Halloween is over. Christmas is starting to crowd the store windows. In other words, it’s time for Thanksgiving! A holiday of turkeys and toasts, feasts and family, and more than a few graceless moments. There’s big potential for drama; why else would Thanksgiving specials exist?
In fact, for many shows, Thanksgiving is just discount-Christmas. It’s a rehearsal for later, snowier adventures. However, there’s something in getting together without the presents and lore that makes Thanksgiving so much juicier. Awkwardness is at a fever-pitch. Boundaries are tangled up and crossed. These are just a few of the narratives such episodes follow.
Naturally, sitcoms do well here. Look up ‘ best Thanksgiving episodes’ and you’ll find Friends near the top of the list. What you won’t find is Bob’s Burgers, a FOX animated sitcom about a family-run burger restaurant. Our main cast is the Belchers: Bob, Linda, and their kids, Tina, Gene, and Louise. They get up to some weird stuff; their shenanigans are proof that animation isn’t just for kids. Bob’s Burgers Thanksgiving episodes also defy that perception, proving to be both hilarious and full of meaning.
S3, E5: “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”
In the show’s first special, we learn that Thanksgiving is Bob’s favorite holiday. He loves everything about it: the turkey, the traditions, but most of all, his “funny” toast. However, his family isn’t quite as smitten with Thanksgiving. As Louise says:
“Check the rankings!”
Mr. Fischoeder — the Belchers’ landlord — drops by with an unusual offer. Five months of free rent in exchange for Linda and the kids. They must pretend to be his family at his Thanksgiving dinner. With reluctance, Bob agrees — it’s a lot of money, after all. He plans ways that the Belchers can keep up their own traditions, however, the family skips out in lieu of keeping up the charade.
Who is it all for? Shelby Schnabel: an old flame of Mr. Fischoeder’s. Witty and unabashed, she’s said to be “the most famous sharpshooter since Annie Oakley.” She’s also a serial adulteress. In one of the episode’s most genius lines, Shelby states:
“I respect myself too much not to be the ‘other woman.’”
Bob’s Burgers Takeaway #1
Violence vs. love. Adultery vs. family. Shelby Schnabel is a foil to the Thanksgiving spirit. It’s only when she shoots at Bob — who at this point has run off with the turkey — that his family finally says: too far. Sure, they could use Fischoeder’s money. Sure, they’re not Thanksgiving people. But are these things worth Bob’s safety? Moreover, do they justify breaking his heart?
Bob talks to the turkey, for God’s sake (with the help of some absinthe). He feels abandoned and betrayed. Really, that’s the moral in all of this: nothing is worth making a loved one feel crappy. Bob’s family, as always, takes it in stride. They go home and eat the turkey, picking around the bullet shrapnel. It’s a Belchers Thanksgiving dinner if I ever saw one.
S4, E5: “Turkey In A Can”
Bob’s Burgers’ second Thanksgiving special seemed normal at first. Bob is busy preparing the turkey; Gene and Linda ponder Thanksgiving songs. In the blink of an eye, it all goes in the toilet. The turkey does, anyway. The rest of the episode follows Bob as he tries to outsmart the evildoer. He buys turkey after turkey, but each one meets a similar fate. It seems we’ll never know ‘whodunit.’ That is until Bob dozes off at the table.
Bob’s Burgers Takeaway #2
In one of the episode’s subplots, Tina tries to sit at the “adult’s table.” She rocks twelve shades of lipstick and pantyhose, much to Bob’s chagrin. He bans her from the adult’s table, using the classic “too young” argument. In the same scene, Gene and Bob have this exchange:
“You love the turkey more than you love us!”
“That’s right! I do! I love turkeys!”
It’s easy to miss the significance lying beneath that humor. Bob does seem rather infatuated with Thanksgiving. He obsesses over this ‘attack’ on the holiday; it turns it from a celebration to a chore. It’s the opposite of the first special. Bob is now the one lacking spirit. He’s so dead inside that he starts to sleep-walk, taking the turkey with him.
