Vulture says no show currently on TV understands the wonder and anxiety that comes with the holidays like “Bob’s Burgers.”
Over the course of eight seasons, Bob’s Burgers has grown into a sweet-natured, brazenly weird, always hilarious meditation on the nature of family, one that rivals any live-action luminaries. And better than any other show on TV, Bob’s Burgers understands the blend of wonder and anxiety that comes with the holidays. This ranking of every holiday episode thus far highlights the greatest strengths of the series: its deft characterization, stellar voice acting, and the way it uses music to communicate its zany, tenderhearted nature.
19. Season 6, Episode 4, “Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled”
First off, let me say none of these episodes are bad. Even the most uneven Bob’s Burgers episodes have something to admire: a perfect one-liner, a sharp subplot, a great song. “Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled” isn’t a terrible episode, but it is profoundly uneven. It focuses on a comedy of errors that occurs when Bob, putting his plans for Thanksgiving dinner on hold, goes to pick up Gayle, Linda’s younger sister, voiced archly by Megan Mullally. This episode just reminds me that Gayle is the kind of character who works best in smaller doses or as an important part of the ensemble rather than the main focus, since she can go from the funniest (and saddest) rendition of a crazy cat lady to a grating presence pretty quickly.
18. Season 6, Episode 5, “Nice-Capades”
“Nice-Capades” isn’t so much a bad episode as it is a forgettable one. It centers on Louise’s fevered efforts to get on the good side of a mall-Santa she pissed off out of the fear that he’ll contact the real Santa, meaning she and the rest of the Belcher children will only get coal for Christmas. It’s always a bit hilarious realizing how precious Louise is about Santa and Christmas, considering how cunning and adultlike she can be. The most memorable aspect of “Nice-Capades” is Mr. Fishoeder singing a boozy Christmas song while his brother, Felix, ice-skates to a somewhat racy number.
17. Season 3, Episode 13, “My Fuzzy Valentine”
The reason why this episode ranks a bit lower than some might expect is because I believe Linda deserves better. Bob needs to step up his Valentine’s Day romanticism. He tries this year anyway when the kids skip school in order to help him get the best Valentine’s Day present for Linda, which turns into an adventure to track down a game they played on their first date. A day wasted and a lot of money later, Linda appreciates the lengths Bob goes to even if he was misremembering things — the game is from a first date he had with a completely different woman. What’s wondrous about this episode is Linda’s Valentine’s Day spirit as she turns the restaurant into a speed-dating site, even getting arrested in the process.
16. Season 7, Episode 6, “The Quirkducers”
Tina’s erotic fiction stories have been a defining aspect of the character since the first season. In “The Quirkducers,” her stories are pushed to the forefront when Louise decides to use the latest one, “The Quirky Turkey,” as a way to sabotage Mr. Frond’s typical Thanksgiving play in a bid to get out of school early before the holiday weekend. Mr. Frond is, of course, into Louise’s idea since she dresses it up as a tale about self-esteem. But Tina’s art is also on the line since she mistakenly believes that Louise is sincere about putting on her story as a musical. Poor Tina. What makes this episode such a blissful experience are its smaller moments, like the revelation that Peter and Zeke are the only members of the women’s issues club at school, leading Peter to sing a song during announcements in the cafeteria that begins with “I don’t have a vagina.”
15. Season 8, Episode 5, “Thanks-hoarding”
Season eight’s Thanksgiving episode forgoes the typical bonkers quality I’ve come to expect for a sincere look at Teddy’s home life. Basically, he’s a hoarder in desperate need of therapy. It’s a simple episode, bolstered by its genuine interest in how the dynamics of our childhoods haunt our adulthood, and it’s another example of Bob’s obsessive quest to pull off the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.
14. Season 7, Episode 9, “Bob Actually”
This episode is gloriously ridiculous as every member of the Belcher family gets caught up in the madness of Valentine’s Day. While Gene’s crush on a substitute lunch lady is a bit weird (and not in a good way), the rest of the episode is a hell of a lot of fun. Highlights include Bob taking a hip-hop dance class (ballroom was canceled since the teacher died) in order to impress Linda, and Louise mistakenly believing regular-size Rudy “like likes” her.
