lot still open that will basically let them take whatever is left. With everyone in the family against him, Bob reluctantly goes along with them and loads everyone into the car to drive an hour away for a scrappy tree. The kids though aren’t entirely eager as they have a plan to capture Santa Claus. Gene and Louise are very much consumed by it, while Tina is mostly along for the ride. Things get worse for poor Bobby since the kids are crazy in the car and try to tickle him most of the way while Linda mostly mocks him for being a “lump of coal.”
When they get to the tree lot the pickings are naturally slim and unappealing on Christmas Eve. Linda has a hard time settling on one, so Bob joins the kids in their Santa scheming. They’re not eager for his help, and Bob strikes up a conversation with Tina about how it’s weird that Louise still believes in Santa assuming Tina will agree with him, but she just seems confused forcing Bob to ease out of the conversation gently. The kids stage a dry run using a port-a-potty and it gets surprisingly violent. Linda finally settles on a tree and they’re all ready to leave. Bob asks the kids to help him get out of the lot, but they basically do a terrible job and Bob cuts off a guy driving a giant candy cane truck. It gets worse as Linda yells at him and beats on the horn to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”
The truck continues on its way and the Belchers are heading home. Bob is pretty much done with this whole thing and wants to get home, but when the candy cane truck driver decides to drive at a snail’s pace in front of them, Bob decides to pass him. It gets a little Christmas Vacation-y here as Bob tries to pass the truck only for the truck to speed up and not let him by. The family freaks out as Bob is finally able to maneuver their station wagon in front of the truck only for the trucker to start aggressively tailing him. Bob loses his cool and plunges off the road to let the truck by further terrifying his family. With Gene’s bladder begging for relief, the family heads to a nearby diner so Gene can use the facilities. Bob is eager to get back on the road, but Gene takes a little extra time: “My bladder asked if my colon could come out and play, and my colon was like, “‘Sure thing.'”
Linda sees the diner serves Dutch Babies, a type of fancy pancake, but they take 25 minutes to make. Bob is concerned about his ham in the oven (“Just fart, dad”), but he’s talked into calling family friend Teddy to turn off the oven while Linda waits for the Dutch Baby that she just has to have. Teddy isn’t doing anything, because he’s never doing anything, and is eager to help out. As Bob tells him what he needs to do, Teddy becomes overwhelmed even though Bob is literally telling him how to turn off the oven – nothing complicated. He then becomes concerned that Bob didn’t get his Christmas card and Bob is forced to hang up on him.
It’s then Bob notices a police officer sitting in a booth eating a Dutch Baby (that’s a really weird thing to type) and he decides to report the candy cane driver to the cop. The cop sits there disinterested (really similar to a bit on Seinfeld) while Bob delicately describes what happened while the kids pipe-in with sarcastic quips when it becomes obvious the cop isn’t taking their father seriously. That only irritates Bob, and when the cop starts to poke fun at him he swings his arms and accidentally hits a waitress. Then the cop starts asking him why he assaulted a waitress and things just spiral out of control with Bob angrily declaring they’re leaving without the Dutch Baby. Just then it’s ready, at 22 minutes, causing Linda to happily refer to it as a preemie, “Just like Jesus!”
The Belchers pile back into the car and start making their way home. As they do so, Teddy shows up at their apartment to turn off the oven. He basically narrates what he’s doing, wondering why Bob made it sound so complicated and why his Christmas card remains unopened. He notices some cookies left out and decides a cookie is an appropriate payment for his services today. The cookies though are part of the Santa trap laid by the kids. A note is present informing the recipient the milk is in the fridge. When Teddy goes to retrieve the milk he slips his hand through a little noose and becomes trapped in the fridge. Meanwhile, Bob and Linda are arguing about the Diner experience while the kids are concerned they’ll miss Santa, spoiling their trap. Just then, Bob spies the candy cane truck and it’s soon after them. The Dutch Baby gets lodged under the pedals while everyone freaks out, mostly about the truck, but Linda also over her fancy pancake.
