Greg: It’s interesting to see how longform installment-based storytelling, like comics or TV, has transitioned from being primarily self-contained stories that one can jump into at anytime to telling one long, overarching story that one must view from beginning to end using individual units simply as content demarcators. Obviously I’m way the heck oversimplifying and generalizing, but comedies in particular have a storytelling hurdle to jump: to keep laughing at characters’ fundamental behaviors, their behaviors must remain fundamentally the same, yet in this new vanguard of serialized storytelling where folks binge lots of content in a row, we kind of demand characters to change. Slightly paradoxical, I am thus unsurprised, if just a tad disappointed, that in its second issue Bob’s Burgers seems to be going purely episodic, settling into a formula that shows just how rigidly defined this title will be. And yet, the issue is just so damn funny that I have trouble complaining too much.
In Tina’s Erotic Friend Fiction, Tina (referred to constantly as “sir”, which never makes me not laugh) commands a spaceship and discovers the power of tango and love with a sensual robot. Louise’s Unsolved Mysteries And Curious Curiosities features an unexpected common bond between Louise and Mr. Ambrose, when they discover both of them enjoy writing in jokes in the World History textbook (Greg’s Brief Comedy Criticism Corner: Louise’s are from the gut and unrefined; Mr. Ambrose’s are from the brain and a little pretentious). Finally, Gene Belcher Presents us with another musical: a riff on Amadeus with Peter as naturally prodigious Mozart, and Gene as the fart-keyboard playing Salieri. In between, Bob and Linda get their one-page features, including a riotously funny riff on 10 Commandments Burgers that make me suspect writer Jeff Drake, like me, spent much of his childhood in church.
I’m not gonna lie, I could highlight my favorite gags and jokes, but because the joke-per-page ratio is so dense, it would take up my entire word count. In particular, Tina’s segment sometimes jams in 1-2 jokes per panel, courtesy of writer Justin Hook (“Prepare titans for launch.” “And prepare Thai food for lunch!” Literally, all this joke is is that those words are sort of similar, and yet it kills me). If you’ll allow me another Brief Comedy Criticism Corner, it’s that many of these jokes are simply verbal, and don’t feel specific or tailored to comics. In other words, I could see them playing simply as an episode of the TV show (albeit a very absurd one, in contrast to the semi-grounded world of the show). Is this terrible? No, definitley not, but the jokes that do play specifically with comics as a visual medium get a uniquely charged jolt of energy. In the future, I’d love to see more gags like this, where action onomatopoeias get real silly.
The only true misfire comes in Gene’s musical segment — and here is another observation of the creative team misunderstanding how to take advantage of comics versus television. In a TV episode, where we can actually hear the melodies and songs, this may have slayed; indeed, the show itself goes on many a musical tangent that lands brilliantly. Maybe I’m too musically minded (Drew, I’m curious to see if you have a similar problem), but because all I’m doing is reading rhyming couplet after rhyming couplet, my brain naturally tries to create some kind of melody. Then, when the the lyrics don’t match up syllabically with what my brain is on-the-fly creating, I get frustrated and distracted and can’t enjoy the jokes. Comics can do a lot of things, but they can’t make sounds, and it makes me wonder why the creative team of this title settled on one of the most aural mediums of communication for one of their formulas.
Drew, what’s your relationship with the show Bob’s Burgers coming into this? Do you think it would work as its own thing for someone who’s never seen it? And what are your thoughts on the formula they’ve settled with? Last time I mentioned that I wanted to see Bob and Tina get their own extended segments and it looks like that’s not gonna be the case. Does that diminish your enjoyment at all?
Drew: I was surprised to open this issue and see all of the segments were the same. Suddenly, what seemed like a free-form grab-bag of whatever ideas the writers could come up with feels WAY more formulaic. Granted, the formulas here still allow for a great deal of creativity — beyond their inspirations, the Star Wars riff here feels nothing like last month’s My Little Pony homage, for example — but just knowing that they’re formulas robs them of a little bit of freshness. It also pretty effectively crushes any hopes that Bob and Linda will ever feature in their own stories, as their voices are relegated almost exclusively to their written interstitials.
I’ll stop complaining now, because I do kind of love the interstitials, and I think it’s a credit to the writers that they manage to nail these character’s voices without the aid of Bob’s Burgers stellar voice cast. I’ll admit that I imagine Kristen Schaal and John Roberts reading these lines, but the fact that I can is a testament to how strong the voices are here. Which, actually, maybe kind of gets back to a complaint; Bob (and H. Jon Benjamin) are such strong comedic voices on the show, it’s a shame that he’s relegated to listing the puns that are the burger ideas. Don’t get me wrong — the burgers of the day are some of my favorite gags on the show, and these are more than up to par — it’s just that they’re usually just a visual gag, so don’t necessarily benefit from imagining Benjamin’s line readings. Those have always been a space for the writers to get as out-there as they can, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for exploring Bob as a character.
Of course, the burger ideas may actually be one of the better-suited gags for the medium. On the show, the gags are limited to whatever can be legibly written on the board behind the counter, but here, we can see more burger ideas (allowing for some higher-concept theme to tie them all together) and those ideas can be wordier. My favorite is definitely the “Bonus Burger”:
It’s probably the weakest (albeit least-strained) pun on the page, but I love that Bob inexplicably includes a diagram, as if he might be confused as to where all of these ingredients go on the final burger. It’s an absurd detail, but it makes me laugh.
Louise’s story was definitely the stand-out for me this issue (though that may have something to do with my general fondness for that character), and I think you’re right to call Gene’s musical number a misfire. Again, I think this carries us back to that formula — last month, the thought of a “musical” in a comic book was a silly nod to the musical numbers that often occur on the show, but the repetition of the formula here only highlights the awkwardness of trying to translate music to the written page. Ultimately, it limits writer Rachel Hastings to a rhyme-scheme that doesn’t always lend itself to great storytelling. Jokey musical numbers tend to feature strained non sequiturs to sew up the occasional rhyme, but those fall especially flat when there’s no music to smooth things over. Unfortunately, we get one of those awkward nonsense lines right off the bat.
On the whole, I enjoyed this issue more than I didn’t, but I definitely think the polish is starting to come off of these formulas. Some allow for more flexibility (I think Tina and Louise’s premises could go on forever), but I think this series would benefit from mixing things up. Who knows? Maybe next month will feature a totally new array of premises, or even switch over to fewer, longer stories. I mean, I think I’ll pick it up either way, but I’d certainly hope for a little more variety.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?