Part of the beauty of Bob’s Burgers, Loren Bouchard’s sweet, ingenious, and utterly unhinged animated Fox comedy, is that nothing in the show’s universe ever changes, yet nothing ever feels the same—even as each episode (usually) ends with the Belchers resolving some dilemma after a relentless, 23-minute-long stream of densely packed jokes, Linda’s puns, Louise’s anarchy, Gene’s showmanship, Tina’s wonderful weirdness, and Bob’s many, many anxieties.
In this way, it’s like The Simpsons, where time never really passes, give or take the rare birthday or last day of school. In its Season 6 premiere, “Sliding Bobs,” Bob’s Burgers takes another page out of the Simpsons handbook, pulling off a “Treehouse of Horror”-style episode with three self-contained stories told by each of the Belcher kids. Instead of a spooky Halloween horror tale, the kids imagine something way, way scarier: What if Bob never had a mustache?
“You’re pedaling like crazy and not getting anywhere—just like your life!” The episode begins with one of Louise’s patent-issued third-degree burns aimed at her dad as he tries shedding calories on a bike machine he found out back. After a shower, to his horror, Bob finds that his upper lip is shedding hair faster than the mayonnaise jar-sized bald spot on his head—a catastrophe to Linda, since that now-patchy strip of hair is why she fell in love with him in the first place.
She tells us the previously unheard story of how she and Bob first met—back when she was still engaged to Hugo, the forever doomed-to-fail health inspector who’s had a vendetta against Bob and his restaurant ever since. It’s not actually that much of a story: she was out with a girlfriend at a bar, yelled “THIS IS HOW YOU THROW A SHRIMP!” and smacked bystander Bob in the face with her diamond-studded engagement ring, bringing her face-to-follicle with that “big, luxurious, Tom Selleckian mustache.” She ditched her fiancée and the rest is Belcher history.
But what if there had been no mustache to entangle Linda’s ring and heart? Would they have met and fallen in love anyway, as Tina insists with the level of passion she usually reserves for Jimmy Jr.’s butt? (“It’s called fate and it’s great. That’s an easy way to remember it,” she says.) To find out, Gene imagines a world in which nothing but Bob’s bare upper lip met with Linda’s ring at the bar, launching us into the first of three reimaginings of the Belchers’ origin story.
In Gene’s world, Linda’s ring would have cut a gash so deep in Bob’s face that it landed him in the hospital, where two probably-uncertified doctors’ first call is to put him into a coma. When Bob wakes up, he’s a Robocop-style cyborg, minus the robotics-enhanced body and plus one electric, law-enforcing mustache. Ta-da: meet Robo-stache.
Robo-stache is equipped with all the things that, in a preteen boy’s mind, a killer robot needs: a .45-caliber revolver, tear gas, a universal TV remote, and a melon baller. He’s a terrible cop, but his overzealousness leads him to a chance encounter with Linda. He shoots her in the mouth with a beanbag for singing in public but she’s semi-flattered anyway when he tells her she’s the 8th most attractive woman he’s seen that day. (“Oh?” Linda replies uncertainly.) But that’s not so much of an insult, since the other seven women were supermodels. (“Oh!!!”) No wait…they were prostitutes. (“Oh.”)
The couple goes to see Robo-stache’s creator, in the hopes of tuning down the voltage of Bob’s ‘stache so that making out with him feels less for Linda like sticking her tongue into a wall socket. But a laser-filled battle breaks out when Robo-stache’s creator turns out to be Bob’s landlord, Mr. Fishoeder, making the showdown as epic as Terminator vs. a Roomba. (Bob is the Roomba. He dies.)
Louise’s version ends only slightly less morbidly, with Bob making a wish for a mustache at a Mystic Swami fortune-telling machine after Linda tells him that he could use a little face candy. (You know the old saying: “A gentleman down south but a bad boy above the mouth.”) Like Tom Hanks in Big, Bob’s fortune-telling wish comes true and he sprouts a mustache that very night. And then a soul patch. Uh, and then some mutton chops. Then…knuckle-afros? By the time every inch of his skin has exploded with dark, wooly hair, Linda is struggling to keep from vomiting. The tale ends with Bob resigning himself to life as a seaside circus attraction and Linda joining a nunnery, getting kicked out, then landing in jail—because in Louise’s mind, nuns who get kicked out of nunneries automatically go to jail.
Tina hates every word that just came out of her siblings’ mouths. A diehard romantic, she insists that even without the mustache, Linda and Bob would have laughed off the misunderstanding and lived happily ever after. Louise bursts her bubble by pointing out that when he gets hurt, “Dad makes a weird noise…and it’s not attractive to women or to anyone.” Oh god, Tina realizes, it’s true. The story she’s spinning is totally not believable—a sin for someone who writes as much zombie erotica as she does.
Tina reconsiders the horror of the scenario, realizing that without the mustache, Linda would have stayed with Hugo and she, Louise, and Gene would have Hugo for a dad. Worse, they’d all be blond. We’re launched into a Twilight Zone alternate universe where Gene is named Dean and actually hates attention. Louise is Charlise, a stickers and princess-loving cutie pie who loves her parents and loves helping out with the restaurant. (“YOU’RE A MONSTER,” the real-life Louise screams at Tina.) And poor Tina is Mona, a preteen girl with “an appropriate interest in boys.” “Boys? Shrug,” Tina-as-Mona says. “What else you got? And don’t say horses.”
The Belchers are bowled over by this latest imagining and abort the story before it gets any darker. Tina is devastated at the notion that there is no such thing as fate and no one is “meant” for anyone. But then Linda, that sweet, nasally voice of reason, interjects: “Everything is random but that’s what makes life so wonderful. Sometimes everything in the universe lines up, like that night I met your father.” Bob realizes that the bike machine was causing the testicular failure that interrupted his mustache-growing hormones and, as always, everything comes up Belcher by the end.
Bob’s Burgers is rapidly approaching its 100th episode, which will air next spring—a landmark achievement for any TV show, but even more so for one that’s stayed so consistently funny over five seasons. Comedies in which every other line of dialogue is a joke can end up feeling like tiresome contests of one-upmanship between characters—or devolve into mean-spiritedness, like Family Guy—but that’s never the case with the Belchers. Every scenario, no matter how zany, remains grounded in the characters’ affections for each other. That sweetness is a big part of what makes the show so enjoyable to watch. Long live the Belcher family.