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Dec. 12 – King of the Hill – “The Unbearable Blindness of Laying”

Original air date December 21, 1997

After yesterday’s horrid feature, I feel that today calls for a Christmas special that’s actually good. And in order to satisfy that desire, I’m heading for Arlen, Texas for our first look at a special from the animated sitcom, King of the Hill. Back when King of the Hill premiered on the Fox Network in 1997, creator Mike Judge was basically known for one thing: Beavis and Butt-Head. The dimwitted pair of Gen-Xers were often misunderstood by the general public. Most saw it as a stupid show and not as the parody it was. That was also partly due to kids like me watching the show and actually viewing the titular duo in a positive light. If they liked a band or music video, then it must be cool, even though the whole premise of the show was that these were a pair of losers worthy of mocking.

The lazy way to describe the premise of King of the Hill is to say Judge took his character Tom Anderson from Beavis and Butt-Head and gave him his own show, only now he had a new name: Hank Hill. And while the two characters certainly share a similar voice, King of the Hill is very much a conventional sitcom about how one family continues to adapt to an ever-changing world. It’s surprisingly open-minded as I think most turn to Hank Hill as some sort of beacon for conservative thought, but the man is far more nuanced than just some redneck Texan. He certainly possesses some prejudice and strong opinions on masculine matters, but he often reacts in a positive manner when he’s shown his point of view is wrong. And the things he remains stubborn on, like the virtues of propane or his preference for beer, are often inconsequential.

King of the Hill was pretty successful from the get-go. It premiered in May of 1997 with the usual small order of episodes for a first season, but was quickly picked up. The second season would premiere a mere four months after the series premiere and it’s in that second season the show would give us its first Christmas episode. “The Unbearable Blindness of Laying” is a pretty funny episode and it might be the show’s best Christmas episode. I know a lot of people like the Season Three episode “Pretty, Pretty, Dresses” and maybe we can look at that one next year, but I’m still pretty attached to this one. This episode is yet another episode of the show where Hank is forced to adapt to a pretty significant change in his world. His mother, long since divorced from his father, is going to show up for Christmas with a new man in tow. And to make things just a bit more complicated, he’s Jewish. Hank isn’t an anti-semite or anything, but he’s often awkward when forced to deal with something he’s unaccustomed to. I also wanted to pick this episode because it features a guest starring role from the late Carl Reiner, who was unfortunately one of 2020’s victims. It’s hard to feel bad for someone who passed away at the ripe old age of 98, but 2020 was such a shitty year that it would have been nice if Reiner could have made it to 2021.

The episode begins with a twangy, instrumental, rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which is the perfect song to choose considering what the plot has in store for us today. All of the folks in the neighborhood are out stringing lights in celebration of the coming holiday. As a denizen of the north eastern part of the US, it’s always a little funny for me to see Christmas in a warm environment. Hank (Judge) is finishing up with his lights when wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy) approaches. Hank is making sure the colored lights are in their proper order as Peggy questions why he’s not excited to see his mother. Hank corrects her that he is excited to see her, it’s been two years since they were last together, but he’s nervous about meeting her new boyfriend.

Hank’s memory of how his father treated his mother.

As Peggy and Hank wait for Hank’s mother, Tilly (Tammy Wynette), at the airport gate, Peggy tries to get Hank to warm up to seeing his mom with a new man. Hank is clearly traumatized from his youth when his father treated his mother like a footrest. We even get a cut-away of Cotton Hill (Toby Huss) literally using Tilly as a footrest in the kitchen while she scrubs the floor. He can’t imagine why she would sign-up for more of the same as he apparently can’t fathom his mother finding a man who treats her well. Tilly then emerges from the the connecting tunnel carrying two pieces of luggage which irritates Hank immediately. Tilly then shakes his hand, two-handed style, which unnerves Hank who is not one for public displays of affection as he tells his mother one-hand only.

The Hills meet Gary.

Tilly’s boyfriend then comes strolling in from the restroom (“You flush it and where does it go?”) and goes right into a much bigger display of affection. Reiner voices him as the stereotypical old Jewish man, which makes sense since Reiner himself is an old Jewish man. He embraces Peggy and kisses her cheek and goes for a big hug with Hank. Hank is clearly unnerved, but Tilly’s boyfriend, Gary Kasner, isn’t going to back down or allow Hank’s obvious discomfort to sway him.

