Thanksgiving is one of the big three sitcom holidays, along with Christmas and Halloween. These holidays lend themselves well to comedies: families coming together, over-the-top costumes, awkward and hilarious conversations, and sticky-sweet emotions. Each holiday has its comedic benefits, but Thanksgiving might be the best for family-oriented sitcoms — and no comedy does these episodes better than Bob’s Burgers.
The very basic elements of Thanksgiving are built right into the series’ DNA. Bob’s Burgers is a series that loves blending completely absurd situations (and occasional gross-out comedy) with the warm fuzziness that comes along with a family who truly love each other. (It also helps that it can be a food-centric sitcom; the Thanksgiving episodes really play up Bob’s love, and talent, for cooking.) Nowhere are these elements more apparent than in the series’ Thanksgiving episodes: “Turkey in a Can,” finds Bob sleepwalking and placing turkeys in the toilet night after night, while also stressing about Tina growing up — and growing away from him, as teenage daughters tend to do — because she’s trying to prove that she’s adult enough to take the leap from the kids’ table to the adults’. “Dawn of the Peck,” a wacky half-hour that features Linda and the kids trying to survive a group of wild, murderous turkeys while Bob gets drunker and drunker at home, alone and stressing out about not cooking dinner, because the family ditched him, even though he really wants to cook. The stories brilliantly converge (Bob potty-training a turkey as he reminisces about potty-training Tina; Bob running into his family — and the evil turkeys — while giving in to his overwhelming desire to cook), effortlessly blending the weird and the warmth.
This is because the weird is the warmth in Bob’s Burgers. They are not separate aspects of the series; they’re two characteristics that can seem conflicting on the surface, but instead cleverly work together to heighten each other’s impact. It results in uproariously funny storylines that ultimately evoke a feeling of drowsy, peaceful happiness — sort of like the post-dinner, turkey-induced nap that calms your body after the stress of cooking a feast or sitting through family tension at the table. Bob’s Burgers often employs the same mishaps as many comedic programs on television, particularly family-oriented sitcoms, but with its own unique twists. The turkey doesn’t just get burnt in the oven — it gets tossed in the toilet, rolled in a litter box, and puked on by Linda; Bob doesn’t just get stuck in a blizzard trying to be with his family on Thanksgiving — he is stuck pulling his annoying sister-in-law and her sick cat on a makeshift sleigh down the snow-covered roads. Bob’s Burgers can take the most overdone Thanksgiving episode cliches and flip them into something refreshingly original.
The heart of the show remains in the eccentricities of Linda pecking at a turkey to gain control over it, or Tina struggling to “play adult,” or Bob climbing into a tree to save a cat who doesn’t seem to particularly like him. The sitcom can be emotional and sentimental, but it’s all juxtaposed with some ridiculous moments (and lots of scenes featuring a very drunk Bob and/or Linda) that make sure it doesn’t go too far into either direction.
Bob’s Burgers actually does all of its holiday episodes right, whether it’s a Halloween episode where the kids go trick-or-treating without their parents or a Christmas episode that doubles as a horror movie on the road. Yet it’s Thanksgiving where the show most consistently shines, perhaps because of the holiday’s emphasis on love and family. Strip away the more complicated controversies surrounding Thanksgiving, and it boils down to family togetherness, whether it’s a blood relation, friends, or the landlord who hires the Belchers to pose as his family to impress his ex. The point isn’t who makes up the family, or what mishaps they encounter on the way to being together. The point is that they all end up together, embracing and celebrating the idiosyncrasies that make them special.