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‘Bob’s Burgers’ Season 4 Episode 17 Recap: “The Equestranauts”

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Bob’s Burgers exists in a universe unto itself, and at times in can feel like many aspects of that world differ from real life (most notably, the lack of technology). On this week’s episode, “The Equestranauts,” this was not the case. The Belchers poked merciless fun at My Little Pony ‘Brony’ culture, and though the best one-liners were mostly packed toward the front of the episode, the concept’s joke kept the episode galloping along. Instead of a B-plot this week, the entire episode was dedicating to debasing Bronies — and rightfully so. There has been too much curiosity-masquerading-as-celebration of this bizarre subculture.

Among her other pop culture obsessions, Tina apparently loves the Equestranauts, a TV show/toy line closely resembling My Little Pony. Tina, Gene, Louise, and Linda hit up an Equestranauts convention where Tina expects she’ll meet other likeminded preteens who’ve not yet realized they’re too old to play with dolls and cutesy action figures. Instead Tina finds that gross older dudes populate the conference, dubbed “Equesticles” (“it’s for guys that like horses… called Equesticles…because they have testicles,” Teddy explains to Bob). “Does anyone else think these girls look like men?” Gene asks. “We discovered a new kind of man?!” Louise responds.

Discouraged that Equestranauts merch is priced out of her budget, Tina makes friends with a small group of Equesticles — including the fantastically-named “Pony Danza” — and briefly feels like she belongs. (It’s sort of incredible how little it takes to make Tina feel kinship with others; it’s proof enough that she’s not an outsider by choice.) The group’s leader, Bronconious, easily wins Tina’s trust (“look at all you’ve accomplished, with your bangs and your glasses,” he half-heartedly tells her), and convinces her to trade her vintage Chariot horse for a new sparkly one. Then the group promptly ditches her. Turns out vintage Chariot is one of six in the world, due to a small defect (a camel toe!), and Bronconious has been looking for one to round out his collection including Scotty Pippin Equestranaut and an Equestranaut doll that belonged to Jon Hamm.

The truly embarrassing shit grown men do for their children is sort of incredible, and Bob is no exception to this. When he catches wind of this scheme, he undergoes intensive Equestranauts training and dons a pony suit in order to infiltrate the convention. It ends up being easier than he thinks, and in the span of a day, Bob becomes Bronconious’s best friend (but Bronconious isn’t Bob’s best friend, y’know?). The weird pony rave and sex dungeon-y after-party they hit up makes for fast bonding for some reasons.

At the hotel party, Bronconious hits up the safe to reveal his Equestranauts collection to Bob, including Tina’s Chariot doll (and a spectacularly detailed Scotty Pippin pony — nice work, animators). Apparently Bronconious thinks that sucking (yes, sucking) on rare Equestranauts dolls will make him young (“look around the eyes,” he tells Bob while doing it). But Bob’s perfect plan hits a snag: apparently some of Tina’s Equestranauts fanfic was accidentally mixed in with Bob’s study materials for his Equesticles crash course. Bob starts referencing details from the fanfic thinking they’re plot points from the show, and Bronconious immediately sniffs him out as a fraud. It’s halfway between a proper witch hunt and what I imagine happens to you if you go to ICP’s Gathering in Juggalo makeup just to fuck with people.

Tina, meanwhile, realizes her fanfic faux pas just in time, racing over to the “awkward, sexually-charged” after-party to save Bob. His punishment was to be just as embarrassing as his Equestranauts costume: a giant pony tattoo (‘tu-too’) in which his face is the horse’s ass. What he ends up with is a squiggly semi-penis/wings tattoo, and thanks to true Equestranauts friendship, Tina’s Chariot doll in hand. Except, Tina realizes she is too old to play with dolls. The lesson of the story is that parenthood is a nightmare, but at least we got an amazing original Equestranauts cast song out of it (please let it be on the Bob’s Burgers album).


‘Bob’s Burgers’ Season 4 Episode 18 Recap: “Ambergris”

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In this week’s Bob’s Burgers, Louise encounters the limitations of her age as the kids go all pulp noir and try to sell whale poop on the black market. Meanwhile, Bob and Linda allow Calvin Fischoeder’s eccentric brother Felix to remodel the Bob’s Burgers bathroom into a high-end club: all flash and intimidation, hellish when it comes to getting around. Both plotlines mixed the gross with the high-end, in the process reasserting the Belchers’ clear position within that dichotomy. We also saw a few top-notch performances from Zach Galifianakis and Bill Hader, both seemingly heavy on goofy and dramatic improvisation. Plus a plethora of great one-liners the characters tossed like bombs and immediately abandoned, including a Steve Zahn joke. All in all, “Ambergris” was equal parts comedy, character development, and stylistic experimentation — the best of Bob’s Burgers.

As the kids discover Ambergris, the sperm whale digestive byproduct used in high-end perfumes, on the beach, I’m reminded of Jennifer Lawrence’s character in American Hustle. Her obsession with “that perfume you can’t stop smelling even when there’s something sour in it,” the one that’s “sweet and sour, rotten and delicious, flowers but with garbage” was at the front of my mind as Tina (somehow) knew all about the disgusting wonder of nature that is Ambergris. It’s sort of like poop, so obviously Gene loved it, and the ever-scheming Louise envisioned a profit in it. “I can’t stop smelling its enigma of gross-great,” Louise says, and Gene’s response is priceless before a quick cutaway: “Is that what sex will be like?” Tina, truly the brains behind this operation, discovers that Ambergris has to be sold — for tens of thousands of dollars, mind you — on the black market because sperm whales are endangered species. Of course, Louise “has a guy.” They hit up ex-con Mickey, played by Hader, down at Wonder Wharf, who says that The Nose, aka the fried dough guy, specializes in this kind of thing. “Everyone working at Wonder Wharf is a criminal,” Mickey says, “especially Sally the Snowcone lady (*who’s pictured violently stabbing her product with an ice pick*).”

Meanwhile, Bob and Linda are left to babysit Felix Fischoeder (Galifianakis), whose first duty as partial landlord is to fix the broken plumbing in the restaurant bathroom. Felix is like the cartoon amalgamation of one of Nathan Lane’s snootier characters and Martin Short’s wedding planner role from Father of the Bride. His solution to the bathroom problem is black marble and high-end sheen, complete with a launch party DJ’ed by a Brazilian dude. “In its place we will build a bathroom where anything can happen,” Felix proclaims. “Babies will be born, men will die. It’s a new day!” I think Linda especially feels a pressure to go with it given Felix’s initial reaction to their existence, which in itself was an amusing bit of dialogue: “OMG, is it always like this, does it always take this long, is there always this much talking?” It’s an amusing B story that gives Galifianakis a chance to do what he does best in comedies: steal the scene with bizarre behavior. The bathroom ends up unusable, but like most problems in insular fictional worlds like Bob’s Burgers, it will find a way to work itself out by next week’s episode and we’ll never hear about it again. I would like to see more from Galifianakis on the show, however.