At the Hill residence, Hank informs his mother and Gary of the expected sleeping arrangements. Gary is to sleep on a cot in son Bobby’s room, which prompts Tilly to ask if Hank is uncomfortable with she and Gary sleeping together. Hank assures her it never entered his mind until she said something, and now he can’t possibly think of anything else as he heads down the hall to presumably setup the cot.

When times get rough, turn to your buds and suds.

Outside, Hank drinks beer with the rest of the nieghborhood: Dale (Johnny Hardwick), Bill (Stephen Root), and Boomhauer (Judge). Hank is venting about Gary, and when he says the man’s full name Dale questions if he’s German. Hank corrects him that he’s Jewish, and there’s an awkward silence before Dale demonstrates that he’s surprisingly receptive. Hank is mostly suspicious of the guy because of the luggage thing and the fact that he won’t eat steak after having a bypass, noting his boss gets an annual bypass and eats steak every day! This gets Bill and Dale discussing sacred animals to certain faiths, prompted by Bill first mistakenly thinking cows were sacred to Jews, ending with Bill rationalizing that he can’t follow a religion that restricts his diet. There are ways to get into Heaven, but if that’s one of them then Bill wants no part of it!

Bobby, the budding comedian, finds a role model of sorts in Gary.

Inside the house, Gary and Bobby (Pamela Adlon) are getting ready for bed as Gary will be sleeping on a cot in Bobby’s room. Bobby notes that he and Gary have the same build, which feels like the start of a subplot where Bobby and Gary become kindred spirits. Gary agrees with Bobby’s assessment and Bobby asks him if he’s a war hero like his biological grandfather. Gary replies he’s not, though he spent a lot of time on a submarine in Korea which prompts Bobby to ask about toilets on a submarine. Gary laughs and remarks, “You, I like.” Bobby has apparently never heard anyone phrase “I like you,” in such a manner and concludes it’s funnier to say it that way, but in a very nonchalant, deadpan, manner. It also causes Bobby to think everyone from Arizona, where Gary and Tilly traveled from, speaks like Gary.

Hank is then shown tossing and turning in bed. Apparently, he is so bothered by the presence of Gary it’s affecting his sleep, even though he successfully managed to get Gary and his mom into separate rooms. We see time pass from 11:00 to 1:20 and at that point Hank gets up. In the living room (or den, or whatever) he finds Gary sitting on the couch eating something he found. Gary is happy to see Hank as he wants to know what this “delicious cutlet” he’s eating is. Hank tells him it’s chicken-fried steak and Gary suggests he’ll count it under chicken, since he’s allowed to eat that. He then tells Hank to sit down and suggests they have a talk.

Hank’s “favorite” TV program.

Hank, obviously a bit uneasy about this situation, does as suggested and takes a seat beside Gary. Gary starts by saying Hank’s mother means a lot to him and begins to weave a tale about lonliness in the senior years that Hank cuts off quite quickly by turning on the TV. He tells Gary his favorite “program” is on and what comes on is some TV preacher curing hiccups. Now it’s Gary’s turn to be uncomfortable as he asks Hank, rather carefully, if he believes in this stuff and Hank is fully committed to the lie to get Gary to shut up as he insists he’s not to be disturbed while watching his favorite program.

Love is in the air.

The next morning, the Hills are getting ready to go watch middle school basketball. Bobby is annoying Hank with his “Arizona speak” while Luanne (Brittany Murphy) is insistent they get there before tip-off so she knows which basket belongs to which team. Hank asks his mother if she wants to come along, but she declines. The Hills leave and Gary pops into the kitchen. The sight of Tilly in her robe has Gary feeling a bit frisky after spending the night apart and Tilly seems receptive to his advances.

Oh, my!

In the car, Hank asks Peggy if she remembered to bring the novelty foam finger for the game. She replies in the affirmative, but Hanks keeps escalating the questions: “Does it say number one on it?” “Yes, Hank.” “The basketball one?” “Ugh.” Hank turns the car around because this finger is obviously very important to the middle school basketball game experience. When Hank gets back in the house, he finds the finger on the couch, but hears an odd noise coming from the kitchen. He remarks to himself (in his head) that it sounds like the dryer is on, but his mother’s robe and Gary’s pajamas have been strewn about in the living room. Hank then peers into the kitchen and a look of horror spreads across his face. We’re then “treated” to numerous close-ups and cuts of two, old, wrinkly, bodies going to Pound Town. We see Gary’s USS Trout II tattoo, his pacemaker scar, lots of veins, a few smiles, with the camera lingering on a medical alert bracelet which glistens in the morning sunlight.

