A sweet Bob’s Burgers finale shows just how much Louise has grown

Bob’s Burgers is always in a weird place when it comes to its season finales. Because of its occasionally scattered production schedule and being so frequently at the mercy of whatever sporting event Fox airs on Sunday nights, you’re not typically guaranteed an episode that feels like a proper season finale. In ten seasons we’ve only gotten three installments that feel like they could be true finales, with higher stakes and production value than your typical episodes: “Glued, Where’s My Bob?,” “The Oeder Games,” and especially the two-part “Wharf Horse”/“World Wharf II: The Wharfening.” Otherwise, the episodes often feel like they could be swapped with other installments earlier in the production order and have the same effect.

“Prank You For Being A Friend” is in the latter category of episodes in that there’s no major event or disaster that the Belcher family is operating around. However, as a finale, it works because it’s a reminder of two essential truths about Bob’s Burgers. First, it’s a show that knows how to construct an entertaining caper, one where even though the stakes are low there’s plenty of room for people to get way too invested in how things turn out. And then there’s the fact that while the show is eternally frozen in time, it’s keenly aware of the potential for change in its characters, and that their reaction to a situation may be much different now than it was three or four seasons ago. “Prank You For Being A Friend” trades in on both to its benefit, leaving viewers with a good feeling as the season closes out.

On the topic of swapping episode orders, “Prank You For Being A Friend” does distinguish itself as you’d notice if they did that that this time around, following clearly in the footsteps of “A Fish Called Tina.” “A Fish Called Tina” was easily my least favorite episode of this season, pushing Tina’s intensity and inability to hear what other people were telling her to near unwatchable levels. Consequently I was a little leery of the sign that we were returning to any aspect of the episode, with a focus on Tina’s unwilling little fish Kaylee Morgenstern (Maya Erskine of Pen15). Thankfully it’s less a sequel than it is salvaging that character, further establishing her in the Wagstaff ecosystem by setting her up in a plot with a different Belcher sibling. The only baggage carried over from the prior episode is Tina’s deeply resentful attitude about those events, Dan Mintz delivering a solid tone of grinding teeth in two instances.

Kaylee’s newest partnership is with Louise, seeking the aid of the school’s most prolific prankster to become one herself in the hope she’ll get kicked out of Wagstaff and get to be home-schooled. (“I mean, you can’t beat the commute,” Kaylee says, in an observation that’s much less funny in this age of self-quarantine.) Louise, on probation due to one too many rubber cockroach-related pranks, revels in the chance to take an apprentice under her wing. Unfortunately Kaylee is instinctively terrified of any sort of disapproval from adults in a position of authority, sticking Louise right in the middle of an impossible thought experiment. It’s a much better meshing of the minds than Tina strong-arming Kaylee into a mentee position, with Kaylee’s nerves pushing Louise on the road from giddy to frustrated in short order.

But no willpower can stand in the way of Louise’s trickster goddess nature, a quality as intrinsic to the character’s DNA as her pink bunny ears. So determined to pull off the perfect prank, she’s even willing to approach the Think-gineers for the right tool to get the job done. Much like Kaylee, the Think-gineers are another great introduction to the Wagstaff ecosystem, the delightful idea that there’s an after-school group so nerdy that Mr. Frond uses it as punishment for the worst troublemakers and it’s mentioned in hushed tones by the rest of the student body. (The fact that Regular Sized Rudy is a devoted member of the group is perfect in every way.) Her subsequent negotiation and planning exhibits why Louise is such a perfect prankster, and why her repeated efforts to break with authority never get old: she cares about getting it right almost as much as she cares about challenging said authority.

The fact that she wants to get it right also gives way to another truth about Louise, that she doesn’t want it to happen if it’s going to be for the wrong reasons. When she learns that Kaylee wants to be home-schooled not just because of Wagstaff, but because she doesn’t want to be around everyone, it furthers the crack that started with season four’s “Slumber Party” and that’s kept running as recently as this season’s “Three Girls And A Little Wharfy.” The Louise of prior seasons might be willing to let this go through, but Louise has grown to the point that she can admit she enjoys the company of people outside her family. (Hell, even her stalker’s been able to break that shell.) It adds an extra level of poignancy to pulling the plug on the prank, that she subconsciously wants Kaylee to learn the same lessons she did.