Back in the main plotline, we see Louise lose her mind over the Ambergris, guarding it with her life and giving up sleep. Her thought is that she can cut out Mickey and make more money by going straight to The Nose herself. Tina, becoming more and more mom-like by the episode, knows this is a bad idea, so she switches out the Ambergris with a cantaloupe surrounded by dirty socks, which is a weird thing to type but it actually worked in tricking Louise. When The Nose tries to play Louise ($12!?!) because she’s a little girl without Mickey there to protect her, all he gets is the decoy bundle (which Tina would like back, thank you very much). For some reason Louise is furious, which I don’t really understand because Tina totally saved her ass from getting played.

Tina and Gene run to Wonder Wharf to loop in Mickey, who’s oddly meh until Tina offers to just give him the Amerbgris to stop this evil madness. At which point he decides he can’t “go straight” with a “a monkey and/or crow-themed bar” and deny his criminal ways; instead he’ll use the Ambergris profit to buy a tank to rob a bank (“Mickey Tank Bank”). Gene has one of the best lines of the episode somewhere in here, though it goes unacknowledged: “Buy a juicer, it’ll change your mornings. Or buy cowboy boots, they’ll change your evenings.” Soon Mickey, The Nose, and Louise are chasing Tina in hot pursuit of the Amerbgris.

In the end, we see the force of good — Tina — destroys the object of greed, though she does it in a way that the superheroes this is reminiscent of never would have employed: death by deep fryer. There’s a Harvey Dent/Two-Face joke in there somewhere, but like Tina, I’m better than that.


‘Bob’s Burgers’ Season 4 Episode 19 Recap: “The Kids Run Away”

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NBC’s Thursday night invaded Bob’s Burgers this week; Dr. Yap (Ken Jeong) and Linda’s sister Gayle (Megan Mullally) made a return, though sadly with only one scene together. With the abundance of guest stars, the writers kept the plot focused and comparatively simple: Louise has a cavity, which she’ll go to any length to not get filled. And with Louise, those lengths are pretty high.

Tina’s always had reverence for her elders — something Gene and Louise don’t share. As a budding young woman, Louise sees their dentist, Dr. Yap, as a viable romantic option (ew). “He’s like an eagle soaring through your mouth,” she says, later telling him while in the chair, “we don’t always have to make this about business.” This newfound maturity not only leaves Tina boy crazy, it allows her to side with either her parents or her siblings. This week she chose her parents, in the process helping to bring Louise home after she runs away… to Gayle’s house. Tina’s a lousy spy, but Louise is in fact a nine-year-old so they make it work anyway. Ice cream was her kryptonite; it’s a fitting way to vanquish a twisted girl who wishes nothing else but to be an evil queen.

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It’s not that Louise didn’t try. After Yap tries to trick her into getting her cavity filled, she goes full Beatrix Kiddo on his ass, hops out the window, and makes a run for it. “She told me to wait ten minutes to tell you, but I’m a grown man and she’s a little girl, so I waited eight,” Yap tells the Belchers. “Don’t tell Louise I didn’t wait the whole ten.” Then Louise goes full Mike Ehrmantraut and tracks down her go-bag — which she packed when she was seven, and thus includes a candy cellphone — down by the river. Step three: check into a hotel using Bob’s credit card and a hand-drawn ID that merely reads, “Beatrice Black, 43 years old” and includes her Wagstaff school picture. She drops a ‘Nam reference, but still her plan is foiled. (At least the sequence was thoroughly entertaining to watch.) Gayle’s apartment is Louise’s only option, albeit a disgusting one. The animators’ attention to detail in Gayle’s apartment is impressive and transportive. Her patheticness can be summed up by the tiny piles of dirt/dust visible on her couch’s arm (as seen in the picture up top).

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Linda quickly finds out that Louise is with her sister, and goes for some “creative parenting” in which the family “raises Gayle’s crazy meter to unfun levels.” CUE THE LINDA BELCHER EVIL LAUGH (.gif below), which is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on Bob’s Burgers. After wagering with Louise that if she can make it through the weekend at Gayle’s, she doesn’t have to get the filling, they send Tina (and Gene) over to bring out the worst in Gayle. “You know, I haven’t read any parenting books, but I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be in there,” Bob says after hearing Linda’s plot.

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Fake book cover via Behind ‘Bob’s Burgers’

Gayle’s crazy side is something we’ve only seen in small doses, but it’s cemented in “The Kids Run Away.” A taste of her poetry: “Little cat you’re just like me/ You got outside and squat to pee/ SQUAT SQUAT SQUAT.” She also makes reference to Scott Baio, specifically that magazine clippings of him should be sent into space. There’s a made-up board game — Gayle Force Winds — that rivals Ben Wyatt’s Cones of Dunshire on Parks and Recreation. But Louise stays strong. It’s just that damn ice cream for breakfast that does her in.

Now, Louise is not going to go without a fight, despite the fact that her tooth has been aching all weekend. Gayle out-parents Bob and Linda, scheming up with a Tarantino-esque shoot-out game that gets Louise back in Yap’s office. All it takes is a little seduction and danger to manipulate Louise. Maybe by 11 she’ll learn.

Burger of the Day: Sgt. Poblano Pepper Lonely Artichoke Hearts Club Burger

And here’s this for shits and giggles…

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‘Bob’s Burgers’ Season 4 Episode 20 Recap: “Gene It On”

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Yo Gene, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Tina and Jimmy Jr. had one of the greatest kisses of all time. Well, maybe not as good as the first time (episode 106, “Sheesh! Cab, Bob?”) because this time wasn’t an ode to Sixteen Candles, but damnit there was pie. And vomit. It was a great kiss, tucked inside a subplot in which Louise flexed her evil mastermind schtick.

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The main plot on last night’s Bob’s Burgers, meanwhile, was high school personified. Somehow Gene ended up a popular kid! He wasn’t even the one talking about farts — no, that was Tammy (Jenny Slate), who’s slowly morphing into what I hope is a recurring character rather than just a guest. Gene and Tammy would make a fart power couple, despite the apparent gaps in their longterm social standings and attractiveness.

No one is more excited about Gene’s cheerleading career than Linda, who shows the stripes of her past in a big way this week. Linda Belcher was a wannabe, the worst kind of nerd because she could not accept her own invisibility. Linda’s so-called high school BFF Monica was a cheerleader, one whom Linda primped over and ass-kissed. (I wonder where Gayle stands in all this — she’s too weird to even be a hanger-on.) All this is to say, Linda has some advanced thought on cheerleading routines, which ends up aiding Gene and his squad in the regional competition. This is, of course, only after Linda deems Gene her favorite child, buys a cheerleading skirt, shuns Gene when he acts like a diva, then loves him the most again. Gene is a hero, again. This week was a roller coaster, it’s usually just like, “oh Gene, you told a fart joke, stop talking now.”

