That Louise Belcher wants to turn the restaurant into a casino is the funniest thing in “The Kids Run The Restaurant,” the 20th episode of the third season of Bob’s Burgers. That might seem odd to anyone who hasn’t familiarized themselves with the show, but the best comedy on Loren Bouchard’s animated sitcom comes once we’ve internalized the characters and understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it in any given situation. In this case, Bob’s cut his hand and Linda’s driving him to the hospital, leaving the restaurant closed. The kids get mischievous and decide to reopen it to suit their own whims. And when we hear the word “gambling” slip out of Louise’s mouth, accompanied by a little Montgomery Burns finger-steepling action, we laugh not only because immediately anticipate an episode’s worth of mischief but because of course Louise wants to turn the restaurant into a casino. What a stinker.
The best comedy on Bob’s Burgers comes out of the characters and the distinct facets they’re allowed to develop over time. Superficially, they’re easy to peg: Bob the disgruntled, cynical dad; Linda the ditzy mom; Tina the nerd; Gene the dumbass; Louise the prankster. But unlike The Simpsons, which changes its characters’ attributes on a whim, the Belchers’ idiosyncrasies are allowed to ripen until the show’s comedy is permeated with them. It’s not that Linda likes to drink so much as that when she complains “who waters down a mimosa?” we understand the act of watering down a mimosa goes against everything she believes in.
So. The kids open the restaurant at one of the busiest times of the year, Fleet Week, for which a ton of sailors have made port. Gene wants to turn the restaurant into a “McChicky’s” and asks an incoming sailor how she’d like her chicken, something the restaurant almost certainly doesn’t have. The show spares us the scenario of Gene making a horrific chicken sandwich and serving it to the poor woman. It has bigger fish to fry. Gene might not even understand that there’s more to running a chicken restaurant than simply putting on a paper chicken hat and announcing chicken’s on the menu. He’s not the brightest Belcher, but Louise has the smarts not only to make a casino happen but to make it pay.
A lot happens once the casino opens. The patrons gamble on things like rock-paper-scissors and Operation, a charming imposition of kiddie logic on an adult environment (I was reminded a little of the bizarre New Hollywood bonanza Bugsy Malone, with pre-teen gangsters taking out their enemies with cream pies). We get to see Zeke’s stylings as a bouncer, which entail purple nurples as punishment, and as usual, he’s kind of charming (“you can keep the money or you can keep your nurple, but you can’t keep both!”). We see sailors in the crowd scenes. Their presence is never commented on by the script, and with their blank stares, they seem totally unperturbed by the fact that they’re gambling in a child casino. Bob’s gets a lot of mileage out of the expressions of its background characters, with their small, beady eyes and floppy sock-puppet mouths.
It goes without saying that Louise quickly turns mad with power. One of my favorite images in all Bob’s Burgers is of the Pesto twins locked in the basement’s walk-in fridge, shivering in their underwear, counting money at Louise’s behest. The twins are understandably unhappy about having to do this, but life has led them to that fridge, and they resign themselves to it with only a few shaky questions. They don’t even make a run for it, which makes sense when you try to imagine the Pesto twins getting anything done together.
The girl-group subplot is handled so lightly we barely even register it as a subplot. Gene drafts three classmates to perform as a Supremes-style trio in the casino, as makes sense within his ambitions as a musician; he’s an auteur in the Brian Wilson-Phil Spector vein, not a wannabe rock star, which is unusual for an 11-year-old but maybe appropriate for a keyboardist. This story arc’s really just an excuse for the girl group to break up so Gene can perform the song he wrote for them himself, Simpsons-esque beehive wig and all, and it’s a satisfying ending because it’s a triple fuck-you: to the gender binary Gene consistently sidesteps, to the imbalance inherent in the male producer-female singer relationship, and to the obstacles standing in Gene’s way to stardom. As we’ve learned again and again, whether it’s on his quest to find a two-butted goat or to stage a Die Hard musical, nothing can stop Gene Belcher once he gets on a roll.
Meanwhile, Bob is assigned a first-time doctor who’s never performed an operation without his supervisor. Bob wants to leave, but Linda’s a little too into the doctor, who must be in his early twenties. We understand Linda’s too morally steadfast to ever cheat on her Bobby, but we also suspect she’s thought of Tom Selleck in the sack a few more times than Bob would be comfortable with, and a little crush now and then isn’t something I’d put past her. That wouldn’t be an unreasonable explanation for her absurd behavior, which results in Bob waking up with his whole body shaved and his hand in a cast.
It’s always exhausting in media when we have to see kids get punished, and though Bob and Linda promise Louise will be in big trouble for opening an illegal gambling establishment in their business, we never actually see them lay down the law. On a psychological level, it’d turn us against them. Not that the kids don’t deserve to get grounded or worse. It’s just that no one likes seeing parents punish their kids because it’s a fucking drag and because no one likes authority. Instead, we get the best ending line of any Bob’s episode, followed by Linda riding out on a chorus line of sailors. “What more do you want/when the kids run the restaurant?” she sings, bemused by her batshit life. Jazz hands on that last syllable, because Linda’s totally lost in the song. Of course she is.
(I also wrote the Wikipedia plot summary for this episode—link here.)