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.
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.