Bob's Burgers Gene It On

(via Behind Bob’s Burgers)

So how did Gene come to join cheerleading in the first place? Tina. Like her mother, Tina possesses some small desire to connect with the populars. Also, she likes the cheerleaders’ proximity to wrestlers.  “When things get sweaty, that’s the splash zone,” she tells Bob. Her tryout routine ends with her hand-standing into the judges’ table and biting her tongue, which in turn sets off the episode’s subplot in which Louise serves as Tina’s translator/romantic advisor (playing hard to get works, media testimony #9831). The other thing it sets in motion is Gene, who does what Tracy Morgan’s 30 Rock character calls a “ghetto mating call” (i.e. a man lifting up his shirt and spanking his chubby belly). Somehow, this grabs the attention of cheerleading coach Mr. Ambrose, played by Billy Eichner in the most Billy Eichner role of his life. If you think Eichner on Parks and Recreation is just his whole cranky bit molded into a government worker, wait ’til you see Ambrose. The animators really nailed Eichner’s hand flails and contorted, mid-yell facial expressions.

The thing about Ambrose is that he loves drama, and he will do anything to create it within his squad. Todd (played by Keegan-Michael Key), the only male cheerleader before Gene joins the squad, is immediately threatened by Gene and makes threats — via Zeke — against him. At first you think Gene will just quit the squad, because he only really joined for the silk cheer shorts, but he’s actually pretty good. He won a cheer-off like he’s Gabrielle Union in Bring It On (and brrr it’s cold in here), and he dreamt up a regionals routine comprised of “semi-erotic robotics.” Sadly, Mr. Ambrose leaks said routine to a Wagstaff rival, because “having your cheer stolen five minutes before your routine is incredibly dramatic.” The squad improvises with Linda’s pinwheel routine, which involves stacking five children on top of one another and tumbling forward. Obviously it fails and they place last.

Because this is Bob’s Burgers and the continuity is sporadic at best, we will probably never hear about Gene’s cheerleading career again. I can live with that so long as “Gene It On” provides another takeaway in terms of longterm plot: please let this be the episode where Tina and Jimmy Jr. get past the hump. Not literally the hump because they are waaaaay too young, but let this be the episode that allows the Tina-Jimmy relationship to form for real. For crying outloud, they both want to watch a movie together, walk on the beach, and find somewhere to sit in the kelp and kiss. Just so long as the movie’s not 27 DressesJimmy’s seen it three times already, so that’s 81 dresses total.


‘Bob’s Burgers’ Season 4 Episode 21 Recap: “Wharf Horse (Or How Bob Saves/Destroys The Town—Part I)”

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If part one is any indication, Bob’s Burgers’ fourth season got the finale it deserved. This year we’ve seen tremendous character growth, a willingness to take chances with format and theme, and the enduring commitment to telling TV’s best puberty jokes. In “Wharf Horse (Or How Bob Saves/Destroys The Town—Part I),” all of these elements are at play, particularly the middle one. The episode not only delved into a plotline that came with ramifications for the way Bob’s Burgers fundamentally operates, it ended with a murder mystery. Ostensibly, this cliffhanger will have to be cleared up in next week’s finale. It would have been braver for them to leave it hanging until next season, but that’s not Bob’s style. Between Mr. Fischoedor and Bob, I think both parties are staying put.

At the end of its sixth season, The Simpsons introduced the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” plotline at the end of its sixth season. By that point the show long had been a cultural phenomenon, an animated juggernaut that had transcended mere cartoon status. Bob’s Burgers is not there yet, and with an animated market as saturated as Fox’s current wheelhouse, it would be difficult for them to ever reach Simpsons ubiquity. But this murder mystery plot is something, a turning point for a the best animated show on TV after its finest season to date.

It feels lazy to compare Bob’s Burgers to The Simpsons, but it’s something I’ve done more than once. A big part of it is that I think of Bob’s on that level. It may not be as “important” to global culture as The Simpsons continues to be, but its commentary on the struggle of the middle class and its portrayal of coming-of-age insecurity are worthwhile bonuses to the poop jokes, the burger board, the guest stars, and just about every damn thing that comes out of Linda’s mouth. Every time Bob’s Burgers takes chances like it did last night, I feel the show is one step closer to its ultimate greatness, a place where it’s not considered niche and its relevancy to bigger topics is appreciated. And where a global pop star writes a birthday song for Tina Belcher that retains sing-along status 20-some years later. A recapper can dream!

(via Behind Bob's Burgers)

(via Behind Bob’s Burgers)

What last night’s episode did right was to perfectly meld subplots into the A story — something Bob’s has been playing with all season, seemingly weighing the pros and cons of doing away from B stories at times. Of course, it’s ideal when they can all play into each other. Felix Fischodeor (Zach Galifianakis) returns to the show with a dream of turning the town into a beachside playground for condo-dwellers, essentially the real estate equivalent of the “high-end” bathroom he slaved over for Bob. His brother doesn’t want to sell the Wonder Wharf in order to facilitate this development — one that would include a high-end burger joint, Bob’s Bistro on the Beach with the Burgers, or so Felix promises Bob. And so Bob, the least persuasive person on the show, becomes the one to convince him to do so, using the rich stage musical tradition of singing for one’s supper (see below). This is, of course, until the cloud of greed passes by Bob’s field of vision, no longer obscuring the nostalgia he feels for the Wharf.

This internal feud is represented by Bob’s loved ones: Linda, who is swayed by the promise of a better life; and Tina, who chains herself to the Wharf’s carousel in protest of destruction. The latter certainly represents Tina’s inability to grow up completely; she has a hard time leaving behind her childhood as her emotions careen toward adulthood. The carousel is a big part of that, while for Bob, the Wharf’s destruction forces him to examine his own life and actively choose to make it better. But he doesn’t necessarily think it’s all been bad; when it all comes down to it, he loves his family and his life. But by leaving off with a cliffhanger, in which Bob’s existence is up for stakes, the writers are acknowledging that doing the right thing could blow up in Bob’s face. Isn’t that the heart of Bob’s Burgers, really? Rooting for the underdog. Making the Belcher rich would ruin the show, but then again, so would killing Bob.

Bonus: Two one-liners from “Wharf Horse” that cannot be ignored

“Does putting a band-aid on a fart make it go away?” — Felix (please make him a regular!)

“You can’t just leave a kidnapping to shop, this isn’t Florida!” — Mr. Fischodeor


‘Bob’s Burgers’ Season 4 Finale Recap: “World Wharf II: The Wharfening (Or How Bob Saves/Destroys The Town—Part II)”

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Nowhere has it been more apparent that Bob Belcher can’t survive without his family than in the Season 4 finale of Bob’s Burgers. With its play on mystery and musical, the episode served as an action-packed cap to a season in which Bob’s writers experimented with genre. The storyline, however, was all heart and humor — the two elements that have made Bob’s Burgers stand out from the start. There was never any question over whether Bob would survive Felix’s wrath — it was just a matter of how many fart jokes Gene would make along the way.

