I can’t decide if it says something about the talents of Bob’s Burgers writers or the typical portrayal of females on TV, but every grown woman I know who watches the show (myself included) relates to Tina Belcher on an intimate level. She doesn’t just capture the dreaded Awkward Years of early teendom/late tweendom, she gives voice to the onslaught of
moments that continue well into womanhood. So it comes with great pleasure to see that Tina is now officially in the club. Well, at least in the Jewish sense of the word.
After not being invited to the Wagstaff social event of the season, Tammy’s bat mitzvah, Tina angles for her family to be hired as the event’s sixth caterer. Her motivation is two-fold: social acceptance, yes, but also butts. Specifically, butts belonging to BFOS (boys from other schools). “I need fresh faces — and fresh butts,” she announces at the breakfast table. “You’ll take the butts you’re given and you’ll like it!” Gene counters. (Best line of the episode: “She’s having BFOS from all around the world!”)
As Louise points out, Tina previously was “someone who thought Chanukah was about Han Solo and Chewbacca having a baby.” As the bat mitzvah gets under way, though, Tina’s lack of knowledge about Judaism becomes less and less important. After Louise uses the headset provided by event planner Janet to convince her to follow her Broadway dreams a la Streisand, Tina somehow becomes Tammy’s bat mitzvah schedule bitch. It’s a job she does well, despite Tammy’s inherent awfulness, a JAP (Jewish-American princess) stereotype if I’ve ever seen one on TV. Jenny Slate, the perpetual guest-star stealing the show, makes Tammy shine for the first time on Bob’s Burgers, really going whole-hog with her tween drama queen hysterics. (There’s a great line that sort of sums up the conditions that lead to Janet cracking: “If anything touches my lips without ranch dressing, I’m literally going to kill someone,” Tammy barks when they’re running low.)
While it’s clear who’s the star of “Mazel-Tina,” it’s Louise who facilitates the plotline with her usual scheming. In addition to Tammy toothpicks and a video featurette in the style of the Blossom intro, Tammy’s celebration also includes a light-up Tammy head that hangs above the crowd. When one of the eyeball lights flickers out, the head is lowered in order to replace it, at which point Louise sneaks inside. See, she’s trying to drop guacamole out of the puppet’s nose so it’ll look like snot. But Tammy catches on and follows her inside the puppet (which is oddly roomy), and this being a sitcom, the head is returned to its original position high above the dance floor with the girls still in it. (Classic Louise response: “This wasn’t the head I wanted them to find my bones in!”)
And so, Tina takes the wheel, filling in for Tammy across all of the bat mitzvah’s activities, ranging from the blessing over bread to the girl’s choice dance with hottie BFOS Justin (Tina to him: “I can’t tell where you back ends and your butt begins”). At first she does so hesitantly, only after Tammy’s loopy parents (the bisexual dad and the wino mom) dispel Tina’s fears over Tammy’s sudden disappearance. But soon Tina starts to own her power, and it becomes clear that her emerging womanhood is a real palpable thing that can’t be stopped. Tina’s eternal fumble through puberty has made her the show’s most relatable character, but within the animated genre, it’s rare to see characters grow up. Bart Simpson will always be a smarmy school-boy worm, but Tina Belcher just may work through the awkward years, even if her appearance remains the same.
When Louise sees Tina taking control of the party, she decides to keep Tammy trapped up in the head for a while longer, by not using her “broken” headset to call for help. As Tammy and Louise watch through the nostrils, the bat mitzvah moves forward as planned. Louise compares it to a reverse It’s a Wonderful Life, in which Tammy gets to see how much better her friends and family are without her shrieking at them. But Louise, for all her evil scheming, is human too, eventually calling Tina on the headset for help. Tina, on a power trip, ignores them, though they end up breaking free and reclaim the bat mitzvah… sort of.
It’s rare for Tina to be the belle of the ball and the villain, so “Mazel-Tina” was a big win for character development. It’s probably the greatest Tina-centric episode since last April’s “Boyz 4 Now.” That said, the episode was also incredibly funny, chock-full of great zingers and one-liners. The B-plot, however, got a little stale mostly because it’s been done many times before across TV and film: wedding crashing, albeit Bob and Linda style.