13. Season 7, Episode 3, “Teen-a-Witch”
One of Tina’s defining features is her utter lack of confidence, which she often deals with by attaching her sense of self to external obsessions, like erotic friend fiction and the idea of romance. In “Teen-a-Witch,” it’s witchcraft that becomes her latest obsession, leading to many high jinks, including a rivalry with a crossing guard who curses her. While “Teen-a-Witch” isn’t the best of Bob’s Burgers’ Halloween-themed episodes, it’s still a lot of fun.
12. Season 4, Episode 8, “Christmas in the Car”
While Thanksgiving is undoubtedly Bob’s greatest holiday obsession, it’s Linda who gets in a tizzy of emotion and does far too much whenever Christmas rolls around. This episode was originally going to be lower on the list since I wasn’t quite struck by it when I watched it a couple years ago. But in rewatching it, I noticed how deftly it was constructed (the failed, too-early attempts at Christmas trees feel like mini-episodes on their own) and it’s charming in its embrace of weirdness. It includes a harebrained plot by the kids to trap Santa, the realization that Tina still believes in Santa at 13, and a disgruntled, surprisingly short man targeting the family while driving a candy-cane truck.
11. Season 4, Episode 5, “Turkey in a Can”
“Turkey in a Can” is the perfect example of how Bob’s Burgers effortlessly blends the sincere with gross plot points. This Thanksgiving episode involves Bob waking up horrified to find the turkey he was marinating in the toilet. Despite his efforts (and all the money spent on turkeys), it keeps happening. But what starts off as a gross-out, hilarious episode becomes rather touching as it highlights the fear parents have about their children growing up.
10. Season 8, Episode 3, “The Wolf of Wharf Street”
Bob’s Burgers has made a lot of great episodes that use Linda’s anxiety about not being a cool mom to hilarious ends. “The Wolf of Wharf Street” continues that tradition as Linda goes trick-or-treating on a particularly gloomy Halloween with the kids, choosing to look for a lost wolf that is the talk of the town in order to prove her mettle. “The Wolf of Wharf Street” smartly blends the over the top (an injured Bob, blissed out on pain meds, believe Teddy is a werewolf) and the heartfelt (Linda’s protection of her kids while dressed as a Cher-iff). Bonus: the credits’ song led by Linda is a standout.
9. Season 5, Episode 6, “Father of the Bob”
Bob’s sad childhood has been touched on throughout the series, but in the Christmas-themed “Father of the Bob,” it is approached head-on when the Belchers go to Bob’s father’s restaurant. Bob faces his feelings of loneliness and not being appreciated by his father. But it isn’t a somber episode, just a heartfelt one, with plenty of bonkers moments, including Bob line-dancing at a gay club to apologize to his father for misinterpreting his gruffness as a lack of love.
8. Season 3, Episode 5, “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”
One of Bob’s Burgers’ greatest strengths is its surprisingly incisive handling of class politics. The show has never shied away from making it clear, often to hilarious ends, that the Belcher family are the working poor. In “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal,” this takes the shape of Mr. Fishoeder deciding to hire the Belchers to pretend to be his family in order to seduce an old crush — Shelby Schnabel, a badass sharpshooter and perpetual other woman. This episode is ridiculous in the best way as it details Bob’s hallucinations on absinthe, pretending to be the cook for Mr. Fishoeder, Linda’s terrible acting as Mrs. Fishoeder, and the delightful tidbit that the family considers Angela Lansbury’s birthday a better holiday than Thanksgiving.
7. Season 4, Episode 2, “Fort Night”
“Fort Night” is only the second Halloween episode in Bob’s Burgers history, but it remains one of my favorites from the entire series since it introduces one of my favorite supporting characters: Millie Frock (voiced by Molly Shannon with a perfect balance of creepiness and childlike sweetness). Millie is obsessed with Louise, often going to extreme lengths to make this friendship that doesn’t really exist work. In this episode, that means leaving Louise, the rest of the Belchers, and some of their friends trapped in a homemade fort, unable to enjoy Halloween. I’ve put “Fort Night” high on this list also because of the hilarity of seeing a frustrated Bob and Linda getting dressed up in the kids’ dragon costume and going trick-or-treating on their own.