In the second part of “Wharf Horse” (renamed to “World Wharf II”), we pick up where we last left off, with Bob and Mr. Fischoeder: subject to the evil whimsy of Mr. Fischoder’s brother, Felix (played by Zach Galifianakis). (If last night’s criminal excusing of Felix is any indication, Galifianakis will be back next season with his wonderfully exaggerated vocal acting talents.) Deep down Felix is a softie despite being mentally unstable; he doesn’t have the guts to shoot Bob and his brother so under the boardwalk they go, tied up and left for high tide. A slow death is cruel, but it’s even crueler when left to the hands that got them into this mess in the first place.

In a nod to technological modernity often unseen on Bob’s Burgers, the central plot is built upon Bob’s cell phone. He needs to use his shitty flip phone to tell his family where he is, though they’re convinced he’s out partying and butt-dialing them. But Louise can sense something is off here, further proving what she tells Linda: “you have two children and a Louise to take care of!” When incomprehensible text messages start streaming in, Louise takes it upon herself to decode them. Dad’s tied up… and something about shrimp and Pierre’s restaurant? Pictures start. Tina’s photographic butt memory tells her that Bob is with Mr. Fischoeder (can we not think about his butt please? dude reminds me of Colonel Sanders. plus he dropped the phone in the water!).

World Wharf II Bob's Burgers finale

The wild goose chase that follows is mildly entertaining, what with the shrimp at Pierre’s and a “sorry not sorry” joke from the detective. But the build-up to save Bob and Mr. Fischoeder starts to wear thin, since we know they have to survive — or at least Bob does. The kids steamroll right over Linda, who gets outwardly verklempt at the drop of penny despite having the capacity to handle the situation. But Bob and her together? A duo whose dynamism is just being revealed. This last point is crucial as we get into the business of saving Bob.

Felix starts to have regrets, and his nervousness reveals him (“you don’t know how moist I usually am!”). Linda and the kids follow him down under the wharf, where they head towards Bob and Mr. Fischoeder in cutesy animal pedal boats. And to think they sang “oh bad things are bad” when a resolution was so easily in sight. It seems as though this will wrap up with a big shiny bow until here comes a gun and Fanny, aka Felix’s gold-digging girlfriend, Miss Look At My Tits, aka Jordan Peele doing his best Becky impersonation. It’s “her time” — she needs Wonder Wharf demolished in order to get her nightclub and her recording studio, and she knows Mr. Fischoeder stands in her way. As for the Belchers, they’ll have to die too, just for the hell of it.

via Behind Bob's Burgers

(Paige Garrison, Hector Reynoso, and Anthony Aguinaldo, via Behind Bob’s Burgers)

Here’s the thing about dumb bitches: they’re distracted easily. Bob asks to hear one of Fanny’s songs before they all die. “Mr. Dancefloor” brings Fanny’s full-body devotion, so much so that she doesn’t notice Linda ramming a turtle pedal boat into the weak support beam under the wharf, which Fanny had shot mere moments earlier. While Fanny’s mid-song, the wharf starts to cave in, hitting her boat and shooting her into the water, never to be seen after the cops haul her sparkly ass off. (As great as Jordan Peele was in the role, this was the most annoying murder plot showdown I’ve ever seen on TV. The grating sound of her voice made it seem like it went on for 20 minutes.)

The rest survive, because they have to. There’s no Bob’s Burgers without Bob, though a Linda spin-off about drinking a bottle of wine and eating croutons in bed would be entertaining for an episode or two. As Mr. Fischoeder said, “Thank God we live in a time where women can learn to swim.”


Bob and Linda Belcher Are the Best Parents on TV

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In last night’s fantastic Season 4 finale of Bob’s Burgers, the show took a detour from its usual lighthearted tone and low-stakes format to create something bigger and darker: Bob Belcher’s life was in danger. After a back-and-forth about the fate of the Wonder Wharf amusement park, Bob finds himself tied up underneath the pier alongside Mr. Fischoeder, awaiting certain death, unable to properly communicate with anyone via his ancient flip phone. The rest of the Belchers cleverly decode the Auto-Corrected texts and figure out where he is. Bob’s life is saved by his family — led bravely by Linda. It’s a great ending for a great season that brought the Belcher parents to the forefront, diving deeper into who Bob and Linda are, and ensuring that they’ll never be one-note characters.

Much has been said about the Belcher children — I’ve spilled thousands of words just praising Tina — and for good reason. The three kids are arguably the funniest and most interesting children on television, providing a pure and honest reflection of adolescent themes. There is the anarchic and chaotic spirit that’s occasionally blocked by the limits of age-restricted freedom (Louise); the wild strangeness, childhood hedonism, and blind confidence (Gene); and the confusing navigation of sexuality and intense awkwardness of puberty (Tina). Bob’s Burgers‘ depiction of childhood is nearly flawless, and Season 4 has made great strides in exploring one of the reasons why the children are this way: they have wonderful, caring, and endlessly encouraging parents.

Toward the beginning of Bob’s Burgers, Linda was often cited as the most underdeveloped Belcher. What we knew of her — the infinite patience she has for her impatient family, her always-there enthusiasm, her habit of breaking out in song, her love of red wine — were great, but there wasn’t a full person there just yet, only a mix of funny character traits. It was never a problem because the writers have proven time and time again that they can do great work with small characters — just think of how memorable Regular-Sized Rudy and Teddy are even when they disappear for months — so it was just a waiting game until it was Linda’s moment.

Linda got an early moment in Season 3′s “Lindapendent Woman,” an episode where she quit the restaurant and worked at a grocery store, only to have her pushover nature multiplied as people take advantage of her. But it proved why her traits make her such a good match for Bob — and showed how the restaurant (and the family, especially Bob) falls apart without her.

In the Season 4 premiere, “A River Runs Through Bob,” the parents are lost in the woods and fending for themselves. Linda is the one who saves the day, much like she does in the finale. It’s telling that the season bookends how important and necessary she is to keeping the family on track. There are other Linda-centric episodes in this season, more so than ever before, like “Seaplane!,” the pitch-perfect “Purple Rain-Union,” and “I Get Psy-chic Out Of You.” Each one made an effort to show another side of Linda — whether it’s her slight disappointment with Bob’s romantic side or the riot grrrl frontwoman who existed before she settled down with the family.