Now that they’re all convinced the driver of the candy cane truck is out to kill them, the family heads off the road and tries to hide from view. Bob wants to call the police, but during the entire trip for a tree Gene has had a radio station on hold to request “Jingle in the Jungle” and now the battery is dead. While the family is hunkered down in the car in the woods they all, apparently fearing their own demise is near, begin to confess to secret shames or things they’ve been keeping inside. Gene decides to tell the family he has the best legs, while Tina admits to being the one who didn’t flush (she was apparently proud of her “creation” and Linda admits it looked just like one of her father’s). Bob just wants everyone to stop talking, but then they ask where babies come from and Linda deadpans “You all come from my vagina.”
Bob is able to spy the truck through the trees, hears it honk, and sees it drive away. Everyone is overjoyed for a minute, especially Bob who declares he saved them all, but then discovers the car is stuck in the snow. Trapped in the car, the family has a moment of levity when “Jingle in the Jungle” comes on and all seem to enjoy it. They resign themselves to their Christmas in the car as it’s now past midnight. Then the candy cane truck returns, and panic sets in.
Not knowing what else to do, they all jump out of the car. The kids are prepared to run, but Bob seems to know he needs to confront the driver. When the driver emerges from the truck Bob sees how small he is and seems to feel a little bit more emboldened. Bob confronts him, rambles on, apologizing and also asking if the guy could help them get their car out of the snow, but the trucker just wants to fight. There’s a humorous moment when he tells Bob that he wants to “bang his ass,” and Bob kind of snickers knowing that’s probably not what the guy meant to say. Bob tries to strike a deal; help them get their car out and he’ll let the guy punch him in the stomach. Linda is not on board, but Bob just sees this guy as a sad little man and thinks he’d be giving him something worthwhile that will probably make his day. He makes the observation that this guy is probably having a worse Christmas than them, and Linda takes some pride in hearing her husband recognize that.
Bob and the trucker, turns out his name is Gary, then have a little heart to heart. Gary is just having a bad day and is pretty upset he has to work on Christmas. Bob is sympathetic and things seem to be calming down, until Gary slugs him in the stomach. Feeling great after nailing Bob, Gary is suddenly in a much better mood and more willing to help while Bob fears he has internal bleeding. Linda insists that Gary take their tree and their Dutch Baby and an incredulous Bob is unable to muster much of a fight as he’s still reeling from the blow. They get the car unstuck and return home to find Teddy had tipped over the fridge and made a general mess of things in the house. He’s less concerned with his own safety and more concerned with why Bob never opened his Christmas card. He insists Bob open the card before freeing him. It’s a cat and it says “Meowy Christmas” and the episode ends with “Jingle in the Jungle” during the closing credits.
There’s no write-up that can be done for an episode of Bob’s Burgers that does it justice. A lot of the humor is situational relying on the timing of the voice actors and animation to make a successful joke. There’s tons of little one-liners through-out, mostly from the kids, and the sequences with Teddy on his own are pretty entertaining as he basically thinks out loud the whole time. I mostly enjoy the episode though because it’s really entertaining as an episode of Bob’s Burgers while also injecting a little Christmas spirit without sacrificing anything. The kids don’t really learn anything and no one feels obligated to apologize to Bob for not believing him about the truck, and for making him go on an ultimately fruitless quest for a third tree on Christmas Eve. The night was basically ruined, though the Belcher family, except Bob, seems immune to feeling any kind of lingering depression. They take things in stride, mostly due to their very optimistic matriarch, so it’s hard to actually be mad at them for how they put their father through hell.
“Christmas in the Car” will almost certainly be shown at least once this season on Cartoon Network’s adult swim programming block (Update: December 21 at 10 PM on Cartoon Network). Bob’s Burgers routinely airs at 10 and 10:30 each nice and adult swim is very good about unloading a ton of Christmas specials as the holiday approaches. Otherwise, you can stream it in various places (for a fee) or pick up Season 4 of Bob’s Burgers on home media.