Bob’s Burgers is grounded in reality. Even though the writers have the power of animation at their disposal, a tool that can create ever more fantastical stories and images, that artistic choice is used only to depict the show’s many fictional stories told by its characters and very clearly laid out dream sequences. But every story first comes from a place of relatability. Yes, the Belchers are a cartoon family, but they each face the same ups and downs of everyday life that real people do. That goes extra for the Belcher kids, who, for 13 seasons, have been stuck in a perpetual state of puberty and adolescence. That’s 13 seasons of embarrassing moments in school, unrequited crushes, dealing with bullies, and simply trying to figure themselves out.
From the very beginning, Bob’s Burgers has been able to capture the roller coaster that is being a kid through Gene (Eugene Mirman), Louise (Kristen Schaal), and Tina (Dan Mintz), each at different but very formative ages. Even though they’ve remained those ages throughout the entire series so far (one unspoken rule of animation the show holds onto), there’s still been substantial growth for the characters. The writers have managed to start small and build to emotionally complicated concepts, especially through the perspectives of the kids. And in the recently concluded Season 13, Bob’s Burgers captured the nuances of being a 13-year-old girl better than any of the show’s previous outings.
The Tina-centric episodes were some of Season 13’s best — and that’s high praise for a show that has very few low points after more than a decade on air. As the eldest daughter, there’s a lot that Tina Belcher has to experience first. From the start of the series, she is ruled by her hormones in a way that Louise and Gene are not, feeling biologically drawn to every butt she sees while also filled with an extreme anxiety that she can’t quite explain. It’s a confusing time, one that’s made better with the support of siblings who are as close as the Belchers are, but in Season 13 especially, Tina separates herself from Louise and Gene to enter that strange time of being not a girl, but not yet a woman.
There are a handful of episodes that represent that span of time. In Episode 10, “The Plight Before Christmas,” Tina takes on a parental role, instilling a sense of responsibility that gives Tina the confidence to believe that she’s fully transitioned into adulthood. She tests the limits of that confidence in Episode 17, “Crows Encounters of the Bird Kind,” employing the philosophy of working smart, not hard, even if that means breaking some very explicit rules and ignoring the advice of her dad. In that instance, she flies too close to the sun, a reminder that, even as she gets older, she still has a lot to learn.
But it’s Episode 14, “These Boots Are Made for Stalking,” that most deftly captures the often indescribable swirl of the unbridled excitement and pure dread that comes with being a teenager. While working a shift at the restaurant, Tina meets a group of trendy teens who mesmerize her. She needs them to like her, and that means getting into their favorite band, The Mud Stains. The band’s music isn’t to Tina’s liking; to her, the screaming and aggressive noise in their song “Middle Finger” borders on terrifying. But that doesn’t stop her from trying to suck it up to impress these teens, proving that she’s as independent, grown-up, and, most importantly, cool as they are.
The road to impress them, though, is filled with panic attacks and spills and moments that are so embarrassing yet so relatable, that it’s almost too painful to watch — the funniest moments throughout are tinged with an air of cringe reminiscent of Pen15, one of the best series to capture that exact teenage feeling. Through Tina, it’s easy to be transported back to that exact, utterly confusing moment of being pulled between who you really are, who you think you want to be, and who you have the potential to become. It's an emotional entanglement that Bob’s Burgers has been delving into more and more, and the show’s willingness to embrace teen angst in its 13th season has only made it better.
Bob’s Burgers Seasons 1 through 13 are streaming on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.