6. Season 7, Episode 7, “The Last Gingerbread House on the Left”
“We’re poor and it’s Christmas again! It never stops!” Bob screams as he looks through the binders the kids gave him with their annotated Christmas list. This exclamation sets the tone for this ambitious, charming Christmas episode, in which Linda tries out caroling with the family, leading to mixed results, while Bob gets roped into a high-stakes gingerbread contest with Mr. Fishoeder and his ultrarich peers.
5. Season 3, Episode 9, “Bob Rest Ye Merry Gentle-Mannequins”
How did Bob’s Burgers make a Christmas episode about a delusional man great at window displays, who believes he was once a mannequin, a surprisingly moving exploration of loneliness? That’s exactly what the writers and voice cast pull off with the excellent “Bob Rest Ye Merry Gentle-Mannequins.”
4. Season 5, Episode 4, “Dawn of the Peck”
“Dawn of the Peck” eschews the typical focus of Bob’s Burgers’ Thanksgiving episodes — namely Bob’s obsession with perfecting dinner — in order to focus on a more bizarre plotline involving a “Turkey Trot” at Mr. Fishoeder’s Wonder Wharf that turns violent since the turkeys’ pecking order is out of whack. All the while, Bob drinks himself silly at home. Watching the Belcher family sans Bob, trying to remain unharmed by the crazed turkeys and other birds while stuck in Wonder Wharf, is ridiculous and weird in all the right ways, especially as supporting characters Mickey and Rudy get moments to shine.
3. Season 3, Episode 2, “Full Bars”
“Full Bars” is the first holiday-themed episode in Bob’s Burgers history and remains one of its best. Part of its charm is that both of its plotlines are expertly constructed and utterly hilarious, with just the right amount of zaniness. “Full Bars” follows the kids as they go trick-or-treating on their own for their first time at the moneyed King’s Head Island (for better candy). Their parents reluctantly attend Teddy’s Halloween party but are unable to escape when his old gerbil is accidentally killed, sending the handyman on the hunt for her killer. “Full Bars” is one of the episodes I watch most often no matter the time of year. Despite watching the episode countless times, I find that the jokes still land even though I know they’re coming. It’s also difficult to choose a favorite aspect of the episode: Is it the fact that Gene dresses up as Queen Latifah? Or is it the kids’ messy navigation of the teenagers on King’s Head Island, whose Halloween tradition is to torture the younger members of the island by throwing pee balloons at them? What makes “Full Bars” such a highlight is that there is no weak moment.
2. Season 6, Episode 3, “The Hauntening”
It makes a lot of sense that Louise would be the hardest Belcher kid to scare. It also makes sense that her family would come up with an elaborate way to scare her, making their own haunted house that involves a smart fake-out, a complex story, and just the right amount of horror tropes. It’s an immensely focused episode that takes place in pretty much one location, full of great one-liners and moments that perfectly capture the Halloween spirit. (Bonus: The Boyz4Now music video at the end of the episode is catchy and nuts in the best way possible.)
1. Season 8, Episode 6 and 7, “The Bleakening Parts 1 and 2”
The heart, humor, and inventiveness of “The Bleakening” – the most recent episode on this list – earn it the top spot. It also marks a great evolution in the series. Bob’s Burgers has become known for its musical numbers over the years, but this feels like a full-blown musical in ways other episodes haven’t. It’s also an ambitious two-parter that aired back-to-back, giving the writers more time to delve into the plot, which focuses on Linda’s dogged attempt to throw the best Christmas party at the restaurant. “The Bleakening” contains everything I love about the series: a blistering ambitiousness, a sense of whimsy that never slides into annoying tweeness, great musical numbers, and surprising twists – like finding out Adam Driver was the voice of Art the Artist.