Here, it’s revealed that Bob had been the culprit all along. He’d been dreaming of potty-training Tina; as a result, the turkeys ended up in the toilet. It’s a gross but sweet moment. It proves that Bob’s mind had always been on his family. Furthermore, it slips his dread at seeing Tina grow up. It’s like that for most families; holidays serve as a ‘Check Point’. Like Bob, you notice how much everyone has grown. In this way, “Turkey In A Can” both normalizes holiday nostalgia and implies that you’d be better off just talking it out.
S5, E4: “Dawn Of The Peck”
This Thanksgiving special was inspired by George Romero ‘s 1978, Dawn of the Dead. Instead of classic zombies, our characters are hunted by a deranged flock of birds. It all starts when Bob’s family goes to the “Turk-tacular Turkey-town Festival.” The kids jump on a ride. Linda and Teddy join “The Turkey Trot,” a run with real turkeys. However, upon release, the birds begin viciously attacking people, overrunning the whole town.
Meanwhile, Bob is at home. He’s sworn off cooking Thanksgiving dinner. At first, he seems to like the freedom, crooning to Donna Summer, drinking a lot. Then, he comes upon the turkey baster. The scene that follows is one of my favorites in the entire show. Full of guilt, Bob drunkenly declares that he will cook Thanksgiving dinner:
“You’re right, turkey baster. I’m Bob. I make dinner. It’s not too late!”
Bonus lesson: sometimes, you need to do things for yourself!
Bob’s Burgers Takeaway #3
Linda is undoubtedly the star of this episode. She leads the charge — first in rescuing the kids, then later in rescuing Bob. One turkey — dubbed “Cyclops” because of a missing eye — seems to have it out for her. He’s the current “alpha turkey,” the one that needs challenging. According to Teddy, the birds are violent because their social hierarchy has been jumbled. Turns out the “Turkey Trot” was really more of a “Random Bird Trot.” Now they’re going around, pecking at anything with a pulse. They’ll peck and peck until someone pecks back. Of course, that person is Linda.
Linda’s the only one crazy enough to try it, so she becomes the “Queen of the Turkeys.” Even so, she didn’t act alone. Linda, the kids, Teddy, and Mickey survived through teamwork. In a way, they resemble the flock: a mismatched band of oddballs. Their strength lies in their bonds with one another, as that’s what ultimately separates us from the animals (or at least one-eyed turkeys).
S6, E4: “Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled”
This special is as straightforward as it gets. On a snowy Thanksgiving, Bob goes out to fetch Linda’s sister, Gayle. She’s on crutches, having hurt her ankle “[slipping] on salsa while salsa dancing.” After an eternity of waiting for Gayle to get ready, Bob discovers that his car has been snowed in. He’s then forced to drag Gayle and her cat back home on a kiddy pool. As always, her antics drive him to the brink of insanity.
Bob’s Burgers Takeaway #4
It’s an entertaining episode, fraught with cringe and hilarity. However, its message is of a more obvious variety. By the end of the episode, we’re quite aware of what it’s trying to tell us. Bob says it outright in his toast:
“Maybe it’s good to be annoyed by your family, because that means you have one.”
This isn’t bad, per se, but it leaves little to the imagination. Bob’s Burgers works well because it’s unafraid of total absurdity. It trusts its themes and characters to coax us into an understanding. Still, “Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled” does its job. It screams “expect to be driven nuts this Thanksgiving.”
S7, E6: “The Quirk-ducers”
Bob’s Burgers’ fifth special zeroes in on the Belcher kids. It’s a breath of fresh air that also serves to emphasize sibling relationships. We begin with Louise complaining about the school counselor, Mr. Frond. Every year, he puts on a mandatory skit the day before Thanksgiving, lengthening what is supposed to be a half-day. This time, Louise is determined to get it back.
Meanwhile, Tina is writing some Thanksgiving-themed “erotic friend fiction.” The story is a thinly veiled metaphor for her own insecurities. For Louise, it’s the way out; she convinces Tina to turn it into a play. Behind her back, she plans to make it so offensive that Frond shuts it down. Tina overhears Louise talking about it. It’s here that the sisters’ relationship truly shines.