Hank backs away from the scene, shaking. His pupils have retreated from each other and we then see Hank’s perspective as the den starts to fade away into nothing. Hank stumbles outside groping for the car. He gets in and tries to start it up, but fumbles the keys. Peggy then realizes her husband is blind! Bobby, ever the comedian, uses this as an opportunity to try out some Gary-speak with a “Blind, he’s gone now!”

Hank’s googly eyes on display.

Hank and Peggy visit an optometrist who concludes that there’s nothing wrong with Hank’s eyes and it doesn’t appear as if he’s had a stroke. He then accusingly asks Hank if he poked himself in the eye, and Hank is adamant he did not. At this point, one of Hank’s pupils is looking down and the other is looking up which is a distracting, but funny, visual that will persist for the remainder of the episode. Peggy is a bit delirious and starts demanding the doctor use some of the fancy machinery she sees all around them to fix Hank’s eyes, even insisting he use some laser in the corner. The doctor says “All right,” but Hank shouts over him. It’s a line delivered with such subtlety that I missed it the first time I watched the scene. Hank then asks if it’s possible to lose your sight after seeing something terrible. The doctor then talks about hysterical blindness and gives a couple of books on the subject to Peggy. He then tells Hank the only way to cure it is to confront what he saw, then adding in a line about when Hank is ready to admit he poked himself that he should come back and get fixed right up.

On the car ride home, Peggy confronts Hank about what he saw. Hank says he can’t tell her lest he lose his voice. Peggy keeps prodding and Hank finally relents. He can barely get it out, but he tells her he saw his mother and Gary in a compromising position. Peggy initially laughs at him, then tells him to get over it referring to him as a big baby. Hank tells her it’s not that easy then asks her how she’d feel if she saw her mother in the arms of a 65 year old man wearing nothing but a submarine tattoo on the kitchen table? Peggy then turns dark and angrily says “I eat breakfast on that table.”

When the two get home, Gary, Tilly, and Bobby are waiting out on the lawn. Hank says he poked his eye and it should get better. When his mom asks “What about the other eye?” he makes up a story about the other eye compensating for the damaged one by shutting down. Gary is confused and remarks he never read about a sympathetic eye condition in any of his psychology magazines which prompts Hank to suggest he read the Ten Commandments. Only Hank is gesturing to a wall and confusing Gary. When he asks “You want I should come over there?” Bobby lets out a chuckle as he picks up more “Arizona speak.”

Lady Bird! No!

In the house, the boys are over watching TV and plenty eager to give Hank a hard time about poking his eye. Hank is wearing the foam finger still as that’s now his guide when he walks around. Bill is really laying into Hank, only his zingers are terrible. He makes a “ring ring” sound and tells Hank the phone is for him and hands him his boot. Hank tries to score one on Bill by throwing the boot back at him, but misses. And worse for Hank, he was holding onto the dog’s, Lady Bird, leash and she bolts after the shoe.

In the kitchen, Bobby and his grandma are rolling dough for cookies when Peggy walks in on them. She freaks out seeing the two prepare cookies on the now defiled table and sweeps everything off of it. Tilly lets out a “Peggy!” while Peggy just starts washing the table and matter-of-factly asks if anyone wants to make cookies.

Poor Hank is then shown shaving, and being a real Texas man he uses a blade, and he’s impossibly bad at blind shaving. He manages to shave off a sideburn and nick his face before giving up. He puts some toilet paper on his cut face, only he doesn’t tare it off of the roll so when he stumbles out he has a rather long trail following him. He notices it and lets out a sigh, then tells Jesus that what he really wants for Christmas is his sight back. He then adds he’d like a wrench set too, but that’s more for Santa. Gary witnesses the whole ordeal and has a rather sad expression on his face.

That poor tree is unaware of the danger it’s in.

Later that morning the family is celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. Bobby blows out the candles and everyone claps while Hank is kept in the dark over by the tree. He then takes it upon himself to do his usual task of handing out the presents. He picks up the first one and asks if anyone requested something “square” from Santa. He then tosses it in the general direction of everyone saying it’s for Bobby. Of course it’s not and Luanne sees it’s for her and tries to get it from her cousin’s grasp, but Bobby insists it’s now his. He opens it to find a nightgown and indicates he’ll enjoy wearing it when he’s older. Hank then reaches for another one and ends up pulling the tree out from under itself.