Bob has been a strong character from the pilot, and he continues to be great in Season 4, as the show touches upon how much of a necessary presence he is in the kids’ lives. Take the brony episode “The Equestranauts,” in which he goes to ridiculous lengths to help out Tina even though he definitely doesn’t want to. Bob doesn’t always understand Tina, and he’s often uncomfortable with how comfortable she is about expressing her sexuality. In “The Equestranauts,” he doesn’t exactly disapprove of her horse obsession but he isn’t enthusiastic about it either. Yet he barely hesitates to put on a homemade horse costume, buddy up to deplorable bronies, and even get (part of) a tattoo to get a toy for Tina, just because it’s important to her. If it’s important to one of the kids, then it’s important to the parents.

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One of the biggest reasons why Bob and Linda are such great parents is this unwavering support for their children, even when they don’t know what the hell they’re supporting. In “The Frond Files,” the parents are called in to a meeting to discuss three essays that the children wrote. Yes, the stories are a little fucked up, but Bob and Linda are full of compliments for Louise’s, brought to tears by Gene’s, and just overall defend every word. The school is put off by the children’s creativity; Bob and Linda embrace it. They allow their children to be as weird as they want to be without judgment (and they even share much of this weirdness), which is going to help them grow up into strong and confident adults.

Family is the key to Bob’s Burgers’ success. There is a memorable scene in “Wonder Wharf Part II” when the Belchers think they’re about to die and all repetitively say “I love you” to each other as other characters look on, confused. It’s a good thesis statement for the show: The Belchers love each other, no matter what, even though the reasons why they do baffle outsiders. To non-Belchers, the family is nothing but a group of loud oddballs. Other shows may have had the parents take a cynical approach to Louise, Gene, and Tina’s exhausting eccentricities, but here, Bob and Linda never stop cheering them on.


What to Watch on Television This Week: September 29-October 5

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The television season kicks into high gear this month, with dozens of premieres for new and returning shows each week. With such an onslaught of questionable new programming and a packed slate of returning gems all overlapping with each other, planning out your TV schedule can get overwhelming. So for the next few weeks, Flavorwire is here to help you out with the week’s best — and worst — bets by telling you which shows to watch, DVR, or just ignore.

SEAMUS DEVER, JON HUERTAS, STANA KATICMonday, September 29

Watch: Unfortunately, Mom got pushed back to an October 30 premiere date, so that leaves tonight’s premieres pretty scarce. But that just means it’s a good night to watch Gotham‘s fun second episode.

DVR: Castle (ABC, 10 PM) — Out of all the identical crime procedurals on TV, Castle is the most consistently entertaining — mostly thanks to Nathan Fillion’s always-welcome presence. It’s not a show you need to watch every week, but it’s always good to keep a few episodes on your DVR for lazy afternoons.

Ignore: NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, 10 PM) — This spinoff falls firmly between the original NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans, but let’s be honest: none of them are worth watching.

Bianca Santos as 'Lucy' & Shane Harper as 'Ian' in costumeTuesday, September 30

Watch: Happyland (MTV, 11 PM) — MTV continues its newfound addiction to soapy teen drama with Happyland, a mixture of Adventureland (as it centers on teens working at an amusement park) and of Game of Thrones (as the twist involves incest?). It’s always hard to tell which way an MTV scripted show is going to go, but either way, you’ll want to watch the pilot.

DVR: Selfie (ABC, 8 PM) — Selfie had one of the most irritating comedy pilots of this season so far, but there is so much built-in promise in the cast, writers, and My Fair Lady-like premise that it still might end up being one of the good ones. It’ll take a while to get there, though, so maybe just DVR until mid-season when it gets really good.

Ignore: Manhattan Love Story (ABC, 8:30 PM) — There are so many rom-com sitcoms premiering this year. Most are boringly unimpressive, but Manhattan Love Story is aggressively bad. Only watch if you want to know what women and men really care about (purses and boobs, respectively).

105086_D1999bcWednesday, October 1

Watch: After last week’s Wednesday premieres, there isn’t much left for this week except for CBS’ “torture is cool!” double feature of Criminal Minds and Stalker. So really, just pick any show from last week and watch that instead. You’ll thank me.

DVR: Girl Code (MTV, 11 PM) — 90 percent of Girl Code episodes are nearly unwatchable, but the other 10 percent makes them kind of worth it.

Ignore: Stalker (CBS, 10 PM) — If I had to place bets on the first drama to be canceled this season, I’d go all in with Stalker — if only because of wishful thinking. It was already met with a ridiculous amount of controversy at the TCAs, and the show itself is a terrible execution of a terrible premise. It shouldn’t be watched; it should be ignored until CBS rightfully cancels it.

GRACEPOINT: Cr: Ed Araquel/FOXThursday, October 2

Watch: Gracepoint (Fox, 9 PM) — This mystery series has been done before — it’s a remake of the UK show Broadchurch and even borrows its star, David Tennant. Gracepoint revolves around the mysterious death of a 12-year-old boy and the ways in which it affects the town. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than your average crime shows.

DVR: A to Z (NBC, 9:30) — Did you watch How I Met Your Mother? Do you like cheesy romantic comedy sitcoms? Do you like excessive voice-over and cute bookends and attractive people making eyes at other attractive people? Then A to Z is for you! It’s acceptable TV, but it’s not worth dropping everything to watch.

Ignore: Bad Judge (NBC, 9)  — Kate Walsh is both wonderful and funny in Bad Judge, so it’s a shame that the show fails to live up to her performance. It’s a rough pilot, and the entire premise has longevity issues, so it’s perhaps best to ignore this sitcom until its inevitable cancellation.

NANCY TRAVIS, KAITLYN DEVER, TIM ALLENFriday, October 3

Unless you’re really into back-to-back episodes of Last Man Standing (ABC, 8 PM) or On the Menu (TNT, 8 PM), a reality competition hosted by Emeril Lagasse and Ty Pennington, then Friday is a good night to take a break from television and leave the house. You deserve it.

Saturday, October 4

Watch: Jerrod Carmichael: Love At The Store (HBO, 10 PM) — Jerrod Carmichael is a great, gifted stand-up who deserves his own show (and might finally get one!), but before he enters coveted sitcom-land, watch his first televised stand-up special directed by none other than Spike Lee.

DVR: Survivor’s Remorse (Starz, 9 PM) — Starz’s original programming has been very hit (Outlander) or miss (everything else), and this week begins its new basketball-centric comedy Survivor’s Remorse. It’s a likable cast and has some solid jokes, but it’s still trying to find itself.

Ignore: Pit Bulls & Parolees (Animal Planet, 10 PM) — This ridiculous show is on Season 6 and still has not featured the rapper Pitbull, so what’s the point?

414_03_06_tk1-0065_hires2Sunday, October 5

Watch: Bob’s Burgers (Fox, 7:30) — The Belchers have been the best family on television since this show began, and every episode of Bob’s Burgers is a must-watch. Consistently hilarious, adorably touching, and featuring the Internet’s beloved Tina Belcher — there’s no reason for you should miss the Season 5 premiere.