Bob’s Burgers Takeaway #5
Tina is shy, boy-crazy, and honest. Louise is boisterous, boy-repellant — for the most part — and routinely conniving. They’re almost opposites. However, both have a great understanding of the other. Tina is upset that Louise betrayed her but ultimately goes along with her plan. She may have agreed out of peer pressure. However, I think she did it for Louise. Tina knew how much Louise wanted that half-day. She sacrificed the integrity of her story for her.
Eventually, Louise comes around. She apologizes and is fully prepared to clean up the — quite literal — mess. However, Tina isn’t ready to give up. She goes back on stage and manages to move the crowd that her play had traumatized minutes earlier. Louise looks on. You can hear the pride in her voice as she says:
“Tina, you son of a bitch.”
It’s a happy ending that reminds us that it’s never too late to turn things around!
S8, E5: “Thanks-hoarding”
Thanksgiving special #8 brings us our favorite handyman: Teddy! We’ve come to know him as the sweet but slightly clingy family friend. Increasingly, Teddy’s role in Bob’s Burgers has become more pivotal. He’s now one of its most beloved characters. It’s only fair that he gets a Thanksgiving spotlight — and boy, do we learn a few things?
We start off with Teddy bursting into the restaurant, begging for the Belchers’ help. His family is coming over for Thanksgiving dinner and he has no idea how to prepare. Bob tries to show him the ropes in the kitchen. Linda and the kids task themselves with cleaning up. However, in doing so they discover Teddy’s secret: he’s a hoarder.
Bob’s Burgers Takeaway #6
It’s not too far a leap character-wise, but it does come as a surprise. The last time we saw Teddy’s house was in “Full Bars,” where there weren’t any signs of clutter. Of course, there are several theories out there. Some fans speculate that “Full Bars” was where the behavior began; after all that is when Teddy loses his beloved guinea pig. Either way, he’s got it bad. He panics when Linda and the kids begin purging his things.
“It’s not trash. All this stuff can be fixed; you don’t just give up on stuff!”
As a kid, Teddy was always looking to “fix” things between his parents. No wonder he ended up as a handyman. It’s how he copes, and finds meaning in his life. As Louise points out, there are parallels with Bob and his obsession with Thanksgiving. Both are a bit strange, but no harm is done. In this way, “Thanks-hoarding” teaches us two things:
- People cope in different ways.
- As a friend, always mind when and how you step in.
S9, E7: “I Bob Your Pardon”
Last but not least, we have “I Bob Your Pardon.” Like “Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled,” its story is rather direct. The Belcher family goes to the town’s first turkey pardoning. The kids eavesdrop on the Mayor’s assistant; they discover the turkey isn’t really going to be spared. Tina and Linda insist on saving it. Neither Bob nor Louise is especially interested; Gene is chaotically neutral about it. Still, they band together, and — with the help of a journalist — attempt to free the turkey and expose the Mayor’s cover-up.
Bob’s Burgers Takeaway #7
Even if its delivery is straightforward, the lesson here has a grander scope than we’re used to. It’s pretty well summarized by Bob himself:
“I really don’t want my kids to think this is how the world works. That people don’t keep their word. Even if it is to…turkeys.”
We’re all aware that corruption is a real thing. It has lasting effects on the makeup of our world and its attitudes. For this reason, we should take every opportunity to stand up for what’s right. No issue is too big or too small or too feathery. Bob’s Burgers teaches us to chase after it all.
Want A Piece Of Bob’s Burgers?
As you can see, Bob’s Burgers flaunts some bizarre but powerful Thanksgiving episodes. It’s rare that a show successfully balances the weird and the familiar. We may not run a burger restaurant.
We may not even dream of experiencing the Belchers’ adventures. However, the show still manages to make us feel right at home. You can watch Bob’s Burgers on Hulu and FOX. There’s plenty more to feast your eyes on! In fact, Season 10’s Thanksgiving special, “Now We’re Not Cooking With Gas,” has just been released. Looking for more ways to get in touch with your inner-Bob? Try out these recipes this Thanksgiving. Gobble up the holiday in any way you can!