The family is then shown seated on the floor beside the repaired tree as Gary hands out the gifts he and Tilly brought. Peggy gets a book about comedians and when she shouts to Hank we see he’s seated in the corner by himself, apparently asleep, though Peggy’s yell wakes him. Gary then says they got another mink coat for Hank and he and Bobby share a laugh. Gary does apologize as he assumes the bit is getting old, suggesting this has been going on for awhile, and Hank sarcastically thanks him for turning his holiday into a Woody Allen picture. He then stands up and says he’ll wait in the truck until it’s time for Peggy to drive him to his dad’s house for Christmas dinner. As he stumbles out the door with his foam finger, Peggy assures Gary that Hank didn’t mean what he said. She then heads outside to confront him, only to find Hank with his foot stuck in a bucket. She tells him he needs to go back inside and face what he saw if he wants to get his sight back. Hank is in no mood and just replies by asking if she’s going to take him to his dad’s now.

I think most viewers expected it would come to this.

We cut to the truck on the road and Hank is relieved to be out of that house away from his mom and Gary. Naturally, this is when we find out that Peggy isn’t driving, but Gary. Hank is rightly confused when Gary responds by asking where they’re going. Hank demands he pull over so he can ride in the bed of the truck, but Gary insists he’ll be more comfortable in the cabin. He then narrates what they’re seeing as Hank gets progressively more and more agitated until he’s literally shouting “Shut up.” To Gary’s credit, none of this phases him as he’s determined to get Hank out of this funk.

The pair eventually arrive at Cotton Hill’s (Toby Huss) home in Houston. When Cotton answers the door he says “You’re late.” Hank says it’s good to hear his dad’s voice, and this time I think he’s serious since he’s probably sick of hearing Gary’s. Cotton asks if he’s still blind, and then slugs Hank in the gut for confirmation. “Either you’re still blind or slow. I’d believe both.” He turns his attention to Gary, and Hank refers to him as his driver. Gary gives Cotton his name, and Cotton reacts angrily to the name “Kasner.” At least he sounds angry, but he always does. He then says “Happy Hanukkah,” and tells Gary he served with one of his “tribe” in the pacific. He says his name was Brooklyn and asks Gary if he knows him. A bit confused, Gary says “I know a Brooks….stein,” which is good enough for Cotton who insists that’s the guy!

Cotton tells Hank they need to go get a tree. Hank tries to place his hand on his dad’s shoulder as a guide, but Cotton rebuffs him, “I didn’t fight off a horny bunker full of privates so you could cop a feel!” They aren’t going far anyway, as Cotton just grabs his shotgun and shoots down a skinny little tree in his yard.

Old shin-less Cotton is one of the show’s funniest characters. The writing is good, but what really makes him work is the performance of voice actor, Toby Huss.

Inside, Hank and Cotton are eating what looks like TV dinners. Hank is trying to talk about the holidays in a nostalgic manner, but no one cares. Cotton instead tries to make small talk with Gary, which is how he finds out that Gary is seeing Tilly. Cotton is surprised to find out anyone would want Tilly in a sexual manner, remarking she was too old for him when he got rid of her. He thinks he’s being helpful by telling Gary she’s spent, but Gary stands up for his woman and insists he doesn’t talk about her like that under penalty of getting his ass kicked! Cotton may be a piece of shit, but he has an odd moral code about him. He respects Gary for standing up for his woman and announces he’s backing down from a physical confrontation, though he does slip in a “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Gary then tells Hank he’ll wait for him in the truck.

Gary is shown in the truck as Hank stumbles out the front door. He gets out of the truck to help Hank to the passenger side door and tells him he didn’t have to leave early on his account. As the two pause to hear Cotton screaming for his eggnog, Hank sighs and says, “No problem.”

I can’t get enough of Hank’s blind eyes.

The two pull off the highway and Hank remarks they can’t be home yet. Gary says he’s taking him somewhere to get his eyes fixed. Hank tells him he’s already seen a doctor, but Gary corrects him by saying they aren’t talking medicine, they’re talking faith. Hank gets uncomfortable as Gary leads him into a building, worried his god will be angry with him if he sees him in another god’s temple. Gary tells him he’s not taking him to a temple, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, they’re seeing the televangelist Hank insisted hosted his favorite show. Gary confesses he knows how Hank lost his sight, and while he’s not flattered that he made Hank go blind, he’s understanding. Hank then finally realizes where they are when he hears the preacher’s voice.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas here?