DVR: Mulaney (Fox, 9:30) — John Mulaney is a gifted stand-up and a great writer, but both of these talents seem wasted so far in Mulaney. This Seinfeld-esque blend of stand-up and sitcom is one of the most disappointing shows of the season because it was almost guaranteed to be perfect. It’s not bad enough to ignore, but you’ll want to see if it gets better before committing.

DVR: Homeland (Showtime, 9 PM) — Homeland has been struggling in recent seasons, but it is still a fan favorite (if only because it’s gone completely off the rails). Still, you may not want to commit to two full hours of Claire Danes crying on a Sunday night so DVR it for a better time.

DVR: Bar Rescue (Spike, 9 PM) — I’m well aware that I am possibly the only person who counts Bar Rescue among my favorite shows, but I promise it’s good — it’s Kitchen Nightmares but in gross, fly-infested bars with too-drunk owners! — and certainly the perfect show to put on when there’s nothing else on TV. Just never, ever watch it before going out to a bar.


10 TV Events to Look Out For in October

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September was an overwhelmingly crowded month of television as we entered the Fall 2014 TV Season, although the quality of the programs left much to be desired. October continues this trend of dozens of premieres from new and returning shows, but offers a more eclectic and more promising mix of programs, from our heroes at Bob’s Burgers through Laverne Cox’s touching transgender documentary to tween fashion designers. Here are the 10 TV events to keep on your radar this month. 

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October 5: Finally, Bob’s Burgers returns!

It doesn’t matter if Bob’s Burgers is gone for an entire season or just a week: I’m always overjoyed when there’s a new episode. On Sunday, the Belchers begin their fifth season on Fox, saving us all from what has been a fairly disappointing TV season. Bob’s Burgers is a show that just keeps getting better and I have no doubt that Season 5 will continue that trend.


Of Course ‘Bob’s Burgers’ Has A Porn Parody

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Rule 34 of the Internet states: “If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.” So it’s not surprising that there is a Bob’s Burgers porn parody especially since there is definitely some questionable fan art in the depths of Google Image Search (and the very shallow depths of Tumblr), but that doesn’t make this porn version of a family show any less disturbing.

Bob’s Boners (how creative!) comes from WoodRocket, the production company that brought you such hits as The Simpsons porn parody and the Family Guy porn parody and, well, you can probably guess what else. The very important plot details are below:

When the Adult Entertainment Exotic Biz Con XXX Convention comes to town, Bob and Linda prepare the restaurant for a weekend of hungry adult stars, with appetites as big as their boobs and wangs. But fixing the menu isn’t the only hard work the Belchers get up to.

Bob and Linda get down on today’s special, Vaggie Burgers, while Tina writes some sexy slash-fiction about her 18th birthday party, featuring some hot Tina-Jimmy Junior-zombie butt action!

You can also watch the SFW (with headphones on) trailer below and the full version for free on WoodRocket, but you don’t really want to do that, do you?


15 Fictional TV Characters’ Pop Culture Halloween Costumes

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Many people argue that the magic of Halloween disappears once you’ve grown up, but let’s be honest: dressing up is always fun. Pop culture provides us with endless ideas for Halloween costumes, whether it’s a favorite TV character, the many iterations of Lady Gaga, or some clever take on an Internet meme. And because TV writers are just as informed by media as we are, their fictional television characters will often also end up in pop culture-inspired costumes. From Bob’s Burgers to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, here are 15 of the best pop culture costumes in television.


Bill Haverchuck as the Bionic Woman
Freaks and Geeks — “Tricks and Treats” (Season 1, Episode 3)

It’s an obvious choice but, 15 years later, “Tricks or Treats” remains one of the greatest Halloween episodes of all time and Haverchuck’s “Hold on, I’m gonna put the phone on my bionic ear” line is still funny.


Your Weekly TV News Roundup: ‘Gilmore Girls’ Reunion, ‘The New Yorker’ Docu-Series

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The television world moves so fast that by the time you learn of a show’s premiere, it could already be canceled. It’s hard to keep track of the constant stream of television news, so Flavorwire is here to provide a weekly roundup of the most exciting — and baffling — casting and development updates. This week: Showtime renews two dramas, a Gilmore Girls reunion is announced, and TV adapts yet another movie. 

Gilmore Girls reunion is happening! Don’t get too excited — it’s only for one panel in June, and you have to go to Austin, Texas to see it, but it’s still happening. ATX TV Festival announced that Amy Sherman-Palladino, Lauren Graham, and Alexis Bledel are all confirmed to participate. This year’s festival will also include a reunion of the Dawson’s Creek writer’s room. [Variety]

Kathryn Hahn will be in Happyish — again. She was previously cast as the female lead in the original pilot that starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, and now Showtime has confirmed that she’ll keep the role in the new iteration, which now stars Steve Coogan. [Showtime]

Hulu/BBC Comedy’s The Wrong Mans will return to Hulu for a four-episode second season on December 24. [Hulu]

Amazon released details about the seven new pilots it will premiere in 2015, including a documentary about The New Yorker; a comedy about a former supermodel starring Leslie Bibb, Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch, and Jane Kaczmarek; and a drama based on the Philip K. Dick book The Man in the High Castle. [Vulture]

USA renewed Graceland for a third season. [The Wrap]

USA also ordered a supernatural thriller titled Evil Men about a guy who has to kill “evil men” or else his family and city will be destroyed. It’s an uplifting little drama! [TV Line]

Mulaney and Bob’s Burgers have swapped Sunday time slots, meaning Mulaney will now air at 7:30 and Bob’s Burgers will air at 9:30. This doesn’t seem very promising for Mulaney, but at least it means we’ll get regular Bob’s Burgers episodes instead of month-long sports-induced breaks. [Deadline]

VH1 ordered a new reality competition series called Twinning, in which sets of twins compete against other sets of twins to see who is the best set of twins? Who knows. It doesn’t sound good, but I can’t wait to watch it. [VH1]

Randy Jackson is leaving American Idol after 13 seasons. [EW]

P14_18619_PRS01_SHAME_S5_PRadhighresHere’s the poster for Season 5 of Shameless. The show returns January 11 at 9 PM.

