Keeping the Spark Alive

Bobs-Burgers-Wiki Store-next-door S04-E04A Leek of Their Own Burger

How do your favorite sitcoms keep things fresh? One of my favorite cartoon sitcoms is the show Bob’s Burgers. The repetition of food or business-related puns are embedded within the formula of the show; the opening theme sequence generally stays the same, yet every week the store next to Bob’s Burgers changes names. Some of my personal favorites – “I’d Hit That: Boxing Gym,” “Talk to the Hand: Glove Store,” “Earth, Wind, and Tires,” and “The Massagonist: Massages for Men.” I obviously have to acknowledge The Simpsons did the ever-changing theme sequence first, but puns are uniquely fundamental to the humor in Bob’s Burgers. In addition to the store name change, scenes that occur inside the restaurant feature an ever-changing burger of the day special pun. The puns refer to ingredients and even the theme of the episode, for example one Halloween episode has the burger special, “The Cauliflower’s Cumin From Inside the House Burger (comes with cauliflower & cumin).” Some other good ones: Poblano Picasso Burger (from the episode “Art Crawl”), Let’s Give ‘Em Something Shiitake ‘Bout Burger, I Know Why the Cajun Burger Sings, Chipotle Off the Old Block Burger, and A Good Manchego Is Hard to Find Burger. An episode about Bob being in a rut starts with his inability to come up with a good burger pun. The AV Club includes the puns from each episode review for Bob’s Burgers, and fans have embraced the word play foundational to the spirit of the show. Tropes such as this one help keep fans interested and engaged in the show – I always pay closer attention to the scenes in the restaurant because I don’t want to miss the pun.

Attempts to keeping a show interesting can also go terribly wrong and destroy the integrity of the show. The term “Cousin Oliver” refers to the trope of bringing in babies or young children as an attempt to liven up an aging show. Also known as “the Scrappy” in reference to the creation of the character Scrappy Doo on the classic cartoon Scooby Doo. Audiences often come to find the precocious kid brought on to shows to be grating and distracting from what made the show loveable in the first place. “Jumping the Shark” is a common term for the moment when long-running shows take a clear turn for the worse. It originates from a scene in Happy Days when Fonzie literally water-skis over a shark while wearing a leather jacket – the show had been on for so long the writers had lost inspiration and resorted to a ridiculous plotline which destroyed the integrity of the show.

Bob’s Burgers’ writers were smart to anticipate a long run and incorporate a trope that always changes in order to keep things fresh. Can you think of any other examples of a show you loved jumping the shark, or long-running gags that kept it fresh?

Elyse Conklin

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3 Responses to Keeping the Spark Alive

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I absolutely love Bob’s Burgers! All the reasons you like the show that you listed above are reasons this show has been consistently winning awards. Who says animated shows can’t stand up to live action? -Karly

  2. mediaphiles says:

    Every week when I watch this show, I always pause it in the opening sequence to make sure I have enough time to also read the weekly exterminator company on the side of the van. I love recurring jokes like that, they’re like little treats for the die-hard fans. I think another show that also does a number of recurring gags well is Parks and Recreation. There’s Andy’s alter-ego Burt Macklan, as well as April’s alter-ego Janet Snakehole. There’s Ben’s obsession with (and everyone else’s hatred of) calzones. There’s Leslie’s love of waffles. And so much more. These little recurring bits not only reward long-time viewers of the show, but they help to really develop and anchor characters to make them feel more real. Andy playing make-believe is part of his personality. Ben loving something despite everyone else giving him a hard time for it is very revealing about who he is. Leslie’s passion for waffles makes a semi-super-human feel more grounded and relatable. And Bob Belcher’s love of puns is so in line with who he is they even made a full episode out of it, like you mentioned, where he starts having an identity crisis when he loses his ability to make good puns. So recurring gags keep the show fresh, but they also help to make the characters more developed and rounded. Plus they’re hilarious. That’s a sign of some talented writing.

    –Kevin Pabst

  3. marymdalton says:

    This is YET ANOTHER one of the shows I watched an episode or two of but have not kept up with and wonder if I should…so many shows…so little time!

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