The preacher (uncredited, but it sounds like Toby Huss) is giving a sermon about Jesus working on his birthday as he surveys the crowd. Hank, even though he doesn’t actually like this church, is touched that Gary would do something nice for him, even though he’s been a jerk to Gary. Gary tells Hank he did it for his mother, because he’s fond of her. Hank then allows himself to suggest maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world for his mom to be involved with Gary. Gary gets a big, dopey, grin at the sound of that and poor Hank can’t see the incoming hug until it’s too late. He reacts with his usual gasp. He then returns the hug, though only one-handed.

The blindness fades, and old Gary comes into view.

The preacher continues his sermon and states that Jesus can heal the blind. Gary calls out to him to heal Hank and the guy saunters on over. When he asks Gary if Hank is his son, we get the sappy, predictable, “I’d like to think, maybe one day,” and Hank returns the gesture with a slightly less enthusiastic, but still mostly warm “I guess that’s an all right way of thinking.” Then, just like magic, Hank’s vision returns and he even smiles when Gary comes into focus as the priest winds up to smack the blindness away. Hank catches him by the wrist and proclaims he can see! The preacher of course takes all of the credit.

Bill never stood a chance.

As Hank and Gary pull up to Hank’s house, the boys are waiting outside. Dale calls out, “Hey Hank, how’s the weather? Oh wait, you’re blind!” continuing their poor performance in shit-slinging. Bill adds a “Hey Hank, you’re not wearing any pants.” As the two chuckle, Boomhauer is the only one to take notice of Hank emerging from the pickup with a rather large stick in his hand. “He’s got his sight, man, run!” The three scatter as Hank chases after them, easily shoving Bill to the ground, as the credits roll to an instrumental, twangy, rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” We’re then treated to an additional scene during the credits in which Hank declares this the best Christmas ever. It’s mostly a vehicle though for Carl Reiner to make food munching noises as Gary gives Bobby advice on how to mix foods and reasons it’s okay for him to eat so much since it’s Christmas. The last line is the cliché “Are you gonna eat that?” from Gary.

The logical ending.

This is an entertaining Christmas special, and it even throws in some genuine sentimentality to please the Christmas traditionalists out there. I like how the episode tries to setup its southern cast for a bigoted, anti-Semitic, reaction on a few occasions, but instead uses dramatic pauses to make a different joke each time. Bobby mistaking Gary’s Jewish-isms as “Arizona Speech” is also pretty funny, and as a B-plot it only exists for a couple of quick jokes and isn’t meant to steal the spotlight from the main plot.

And the main plot of Hank losing his sight due to seeing his mother getting nailed on his kitchen table is a pretty damn funny way to go about telling a Christmas story. A lot of Hank’s reactions to the actual business are rather predictable, but Mike Judge’s performance as Hank is still so humorous and straight that it works. I was surprised by how far the animators took that particular scene as it’s almost gratuitous, but it also adds to both the humor and the horror for Hank. Gary is a character that’s easy to write since he’s basically a stereotype, but Carl Reiner brings a genuine warmth to him which helps sell it. Admittedly though, I’m a little tired of Gary by the time this thing ends. And to top it off, we get a little dose of Cotton in this one too. He is repulsively funny, and his brief appearance might be the funniest sequence of the episode, outside of the sex scene.

I do enjoy those exterior Christmas shots.

Ultimately, this is a funny Christmas episode of a well-made sitcom. It wisely doesn’t try to force the other characters into the plot in any meaningful way preferring to keep the story focused on Hank and his predicament. It’s a good enough episode that I’m a bit remorseful that Cartoon Network no longer airs King of the Hill. The show does air on some cable networks, but the easiest way to see this episode is to stream it on Hulu. It’s also available on DVD, and unlike yesterday’s Christmas feature, it is worth a watch this holiday season.


Dec. 7 – Bob’s Burgers – “Father of the Bob”

 

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“Father of the Bob” originally aired on December 7, 2014. And as always, there was a delightful Christmas pun in the title sequence.