Franklin & Bash, my guilty pleasure bro-lawyer show, has been canceled by TNT. Now I’ll never find out who was Franklin and who was Bash. [Variety]

According to Sharon Osbourne, The Osbournes will return to television for a short, follow-up series. However, it won’t be on MTV. [E! Online]

ABC Family announced return dates for all of our favorite series: Pretty Little Liars and Switched at Birth will return on January 6 at 8 and 9 PM, respectively. Melissa and Joey and Baby Daddy return January 14 starting at 8 PM. The Fosters and Chasing Life return January 19. [Deadline]

Showtime renewed both The Affair and Homeland. [Showtime]

Adding to the ever-growing list of movie-to-television adaptations, Starz has ordered a series based on The Evil Dead franchise, called Ash vs. Evil Dead. The pilot will be directed by Sam Raimi and is slated premiere in 2015. [Deadline]

James Wolk, who is always welcome on my television screen, has booked the lead role in Zoo. Zoo is CBS’ summer drama based on the James Patterson novel about “a wave of violent animal attacks against humans.” [THR]


The Best Homemade Gifts by and for TV Superfans

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Holiday gift shopping is simultaneously fun and frustrating. There’s the joy of finding the perfect gift for someone important in your life, but it’s first accompanied by the panic of searching for that perfect gift. Fortunately, if your recipient is a television fan — and who isn’t? — then there is no shortage of wonderful gifts to give them. Official TV merch is fun (and very, very weird), but if you want to get a little more personal, here are 15 unique, homemade gifts for the television obsessive in your life.

il_570xN.643965597_l7t330 Rock minimalist poster

This beautiful minimalist poster featuring one of Liz Lemon’s catchiest phrases makes a great gift for that sitcom lover in your life who is still not over the end of 30 Rock and continues to quote the show at least three times a day.


Watch The National Sing a Sad Christmas Song on Bob’s Burgers

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sad white guy

The National don’t exactly exude Christmas cheer, but they’ve actually contributed to the animated television series Bob’s Burgers on holiday songs several times in the past few years. This Christmas, The National appear as singing elf ornaments on the Belcher family Christmas tree, singing a (surprise!) melancholy song titled “Christmas Magic.” Check it out:

[Via Vulture]


The 5 Best Songs We Heard This Week: Madonna’s ‘Rebel Heart’ Highlights, Jodeci’s Domestic Violence Single

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Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean new music is on lockdown. Give these a listen if you’re recovering from Christmas music and/or year-end lists.

Madonna — “Ghosttown”

Following major leaks of her unfinished 13th album, Rebel Heart, last week, Madonna dropped six finished songs from the LP and formally announced its release date this March. Among these new songs, listeners find Madge trying exceptionally hard to stay current as far as pop production is concerned. Much of the time it feels a little disingenuous, even when she’s being “Real”; this is especially true of her Nicki Minaj x Diplo x SOPHIE collab, “Bitch I’m Madonna,” which borders on so bad it’s good (Nicki’s verse is unforgivable though). There is one song where this apparent trend-chasing works quite well: “Ghosttown.” The ballad embraces the post-Lorde barrage of semi-ambient electronic tracks with big choruses, and finds Madonna singing a universally vulnerable message about “your person,” whether it’s your significant other, your kids, or a friend. With its hard-hitting trio of organ, hand-claps, and minor tonality, the bridge slays me.

Jodeci feat. B.o.B — “Nobody Wins” 

One of the 1990s’ most influential R&B groups, Jodeci, released a song speaking out against domestic violence as their first single in nearly 20 years. If that isn’t awesome in theory to you, the song itself should be. B.o.B wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice of rappers to lead this, but the vocals and production — smooth in the foreground, unsettling in the background — make “Nobody Wins” a must-listen.

iLoveMakonnen, Ezra Koenig, and Despot — “Down 4 So Long (Remix)”

Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig bragging about Shmoney Dancing with goth teens: an accurate portrait of Music Twitter in 2014.

All Dogs — “Georgia” 

In this column a few weeks back, I highlighted a new Girlpool song off the second compilation from the feminist zine The Le Sigh. Now the compilation is out (on tape and via SoundCloud), and I have a new favorite song off it: All Dogs’ “Georgia.” If you’re a sucker for Swearin’, P.S. Eliot, Radiator Hospital, or any of the other Salinas Records bands that hit you with the one-two punch of pop hooks and mega feels, I’d recommend Columbus, Ohio’s All Dogs as one to watch in 2015.

The National’s x Bob’s Buskers — “Christmas Magic” 

I know I said no holiday tunes, but you’re a Grinch if you don’t find The National’s second (second!) song for Bob’s Burgers‘ Bob’s Buskers series at least a little charming. Matt Berninger as an animated tree ornament isn’t quite as priceless as St. Vincent soundtracking Tina Belcher trying (and failing) to be a bad girl, but it’s still worth a watch and listen.


A ‘Bob’s Burgers’ Cookbook Is Imminent

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bobsburgers

Bob’s Burgers, which is an animated show about a man named Bob, his family, and their restaurant in which burgers are served, is a pretty big deal. So big, in fact, that it’s now going to be immortalized in a real-life cookbook, and all because Cole Bowden, an engineer, was a big fan of the show and started creating recipes for the sandwiches mentioned on the show on his blog, simply and smartly called “The Bob’s Burger Experiment.” Now, that blog will become a book, as is so often the norm in today’s publishing landscape.

No word as of a release date, but it’s being published by Rizzoli. Hopefully none of the recipes call for human flesh.

 


Jaw-Droppingly Intricate Crayola Mini-Sculptures of Pop Culture Characters

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There aren’t that many totally universal experiences, but it seems safe to say that most of us spent a fair amount of our childhood with a crayon in our hands (or, more accurately, in our hands and our mouths. Just me?). Yet after they’re broken or melted (or eaten!), most of us just throw them away — but not Hoang Tran. This multimedia artist ingeniously carves large crayons into icons of popular culture, with carefully applied melted wax from other crayons adding color accents. It sounds far too time-consuming and delicate for an impatient clod like your correspondent, but Tran’s done a ton of these amazing mini-sculptures, so we’ve picked a few of our favorites; check out the full assortment over at his Tumblr.

Artist Credit: Hoang Tran

Artist Credit: Hoang Tran


There’s a Sleater-Kinney/’Bob’s Burgers’ Crossover Video and You Should Watch It

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Bobs Sleater

The official video was just released for Sleater-Kinney’s single “A New Wave”… and it was made by the creators of Bob’s Burgers. The animated film features Tina Belcher slipping the new Sleater-Kinney record into her CD player, and being greeted with a vision of the band themselves playing in her bedroom. The noise attracts her equally awesome siblings, and soon there’s a whole lot of psychedelic headbanging going on. In other words, it’s great and it combines two of our favorite things and you should watch it right now:


Television’s Most Realistic Mom-Child Relationships

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There was something oddly comforting about watching Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson having an awkward mother-daughter spat with mom Melanie Griffith on the Oscars red carpet. When asked if Griffith had seen the film, in which Johnson plays an oft-nude virginal initiate into the world of BDSM, she said no and that she didn’t need to see it to know her daughter was a good actress. Cue a familiar eye roll and a few fed-up expletives from a bratty Johnson.

