The Fox animated sitcom “Bob’s Burgers” concluded its 12th season on Sunday, but fans, fear not: “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” debuts on Friday.
Created by Loren Bouchard, “Bob’s Burgers” centers on the Belcher family, led by Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and his wife, Linda (John Roberts), who with help from their three children run a struggling restaurant in an unnamed city. Much like “The Simpsons,” “Bob’s” offers a wry twist on the live-action family sitcom, and it has expanded over the years to form a rich world of colorful guest characters that feels specific, lived-in and real.
With more than 200 episodes, picking favorites isn’t easy. Fans will tell you that the writers excel at holiday-themed episodes, and the occasional A-list guest star can produce comedy gold. But the key to understanding the success of “Bob’s Burgers” is in the Belchers themselves: They push one another’s buttons in ways that only families can, but they are also one another’s most reliable support system.
Through all of the chaos of recent years, there’s been something comforting about knowing that the Belcher clan is keeping its head above water. Here are 10 must-watch episodes for getting to know them before the movie’s premiere. (All 12 seasons are on Hulu.)
‘Bob Day Afternoon’ (Season 2, Episode 2)
The first season of “Bob’s Burgers” felt like a writing staff trying to find its sense of humor. This is the show’s first great episode, a chapter that finds Bob embroiled in a bank robbery undertaken by a hapless criminal named Mickey (Bill Hader). The Belchers will try to turn anything into publicity, which is what happens when Bob realizes that the hostage-taking criminal wants burgers from his restaurant. It’s also an early example of how often “Bob’s” storytelling hinges on miscommunications that lead to a Belcher’s being thrust into the role of an ordinary hero in an extraordinary situation.
‘An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal’ (Season 3, Episode 5)
There are several strong holiday-themed episodes that could make the list, but this Thanksgiving episode tops them all. It’s a formative chapter for the playfully manipulative Calvin Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), the Belchers’ landlord, who offers the family free rent for five months if they pretend to be his family for the holiday. Class issues often elevate the best episodes of “Bob’s”; this one demonstrates both how much the Belchers could use the free rent and their unwillingness to sacrifice family unity to get it. It also features “The Thanksgiving Song,” one of the greatest songs from a show known for its clever music. It was even covered by the rock band The National.
‘Broadcast Wagstaff School News’ (Season 3, Episode 12)
By this point, the writers knew what made the Belchers funny, producing several fantastic chapters in the first half of the third season. This one rises above many strong contenders from this period by highlighting the Belcher children and the array of personalities at their school, Wagstaff, which is under the threat of a serial defecator known as the “Mad Pooper.” It also really allows the awkward eldest child, Tina (Dan Mintz), a chance to shine when her superiors at the school news station try to bury the story, forcing her to skirt journalistic ethics to break it. It’s a perfect example of how the writing on this show can use juvenile premises to craft smart comedy.
‘O.T.: The Outside Toilet’ (Season 3, Episode 15)
Again, the writers on “Bob’s Burgers” find a way to elevate toilet humor, this time with a literal commode. The best episodes of this show often blend the odd with the heartfelt, such as in this tale, in which the creative middle child, Gene (Eugene Mirman), finds a talking toilet (Jon Hamm) in the woods and makes it his best friend. At the same time, Bob and Linda end up at a restaurant at which Bob keeps being sent free drinks just because he looks sharp enough in his suit to deserve them. A truly strange episode, it’s a great showcase for Gene’s sense of humor, tying together the impossible tale of a boy and his new best friend with a memorable night on the town for his parents.
‘Christmas in the Car’ (Season 4, Episode 8)
A list like this wouldn’t be complete without a Christmas episode, and this is just barely the best, a quirky blend of classic family sitcom holiday conventions with the structure of a thriller. Bob and his family need a new tree on Christmas Eve, forcing them to drive to the only occupied lot, an hour away. When they leave, they’re almost hit by a semi made up to look like a candy cane, and the truck hunts them down. Linda still finds a way to get a local delicacy called a “Dutch baby” on the way home, while the kids try to catch Santa Claus but end up netting only Bob’s best customer, the very funny Teddy (Larry Murphy).
‘Word Hard or Die Trying, Girl’ (Season 5, Episode 1)
Consistently creative at this point in its run, “Bob’s Burgers” opened its fifth season in 2014 with one of its most inspired pop culture mash-ups. Gene has been planning a musical version of “Die Hard” to premiere at Wagstaff when his ex-girlfriend Courtney (David Wain) upstages him with her musical version of “Working Girl,” the “sassy sister film to ‘Die Hard.’” As Gene fights back with his own “protest production,” the writers unleash some of the best original music in the show’s history, capping it off with a Carly Simon cameo. The most memorable episodes of “Bob’s Burgers” often have a “let’s put on a show” creative spirit, and this best captures that passion.
‘Hawk & Chick’ (Season 5, Episode 20)
The fifth season of “Bob’s Burgers” ended with a one-two punch of brilliance, starting with a tale that blended the creative passion of the Belchers with a moving examination of the love between Bob and his precocious youngest daughter, Louise (Kristen Schaal). They are startled to find a once-famous Japanese actor named Kojima at their farmer’s market because he and his daughter, Yuki, were the stars of Bob and Louise’s favorite classic samurai franchise, “Hawk & Chick.” When they discover that Koji and Yuki are estranged, they mount a special screening to reunite them, but missing subtitles force the Belchers to dub the film live. Hysterically funny, the episode also taps an emotional vein when Louise reveals how worried she is that she, too, could one day drift away from her father.
‘The Oeder Games’ (Season 5, Episode 21)
The writers of “Bob’s Burgers” often subtly allow the Belchers’ shaky economic status to influence their plotting, but it takes center stage in this brilliant season finale. When all of Mr. Fischoeder’s tenants arrive at his estate for a strike over a rent increase, the landlord turns the tables on them, offering a water balloon fight wherein the winner will have his or her rent cut in half. Despite Bob’s protests, everyone grabs a balloon, and Fischoeder’s plan to turn allies against one another seems to work. However, the battle royale doesn’t unfold the way he expects, ending one of the show’s best seasons with an examination of both the Belcher family’s unity and their impact on friends and neighbors.
‘The Hauntening’ (Season 6, Episode 3)
Halloween episodes of “Bob’s Burgers” are like playgrounds for the dark comedic sensibilities of the writing staff. In this episode, they play with some vicious imagery while ultimately emphasizing the connectedness of the Belcher clan. Bob and Linda plan to scare their children at a haunted house, especially Louise, who claims she is never actually frightened. As their scheme gets more and more intense, Louise eventually gives in to her fear, allowing her facade of the fearless child to fall away. It plays cleverly on what fans know and love about these characters, filtering it through the conventions of a traditional holiday sitcom episode and adding a “Bob’s” twist.
‘Glued: Where’s My Bob?’ (Season 6, Episode 19)
The 100th episode of “Bob’s Burgers” blends perfectly the show’s goofy sense of humor, its big heart and its recurring theme that teamwork can save the day. The celebrity chef Skip Marooch (Kumail Nanjiani) calls Bob with the news that he has landed his favorite burger man a profile in Coasters magazine, but the interview is derailed when a prank war among the Belcher children leads to Bob’s being literally glued to the toilet. As a crowd gathers outside to mock the local restaurateur, nearly everyone in the Belchers’ circle of friends shows up to try to save the day, leading to a surprisingly touching finale to another great season.