Bob’s Burgers has somewhat quietly become the best animated show on the Fox Network. Better than the modern version of The Simpsons, and better than Family Guy. It might be the ugliest of the three, but it more than makes up for that with its characters and plots. Bob’s Burgers looks like just another animated sitcom about a family of five on the surface:  the Belchers are short on money, but not on problems. Where the show really separates itself is that it’s never really operated like a conventional sitcom. The members of the family all get along and seem to like each other. There are very few plots centered on conflicts within the family. Rarely do parents Bob and Linda need to discipline the kids or worry about their performance at school. And all three kids are quite weird, and yet no one in the family pokes fun at each other. Well, the kids do point out Bob’s flaws at times, but it’s often in an observational manner as opposed to trying to make him feel bad about himself. This is a family that is incredibly tolerant of each other, almost to a fault as Bob can be a push-over. They rarely say “I love you,” to each other, but it’s obvious that they do in a very natural way that just doesn’t need stating.

 

And, of course, the show is incredibly funny. It’s also incredibly dedicated to holiday themed episodes in a way that few shows are. Every season you can almost guarantee there will be a Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas episode. Sometimes the holiday is just sort of happening in the background, which it kind of is in today’s episode, and other times it’s very much the focus of the episode. It’s certainly great for a website like this one so don’t be surprised if Bob’s Burgers ends up showing up here on an annual basis as well.

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This episode is going to take us back in time more than once.

“Father of the Bob” is actually one of the more melodramatic episodes in the show’s history. It contains a plot revolving around Bob and his father, Big Bob, and how the two struggle to get along with each other. It’s one of the more conventional plots the show has done when compared with its contemporaries, but it still finds ways to impart its unique brand of humor to the story and it largely utilizes the kids to do so.

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A young Bob crafts his first gimmick burger.

The episode opens with a flashback to thirty years prior. On a snowy Christmas, a young Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) is handling grill duties while his dad is at a doctor’s appointment. He’s talking to the burger as he personifies it with a high-pitched voice, something he will carry with him to adulthood. He then presents his burger to patron Henry (Carl Reiner). He dubs it the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger as it has chives and little fried pickles for wheels, making it simulate a car. Fellow patrons Max (Jordan Peele) and Pete (Nick Offerman) look on as Henry decides if he wants to eat this thing as he had ordered his usual:  a tuna melt. As he looks it over, Big Bob (Bill Hader) returns from his appointment and we find out it was for a prostate exam. His remark, “So that’s what a prostate exam is,” is met with a “I think it’s fun if it’s a surprise!” from Max reminding me that there’s almost no way I can capture all of the good lines that are going to be featured here.

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Little Bob presents his masterpiece to Henry, the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger.

Big Bob takes notice of the unusual burger being presented to Henry. As Bob enthusiastically describes it to his dad, Big Bob just looks disgusted. He seems even more irritated when he finds out Henry ordered his usual, but Bob tries to tell Henry he’ll like this. Big Bob reminds him you don’t tell the customer what he wants, but Henry suggests he’s willing to try this and thinks it looks okay. Big Bob then immediately makes a hypocrite of himself by telling Henry he doesn’t want that burger and tells him he wants a tuna melt. He dumps the burger into the trash and remarks that’s the last time he leaves Little Bob in charge.

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Turns out, this isn’t a happy Christmas memory.

In the present, it’s Christmas Eve and the family has been invited to Bob’s father’s annual Christmas party taking place at his restaurant, Big Bob’s Diner. Bob is reluctant to attend, but the family hasn’t been in seven years so he feels obligated to do so. The problem is he and his dad can only seem to co-exist for 15 minutes before things inevitably take a turn for the worse. As he explains this phenomena to Teddy (Larry Murphy), while the kids pray to Santa, we see a montage of times when 15 minutes elapsed and Big Bob said something condescending to his son. Linda (John Roberts) poo-poos him and is ever the optimist insisting that the magic of Christmas will bring them together, but Bob insists they only stay for 15 minutes and then get out of there.

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In the present, Bob has upped his game and worked Christmas puns into his gimmick burgers.

As the family drives over, the kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) all find out via discussion that none of them have secured a Christmas present for their father. They’re obviously running out of time and need to think of something fast. Their hope is that their grandfather might be able to bail them out in some way.

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Santa Pete is the first to welcome the Belchers to Big Bob’s holiday party.

As the family enters Big Bob’s Diner we’re introduced to Big Bob himself. He looks like an older, heavier, version of Bob and seems to be a rather low key kind of guy. He gives the kids their expected five dollars each, and Louise whispers in his ear they have an arts and crafts emergency brewing and Big Bob tells her they’re welcomed to nose around in the basement for stuff and the three head down there. Bob and his dad struggle to make small talk and it soon becomes apparent that Big Bob is understaffed, what with it being Christmas Eve and all. Linda thinks this is an excellent opportunity for the two Bobs to have a heart to heart and she insists that Bob help his dad out in the kitchen. Bob is extremely reluctant to do so, but he’s too good a person not to help his dad out or he just can’t say “No” to his wife.

