Since I can’t spend Thanksgiving with my flesh-and-blood family this year, I'm leaning heavier on the Belchers than usual for comfort. The Bob’s Burgers Thanksgiving episodes are as much of a personal tradition as Macy’s New York City parade. Between Wonder Wharf’s Planet Of The Apes recreation but with winged creatures, corrupt Deputy Mayors, and Bob’s borderline unhealthy addiction, arousal, relationship - all valid - with his feast ingredients, there’s never a dry moment or missed dad-pun opportunity. Even better? Creator Loren Bouchard makes you feel right at home with the Belchers, who always find the “dysfunctional” in “family,” and yet, never skip a beat when representing their love languages, wholesomeness, and very own peculiar but touchstone ways of giving thanks.
8. “I Bob Your Pardon”
Throughout the Bob’s Burgers Thanksgiving episodes, turkeys are mostly illustrated as browned tabletop delicacies (except Cyclops, he’s a bruiser). In “I Bob Your Pardon,” the Belchers choose to expose their local government’s faux-pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey that’s still en route to a slaughterhouse. Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) just wants to purchase fresh cranberries after the ceremony, but Louise (Kristen Schaal), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Tina (Dan Mintz) team up with mid-tier journalist Ralph (Rob Huebel) to save “Drew P. Neck” from a beheaded fate. It works, we get to see a double-butted goat, and Bob’s family even learns a lesson about the importance of words (for example, you can’t pardon an already-cooked turkey).
Plus, "I Bob Your Pardon" will always be known as the one where Bob can’t keep his cool in a cranberry bog.
In a unique turn of events, the Belchers are allowed to eat Thanksgiving dinner twice in one holiday. It’s a privilege that’s earned, since Teddy (Larry Murphy) calls hours before Turkey Day in flop-sweats since his relatives are now coming over for their yearly November reunion. Bob puts his own meticulous Thanksgiving cookery on hold - bottling his excitement over new exotic brines - so he can set Teddy up for success. However, since this is Teddy we’re talking about, all the pre-prepared dishes still require the Belchers to help their fix-it friend on Thanksgiving after their own tryptophan overdose (which Tina is a “trypto-fan” of). Also, Teddy outs himself as a hoarder, so all the time wasted chucking used thermometers and drained Magic 8-Balls into a dumpster causes Bob to stew over his “lackluster” Belcher dinner. Hence why Bob gets all fired about “Turkey 2: Judgment Day.”
Stockpiled distractions and Teddy’s stress-stench aside, it’s an episode about the perfection we’re forced to achieve when social situations arise and how “family” can have many definitions. Also, Bob sensually massages a turkey and weeps over a “perfect” mouthful of white meat, mashed taters, and gravy since it’s, in his words, not weird to obsess over something that comes once a year.
6. “Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled”
It’s Thanksgiving for everyone but the Europeans, and Gayle (Megan Mullally) is faking a sprained ankle for attention thanks to an ugly breakup with Mr. Frond (David Herman) who, like some playboy, uses the oldest line in the book: “I’m going to my Aunt’s for Thanksgiving.”
Unfortunately, Bob doesn’t find out about Gayle’s imaginary injury before rushing out into a blizzard as her chauffeur. Bob’s vehicle gets snowplowed-in, Gayle boxes her favorite feline (Mr. Jim Business), and Bob drags Gayle on a kiddie pool like some OnlyFans Iditarod-play. Linda (John Roberts) and the kids are in charge of Thanksgiving dinner with Bob MIA, which ends in Hot Fudge Mashed Potatoes and turkey surgery. We’d assume Bob might suffer a stroke over the mangled, stitched-together bird, but he learns a valuable lesson. “Maybe it’s good to be annoyed by your family because that means you have one.”
That and, “You’re you, and that’s something?” This episode is brimming with cut-to-the-chase wisdom. Oh, and Bob fantasizing about Thanksgiving’s “salty and delicious” kiss, could he smooch the holiday.
5. “The Quirk-Ducers”
When Tina gets called “quirky” by Tammy (Jenny Slate) and Jocelyn (John Roberts), she responds by writing erotic holiday fanfic about a “Quirky Turkey” who doesn’t get eaten because she’s different. Louise, hellbent on tanking Mr. Frond’s yearly holiday play to ensure a half-day before Thanksgiving break, convinces Tina to turn her cathartic fantasy into a stage production. Also, Linda sees her grandfather’s face in a potato and reacts, um, rationally? Louise gets her way, loads bloody giblets and gizzards into turkey costumes, then blows messy organ chunks all over the audience to force Mr. Frond into sending everyone home - but realizes sacrificing her big sister’s creative talents doesn’t feel all that great. Cue Louise stalling Mr. Frond, and Tina nailing her finale musical number as she proclaims aloud she’s “got the guts” while chucking messy animal remains at the audience because family, no matter how strange, always comes first.
As per Gene, it’s Carrie meets Gallagher meets Top Chef meets Double Dare!