Similarly, the energy of a slightly matured Louise runs through her interactions with Mr. Frond throughout “Prank You For Being A Friend.” At this point the animosity between the two has been worn down to a comfortable mild antagonism, from Louise’s commentary on Self-Care Claire to Mr. Frond writing out a probation dismissal on a receipt for Dr. Tootsie’s Sensitive Callus Cream. (It works, by the way.) When Kaylee asks if Louise was working with Mr. Frond, she can’t even answer the question substantively, and when Kaylee admits she liked working with the Think-gineers the two are unified in their disbelief. It’s about as much evidence of the good heart of Bob’s Burgers as you could ask for, that these ostensible enemies are now referring to themselves as a pretty good team. (Albeit one with plastic cockroach high-fives, since you can’t get too sappy with it.)

The episode’s other story is a slighter one, as Bob gets recruited to bring Jimmy Pesto his medication following his hernia surgery. The Bob versus Jimmy dynamic is one thing that hasn’t changed much at all in the ten seasons since the show premiered, the antagonism downgraded from Jimmy trying to take over the restaurant to simply throwing insults across the street. As such, the results of Bob getting involved here are largely expected, with Jimmy’s buzzer gag shooting up the list of the most annoying things he’s ever done, and Jimmy considering not being able to “Zoom!” his various digs at Bob without pain the worst part of the whole affair. And it’s a logical twist that Bob would feel like taking advantage of Jimmy’s home entertainments once the latter passed out, both resenting Jimmy his successes and being starved for any kind of personal gratification.

Things come to a head as you’d expect: Bob gets trapped by his hubris and lack of flexibility, Jimmy alternates laughing and screaming, Linda has to come and sort it all out. However, when Jimmy half-heartedly invites them to stay, that’s where the episode’s beats feel unfinished. While this is the most we’ve ever seen of Jimmy’s personal life—Trent saying that Jimmy doesn’t have any friends he’s ever met, Jimmy’s apartment reeking of divorced dad energy—there’s not as much acknowledgment that Jimmy would like the company or even appreciates that Bob was stopping by. Instead it just jumps right into playing with the cars, no other lines of dialogue exchanged. It feels like there’s something that could grow with an extra minute or two on the scene, but “Prank You For Being A Friend” is content to back away from anything that could upset the show’s own Hatfield/McCoy dynamic. Hopefully that’s something that can be explored in future episodes.

And if it sounds impossible that Bob and Jimmy could ever get along, just remember: it once sounded impossible that Louise would turn down firing a catapult of plastic cockroaches into the cafeteria for any reason, or that she’d have an earnest conversation with Mr. Frond about it. Stranger things have happened on Bob’s Burgers, and “Prank You For Being A Friend” is a nice reminder of that, a solid close to a solid season that also lets us know there’s still plenty of life in this crazy world.

Stray observations:

  • Burger of the Week: Bright Leeks, Big City Burger (comes with grilled leeks)
  • Store Next Door: Hey Now, We’re A Rock Store.
  • Pest Control Truck: Wasps Your Problem? Pest Control. (Also re: Jimmy Pesto, has anyone else ever noticed you can see him reflected in the window of the truck?)
  • Since regular coverage stopped with a few episodes left, here’s some capsule reviews to close out the season:
  • “Poops!… I Didn’t Do It Again”: A-. Another sweet episode showcasing the Bob and Louise relationship to great effect, treating her issue with public pooping as more than just material for a cheap joke, and an episode that returned to the “Paraders Of The Lost Float” comic gold of the Belchers dancing in pickle costumes.
  • “Local She-Ro”: B-. Leaning too much on Linda’s crazy side and Teddy’s pathetic side without enough context for either, and evidence that Linda/Tina is the one Belcher family pairing the show hasn’t cracked yet. Extra points for the Laraine Newman guest turn.
  • Does Mr. Frond look different to anyone else, or is it just me?
  • I would watch Gene do an entire reenactment of The DepartedMaybe that’s the material for his next musical!
  • Zeke probably asks a lot of questions about creamed corn even on a normal day.
  • Regular Sized Rudy’s fake confession and sheepish retraction is one of the best Regular Sized Rudy moments in recent memory.
  • “Doing more school after school? What are you, getting your masters?”
  • “Maybe she’s seeing if the tree’s ticklish? I’ve heard some of them are.”
  • “I’m 48!” “Yeah you are!”
  • “It’s made for regular people, not… whatever you are.”
  • “This wasn’t part of the plan! Or was it? Did I miss a meeting?”
  • That’s it for the tenth season of Bob’s Burgers. Thanks to everyone for reading, and thanks for sticking with me after I took over late this season. I don’t know if we’ll be able to come back for season eleven, what the media landscape or even the world is going to look like in a few months. Here’s hoping it looks better by then. In the meantime, stay safe, be kind to yourselves, and support your local independent restaurants by ordering takeout once in a while. For some reason, I could really go for a burger right now.

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