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Christmas seems to have a lot of baggage for the Bobs.

We’re then a shown a Christmas from 20 years ago. A bunch of patrons are in the diner and Big Bob is preparing to give his son his Christmas present. He has something under a sheet, and he calls for Little Bob to come into the dining room. As he does, he looks really on edge as his dad goes into a little speech. He tells him from now on the diner will be Bob & Son’s diner and he shows him a piece of the new sign, which is still unfinished. As he shows him menus and goes on and on Little Bob says “No” to the offer. Big Bob can hardly believe it, and Little Bob unloads about how he could never work for his dad and that he won’t ever let him change the menu. The restaurant patrons are all really uncomfortable, and Big Bob eventually tells him to get out. As Bob storms out, he tries to come up with a new gimmick burger to mark the occasion, but isn’t satisfied with any of the stuff he’s thinking of on the spot.

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Bob awkwardly discussing the items in the kitchen with his pops.

As the Bobs settle in, Linda helps with waitressing though she clearly has no idea what the layout of the restaurant is and is forced to just call out orders to see who claims them. In the basement, the kids are rummaging through their grandfather’s stuff and trying to figure out a present for their dad. Tina seems to think she can turn her grandfather’s desk chair into something neat, while Gene decides to make drums out of some cans of beans. Louise proposes they have a competition to see who can make their dad the best present. It’s to be called the Missile-Tonies.

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A bean bath – why not?

Upstairs, the clock is ticking as Bob struggles to make small talk with his dad stumbling into an awkward discussion about range hoods. Downstairs, Tina finishes her chair present which just has a bunch of stuff taped to it. She’s rather proud of herself and dishes on her siblings. Louise seems to be unnerved by Tina’s bragging as she constructs a pyramid out of mouse traps. Meanwhile, Gene has lost focus. He emptied the bean cans into a cardboard box initially to make his drum kit sound better, but now he’s decided he just wants to bathe in the beans. He strips down to his underwear and climbs in requesting some sliced ham for his eyes.

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Things are not going well.

In the kitchen, the clock ticks 15, and Bob begins to panic and is trying to make his escape. Right on cue, his dad takes a look at the order slip Bob just finished and asks if it’s supposed to be grilled cheese, because it looks like his son prepared burnt toast. His passive aggressive approach would drive any son mad over time. As Bob tries to leave, Linda sticks her head into the window to see how things are going and Big Bob sarcastically responds they’re learning how to make grilled cheese forcing Little Bob to laugh awkwardly. Linda tells them Henry has ordered the usual, which sets Little Bob off. He declares he’s going to make Henry the burger his dad tossed out when he was 14. Big Bob declares he won’t allow any gimmick burgers in his restaurant, and then he critiques his son’s pantomime of driving a car.

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And they’re only getting worse.

As the Bobs each prepare their meal for Henry, the kids hit a snag in the basement. Tina’s chair has too much stuff taped to it and falls over, knocking over Louise’s structure of mousetraps. Gene’s box breaks open and out come the beans (and according to Gene, a small amount of pee) all over the place. Out of options, Louise instructs Tina to find a gift fast and she settles on a snowglobe. Louise pulls some newspaper out of her grandpa’s desk to use as wrapping paper and this will have to do.

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Linda tries to conjure up some Christmas magic through song, but it isn’t working.

Upstairs, Linda refuses to serve Henry either Bob invention. She instead implores the restaurant customers to sing, but no one is having it. Both Bobs decide to present their food personally as they elbow each other out of the kitchen and place their plates before Henry. The poor old man is obviously confused and conflicted. He doesn’t want to get dragged into this fight between father and son, nor does he want to upset either of them. He’s struggling to find a solution that will placate both, but it becomes obvious that won’t happen. Ultimately, he’s lured in by Little Bob’s creation and takes a bite. He loves it, and as Bob gloats before his dad. A sullen and defeated Big Bob removes his apron and plays the guilt card. He unenthusiastically thanks Bob and Linda for coming to his party as he quietly leaves the restaurant.

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Poor Henry is caught in the middle and he can’t resist the call of Bob’s burger.