4. “Now We’re Not Cooking With Gas”
Bob’s legitimate romanticizing of Thanksgiving comes full-force when he finally, after being waitlisted, is privileged to roast the holy grail of Thanksgiving poultry: a Riverbrook Lake Farms Heritage Turkey. Of course, in proper Bob’s Burgers fashion, a gas line leaks and every house on the Belchers’ block has to go without their ovens for this holiday. As a result, Bob snaps and cobbles together a spit out of kitchen furniture and cinder blocks, after carrying a full acted-out conversation with “Popcorn the Turkey” and Riverbrook Lake’s pilgrim mascot. Louise gets to burn trash, Bob connects with his inner caveman, but the fire department threatens their holiday...no more than Bob does by ignoring his family and only caring about his product's quality.
It’s the ultimate climax after multiple seasons where Bob has to focus on everyone else come Thanksgiving, except his realization is that all those mishaps are what make the holidays so memorable because he’s with the ones who love him most. Even if they haven’t been oil-rubbed, slow-charred, and tenderly heated to meaty perfection, rain or blast-hoses be damned.
3. “Turkey In A Can”
A little drama is expected amongst family. Bob’s excitement over his “Father of the Brine” soaking method turns to betrayal when he discovers someone’s sabotaging his pre-cook by stuffing the mid-marinate bird into the toilet each night. Louise receives the immediate blame; tensions run thick. Still, the turkey snatcher cannot thwart Bob’s mouthwatering victory on Thanksgiving - until Bob snoozes in the middle of Gayle and Linda’s “sailors in your mouth” gravy boat song. Bob unconsciously grabs the glistening turkey, marches to the bathroom, and reveals his allergy-medication sleepwalk routine. Bob believes he’s potty-training Tina once again out of fear of her newfound maturation (her arc all episode is to desire a seat at the adult’s table).
Oh, and Bob somehow strikes a mini-relationship with his supermarket's butcher thanks to daily restocks of frozen turkeys in which he confesses he’s “mostly straight,” admits the tattooed meat-man is out of his league, and runs away awkwardly stammering the words “I’ll call you!” A rare Thanksgiving episode where there’s more sexual tension between a human character and Bob than a turkey and Bob.
2. “Dawn Of The Peck”
Start a Bob’s Burgers episode with an homage to Jurassic Park, and how can I not stan? While Linda and the kids attend the Fischoeders’ Turk-tacular Turkey Town Festival for a Turkey Trot with live turkeys and “half-priced rides for full-time fun,” Bob boycotts Thanksgiving while getting day-drunk on whiskey and dancing to Donna Summer. Too bad Felix’s (Zach Galifianakis) decision to procrastinate the turkey farm shipment means a mix of chickens, geese, turkeys, and other now enraged beaked trotters chase joggers who become locked inside the boardwalk to attempt containment. The children find themselves on an egg-scrambler ride for an hour after carnie Mickey (Bill Hader) bails. Teddy plays "hero" by hijacking the Tickle Boat, and Linda asserts her dominance as the top-pecker in the pecking order.
Also, Bob has an intimate moment with a turkey baster in which he cannot deny the implement attention on its most special day, which leads to a hilarious epiphany in which the loungewear-shlubby chef tries to stagger upright, but the spins take over. It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if Bob isn’t showing affection to something inanimate or anthropomorphizing either the night’s meal or his trusty tools.
1. “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”
Bob’s Thanksgiving fixation makes itself first evident when Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) bribes the Belchers with five months’ rent forgiveness if they pose as his family (and cook, in Bob’s case) to entice an ex-fling with a homewrecker fetish. Funny, since a narrative about tearing families apart only brings the Belchers closer together.
In all the ways Bob’s Burgers has amassed and secured its fanbase, the episode is near perfection. Linda squeezes herself into an old bridesmaid’s dress like an “elegant sausage” to play Fischoeder’s wife and serenade his dinner guests with her now-iconic Thanksgiving song. The children compete for tickets based on who can say the sweetest things about Mr. Fischoeder without spoiling their ruse while ignoring Bob’s usual traditions he hoped to sneak into the pretend holiday scheme. Then there’s is-he-pansexual Bob, first teasing and buttering-up chilled turkeys in the grocery store with enough lusty compliments to make Gene mutter, “I hope he gets home before he stuffs it!” Cut to a dejected Bob, drunk on hallucinogenic liquor, conversing with his pre, mid, and post-baked turkey since named Lance, forced into Fischoeder’s kitchen in isolation while his family celebrates with a fraud.
It’s...touching and heartfelt and makes you miss all the weirdness about family dinners that, sure, might seem embarrassing at the time? But then you watch a grown man mourn the “death” of his juicy, perfectly-cooked turkey due to a gunshot wound (long story), his family rallying around, and the Belchers’ brand of wackadoo bonding hits one of its infinite peaks. Thanks to Absinthe, of course. And wine. And the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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