It’s telling that one of the most realistic portrayals of a mother-child relationship on television this year didn’t happen in a family sitcom, but at an awards show. But there are a few family-driven programs that have presented believable moms and children, like Amy Sherman-Palladino’s beloved Gilmore Girls. The pop culture-obsessed relationship between Alexis Bledel’s Rory and Lauren Graham’s Lorelai was dynamic. Lorelai’s complicated relationship with blue-blood matriarch Emily (played by Kelly Bishop, who celebrates a birthday today) was also unique. Bossy and often brutal, Emily was not simply a caricature of a parent who just didn’t understand. She longed to find that connection with Lorelai, whose hurt and frustrations would often get in the way of building a bond.

Here are other mother-child relationships on television that broke the mold and got real.

Roseanne Cast (TV) 1988 1st Season Credit: ABC/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection

Roseanne Conner, Roseanne

Roseanne Conner (played by Roseanne Barr), the outspoken matriarch of one of television’s most successful working-class family sitcoms, remains the standard by which realistic TV moms are judged. The Conners face money struggles, domestic strife, teen pregnancy, and other issues familiar to the average American family. Roseanne deals with things with humor and without wrapping a neat, little bow on the family’s problems. She doesn’t have all the answers and offers realistic advice when daughters Darlene and Becky complain about the trials of young adulthood. And Roseanne has her own life to sort out while she’s busy being mom, especially her career as co-owner of the Lanford Lunch Box restaurant.


‘Magic Mike XXL’ and the Rise of the Female Gaze

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Magic Mike

“I think it’s appalling that for a long time only women were objectified, but I think if we really want to advocate for equality, it’s important to even things out,” said recently beefed-up Jurassic World star Chris Pratt last week. “Not objectify women less, but objectify men just as often as we objectify women.”

As I sat in a press screening for Magic Mike XXL and heard the unapologetic hoots of women journalists greet the first thudding notes of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and the shouts continue to crest while Channing Tatum gyrated and welded, moving in sync with his power tools (“He could really hurt himself!” I thought, ever neurotic, before I let the moment take me with it), I couldn’t help but acknowledge that Pratt’s dream of equal-opportunity objectification is rapidly coming to fruition.

magic mike

After centuries, nay, millennia, of the male gaze reigning supreme (shoutout to  Titian and Courbet, legit great painters!), the female gaze is finally on the rise. “No one does sex for women well — not in film and not on TV. Women are accustomed to seeing distorted images of themselves reflected back by way of the male gaze, but media that operates from the nexus of a woman’s desire is still so rare,” Transparent‘s Jill Soloway told Ms. Magazine last year. “We’re essentially inventing the female gaze right now — not just myself, but also showrunners like Jenji Kohan,” she added. To this, I’d add that this gaze inversion isn’t just happening  in sophisticated, queer-friendly shows like Transparent and Orange Is the New Back, but has leeched out into popular (and often dumber) entertainment, too.

Pratt feels objectified. Outlander turns its kilt-clad, brawny, tortured male star, Sam Heughan, into an object in more ways than one. Not to be outdone, Masterpiece Classic is broadcasting the BBC’s Poldark, which highlights its male star’s abs in an upcoming half-naked scything scene that our friends across the pond really enjoyed.

poldark gif

Broad City‘s gals stand by the basketball court to ogle dudes in basketball shorts until their gaze subjects are made uncomfortable.

abbie and ilana

Bob’s Burgers‘ Tina Belcher has the healthiest libido and female gaze in the cartoon universe — she’s a pop-cultural teenage girl who is as horny as the cartoon teenage boys who have come before her.

tina belcher

butts

And Magic Mike has shimmied, on the strength of its stars’ pecs and good nature, into a popular franchise —  while Channing Tatum has developed something of a specialty in appealing to the ladies.

Bare chests and man-thongs are only the beginning: Magic Mike XXL is explicitly geared to women. The male strippers talk constantly (and to me, a little dubiously) about how their work involves healing women, listening to their customers as other men don’t, and multiple plotlines involve making sad women happy once more or bringing sexual satisfaction to women who haven’t had enough.  Joe Manganiello’s best moment is a convenience-store striptease that gets a sad female clerk to grin; Channing Tatum works on a forlorn photographer who’s lost her smile. The other men claim to see beauty in all women — the camera pans across strip-club clientele of all shapes, colors, and sizes — and don’t mind being surrounded and mobbed by this diverse array of adoring, leering fans. Jada Pinkett Smith, hamming it up as a fabulous proprietress of a fantasy strip club in Savannah, calls all the women who come to her club “queens,” and her eyes rove for the ones who need a confidence boost, and will then get serenaded by Donald Glover’s soulful singing self-esteem-bestowing stripper. In Magic Mike’s world, women come first.

A few quick caveats before I praise this trend: the bad kind of objectification, which entails not just lustily appreciating someone sexually but reducing them solely to their looks, isn’t great if it’s taken to extremes either direction — furthermore, claiming that all women like a certain kind of entertainment is reductive. Obviously, different eye candy strokes will work for different folks. All that having been said,  popular entertainment, which exists to spin fantasies onto the screen and page, really ought to cater to tastes beyond the stereotypical male ones, which might not even be what all men like. “I think obviously women have been starved for quite a while because all of these films and shows that are coming out right now that are catering to that, you see the voracity of the audience,” Outlander star Catronia Biofe told Salon, after the mid-season premiere’s extremely lengthy sex scene that emphasized female pleasure. “I think if it’s some kind of mini-revolution of sexual awakening for women in the media, then that’s fantastic.”

In fact, this mini-revolution in taste goes beyond sexuality and reversing the gaze. As I sat through Magic Mike XXL, alternately entertained and bored, I kept thinking about another big sequel I saw earlier this year, Pitch Perfect 2. Both of these films managed to last nearly two hours with only a few wisps of actual conflict — which almost made them feel anarchic for their near-rejection of a traditional plot — and nary a genuine hurdle for the protagonist. Each was ostensibly framed around a competition, yet both undercut that structure by emphasizing togetherness, hard work, the quirks of the weird members of their ensembles, and the sheer fun of their respective art forms — female a capella and male striptease. Each film’s prevailing mood was goofy, with humor ranging from absolutely corny to genuinely cutting  and completely positive in spirit.

Thinking back about other “surprise” hit films that puzzled critics but that women loved in box offices, from Mamma Mia! through Twilight (which gets prodded at in Magic Mike XXL) through today, you begin to see that “the female gaze” may not just consist of the camera panning down the male body, or putting women in traditionally male roles, but also about embracing aesthetic preferences that disrupt linear, conflict- and violence-ridden storytelling structures with lingering romantic awkwardness, offbeat humor, earnest themes, and occasionally fanciful song and dance routines that defy reality. But hey, how much less realistic is solving a plot problem via choreography than solving one through blowing things up, after all, and walking away casually? The point is, the doorway is widening. And the more diverse ways we have of telling mainstream stories, the more likely audiences  will find something that speaks to them, irregardless of gender expression or identity.

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