Bob isn’t quite ready to stop savoring his victory, but the patrons of the restaurant aren’t too happy with him. Bob realizes he needs to do something as his kids emerge from the basement and Gene is still covered in beans. Linda urges Bob to go after his father, who has ducked into the gay bar across the street. She insists she can handle the orders and the kids will help out, and Bob is forced to relent when the kids give him his present. The newspaper they chose as wrapping paper ended up being a review of Bob’s Burgers his dad kept downstairs. It was the first ever review for the young restaurant (it was a rather neutral review) and Bob is touched and surprised his dad had kept it. Pete, who owns the bar next door, then comes in his Santa suit with a cowboy hat. He instructs Bob to put it on and come with him.

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When a Santa presents you a cowboy hat and commands you to come, you come.

Bob finds his dad alone at the bar in a cowboy hat. He sits down beside him and tries to apologize, but his dad isn’t particularly interested in conversation. He flees his son to the dance floor and Bob gets a lesson in boot-scooting from Pete and joins his father. He then starts to ask his dad what he’s doing here, and he explains he always comes here for line dancing. Before Bob can finish his next question, Big Bob assures his son he’s not gay, he just likes dancing and hanging out with his friends. Big Bob relentlessly points out how badly his son is dancing, and Bob uses that to segue into an explanation for why he blew up earlier. He’s sick of his dad always criticizing him. He apologizes though for blowing up at him, in the past and tonight. He shouldn’t have embarrassed his dad like that in front of his customers, and he sounds genuinely sorry. He thought his dad never supported him, until his kids found the review he had kept. Big Bob admits he’s a tough person to get along with, and the two more or less reconcile before heading back over to the diner.

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A defeated Big Bob wants no part of a conversation with his son.

As they stand outside they watch Linda and the kids taking charge of the situation. Big Bob tells his son he has good kids; weird, happy, kids. He also tells his son that he’s a good father, and Bob seems genuinely touched. They then go to enter the restaurant, but Gene and Louise have locked the door and taunt the two. Tina, being the elder daughter, unlocks the door and lets them in. Linda is happy to see the two have reconciled declaring it Christmas magic and the other patrons are happy to see the two. Big Bob wishes everyone a merry Christmas and the episode ends with Linda’s “Christmas Magic” song she’s been going into and out of all episode.

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Those Belcher kids and their schemes.

“Father of the Bob” is a simple, effective, Christmas episode. It doesn’t necessarily have a special message, but it tells a tale of how a son can feel unappreciated by his father and shows how that can come to a head. Bob was basically in the right to reject his father’s offer of partnership, and right to be angry with him over the gimmick burger, but blowing up and publicly embarrassing him was probably the wrong way to go about it. It’s certainly not the way to do things if you want to continue to have a positive relationship with your pops, but these things can happen when a father is tone deaf to his kid’s emotional needs.

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Gene and his beans are possibly the most memorable part of this one.

Bill Hader is pretty great as Big Bob. He brings a gravelly, grumpy, grumble to the role and I almost didn’t recognize his voice. We see how Big Bob is towards Linda and the kids, which is somewhat warm, and that he’s capable of love. He’s just not great at showing it to his son. It helps keep the audience on Little Bob’s side without full-out hating Big Bob. Nick Offerman, Jordan Peele, and Carl Reiner are also great in their roles. Henry’s conflict over which entrée to eat is probably the best scene, while Peele’s Max has some great lines sprinkled throughout. And the kids tend to steal their scenes when involved. Their B plot is simple yet outlandish given the direction they take it with Gene’s bean bath being a funny, yet cringey, moment since someone is going to have to clean that up. The two plots are tied together neatly, and the climax between the Bobs feels authentic as opposed to manufactured.

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Seeing Bob try to figure things out with his pops around the holidays proved compelling, which is something this show doesn’t often try to do.

“Father of the Bob” may be a touch sentimental and melancholy, but it’s quietly become one of my favorite Christmas specials. I think I still prefer the prior season’s Christmas special, “Christmas in the Car” (which I covered 2 years ago), a little better, but this one is right there. It helps that there’s plenty of Christmas imagery in the episode, so even if it never gets to the actual holiday it still feels like a true Christmas special.

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A hopeful image accompanies the credits.

“Father of the Bob” will likely be shown on Adult Swim more than once this season along with most of the other Christmas specials from Bob’s Burgers. You can also stream the series on Hulu, or purchase the episode as part of season five on physical media or by itself digitally. In short, this is a rather easy one to catch and it’s definitely worth your time to do so this year.

 


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