Mar 12, 2013

TV Recap: Bob's Burgers - "Topsy"

Welcome to TV Recap, in which we look at modern shows and analyze them on an episode-to-episode basis. This one focuses on the cartoon sitcom Bob's Burgers, a very funny show that is capable of rivaling old school Simpsons in terms of irreverent humor and off the wall zaniness. With a cast of modern alternative comedian heroes, the story follows the Belchers as they run a burger joint. Join me as I take part in dissecting the show in its first full season. Check back on Tuesdays for the next exciting installment.

After a great episode last week parodying E.T., the gang is back to their absurd antics at Wagstaff School. It has been awhile since we last checked in on them in the education facility, and this week, it may be polarizing for reasons different than mysterious pooping or ugly girls having a crush on Gene. It may hit a note closer to the popular collective and help to separate Bob's Burgers from other shows. This week, in "Topsy," they will kill the sacred cow that is Thomas Edison with an episode that chooses to prove why he was a bad man. Is this cutting edge, or does the show create too much of a sympathetic approach to untouched fodder?
The episode begins with the Belchers around the breakfast table. Gene (Eugene Mirman) is playing around with his sound effects piano while Louise (Kristen Schaal) pulls out her paper mache volcano, claiming that she is entering it into her science fair for the second year in a row. She figured that her teacher will not care. However, this is quickly ruined when a substitute teacher named Mr. Dinkler (Mark Proksh) takes over the science class and fair and denounces anyone who turns in volcanoes, as he feels that they are juvenile. This immediately gets Louise all annoyed, as she now assigned a project on Thomas Edison.
This sends the Belcher kids into the library where with the assistance of a librarian (Billy Eichner), they learn about something called "Topsy." What is Topsy? After brief research, the kids discover that it is an elephant that Edison electrocuted for his science experiment. Louise, growing with glee, decides to use this as fodder for a revenge project against Dinkler. She decides to make a team to perform an elaborate song number in which they glorify Edison's romance with Topsy. The music is composed by Gene, the elephant played by Tina (Dan Mintz), the technical aspects handled by Teddy (Larry Murphy), and in what Gene calls "Milli Vanilli-ing this," hires Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) and Gayle (Megan Mullally) to sing the actual vocals behind a curtain during the performance. Throughout rehearsals, Gayle and Fishchoeder get closer to each other.
Meanwhile, Bob (Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts) are competing against each other for more interesting spice container-based accessory. Bob comes up with spiceps, which are spice holders worn as armbands. Linda comes up with spice rack, which is a bra-like apron that is worn around the chest. They get so petty that they decide to compete in the children's science fair if just for feedback. However, what is important to note is that almost everyone involved in this week's story seems to forget that the science fair is supposed to be entirely based off of children-created content.
After someone rats out Tina's project during rehearsals, she gets banned to the principal's office. Meanwhile, after a technical scare that almost blew up Tina, she is getting hesitant about the project. With Mr. Fischoeder and Gayle getting closer and Teddy hiding in the basement of the school, waiting to operate the technical side of the stage show, it almost seems like it won't happen. That is, until Mr. Dinkler finds Gene and Tina loitering around the auditorium. He is curious to see the project and eventually forces them to perform it.
The stage show is elaborate with a song unlike anything the show has done before. Along with Gene and Tina controlling the singing and choreography duties, the electrocution set-up is still present despite initial concern. There is also an orchestra that includes a small choir and band that heighten the scene. Everything is grand, elaborate, and builds to the moment when Tina gets electrocuted. Louise meanwhile breaks out of the office and basks in her glory as she watches the performance reach its triumphant climax. Meanwhile, Gene is just disappointed he forgot to include some fart sound effects.
The episode ends with Mr. Dinkler gone, crying. Louise feels like she has achieved something. The winners of the science fair are also announced. Runner up is a bizarre Ollie (Sarah Silverman) and Andy (Laura Silverman) experiment about how many hairs are on the human head in which Ollie's hairs were plucked out individually for precision. The final moments of the episode reveal that the winner's project begins with the word "spice." However, the second half is never revealed, and instead cuts from Bob and Linda grasping for that prize to a more polished version of the song that Gene composed for the fair.

Rating: 4 out of 5

I really am starting to believe that Gene may be a misunderstood musical genius. While I argue that the singing got a little hackneyed, his harmonies and momentum in song were spectacular. True, we have seen operatic performances this season, but never ones given sole credit to Gene. Here he has been hiding his talent behind a keyboard of fart sounds, and he could be doing so much more. I know it is dumb to ask, but I would love to see him possibly go down the road of musician sometime within this show's lifespan. I swear, the seeds have been planted and it provides limitless possibilities. 
Also, I think that I really enjoyed this episode on the sheer absurdity it is to take down a beloved scientific figure. True, the Simpsons did that all the time, including an entire episode dedicated to proving that fictional town hero Jebidiah Springfield was a pirate. Of course, this is more based in facts and proves that there is someone of historical nerdiness writing for this show. At least enough to know that Topsy was a real thing. Most of all, it debunks Edison as this great hero by deciding to lampoon his own absurdity in an already absurd manner.
I have to admire that they didn't necessarily do it to hate on Edison, but to attack a teacher, which is so much in Louise's wheelhouse that there isn't much logic leaps to complain about. In fact, when insulting someone, it is etiquette to make it clever. A big operatic performance is almost a perfect way to do it. It also gets almost everyone sans parents involved. I don't know where they got the budget or time to rehearse it in the auditorium, but the climax of this episode is amazing enough to overlook that one logic gap. I also love that despite the spite, the project isn't entirely perfect and that there is spite from a fellow student who doesn't want to have dueling Edison projects.
The spice rack concepts were fine and good. I have no complaints other than that it gave Bob and Linda something to do this week. It was the right amount of ridiculousness to not feel useless. I also did enjoy that nobody seemed to be following the rules this week and used adults for almost every science project that was central to this episode. I also enjoyed that somehow the spice racks made by adults usurped all of the kids, whose wacky ideas were on par with those dumb spice racks. 
It is also nice to see the Belcher kids working together to make art. True, it was driven by spite, but there was clearly passion there and teamwork really brought it together. It is funny that Teddy isn't that great at technical stuff, but he does it anyways. This almost juxtaposes the professional understanding of Edison to the performance. Both were equally imperfect, but both were great spectacles to behold. Not the most amazing episode of Bob's Burgers, but compared to the Simpsons' love letter to Edison, in which from beyond the grave, Edison rips off Homer's chair invention, it is a nice twist. Also, it provides some educational materials, which is a plus for a show that you wouldn't expect to get some from.

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