It was a strange year for San Diego Comic-Con. This year marked the second in a row where in-person festivities were canceled for pandemic-related reasons, but while 2020’s event had the novelty and fresh horror of a lockdown people still hadn’t entirely adjusted to, 2021’s quarantine-dictated Zoom panels felt simultaneously overly-familiar and laced with existential dread.
Points to Bob’s Burgers then for addressing the issue straight out of the gate. After moderator (and show creator, and co-showrunner) Loren Bouchard introduced the panel’s participants — the main voice cast and Nora Smith, writer and co-showrunner — he talked about how he wasn’t going to ask anyone how they dealt with the challenges of working from home: “It’s boring to talk about recording from home, I won’t even get into it.”
Bouchard made it a point of praising the cast and crew for their efforts to keep working on the series under adverse conditions, but the overall tone of the panel was clear from the start: an unflagging, borderline manic enthusiasm for what’s coming next.
This fall, Bob’s Burgers enters its 12th season, a long time for any series, but while Bob’s might not be at the height of its powers, it’s found a more than comfortable niche for itself, continuing to produce reliably warm-hearted, funny, and character driven episodes without falling into excessive cynicism or caricature. The secret, in addition to the talented cast, may be due to a philosophy Bouchard stressed when talking about the season to come: “I imagine our mission is to keep making small stories feel big.”
Bouchard got the elephant out of the room right away, asking the group at large what they were most and least looking forward to about going back to work in person. Answers are about what you’d expect, with most of the cast just desperate to see people and find some degree of normalcy again; potential complaints ranged from “Maybe the elevator,” (John Roberts, who does the voice of Linda Belcher), “I’m not looking forward to being tracked by the government,” (Larry Murphy, who plays Teddy), and Kristen Schaal’s (the voice of Louise Belcher) fear about “having absolutely nothing to talk about when we’re not acting except the pandemic.” H. Jon Benjamin (Bob Belcher) was the only one present who had nothing negative to say about coming back. When Mintz teased him about losing his “edge,” Benjamin responded, “OK, I don’t like your hair,” which was very funny when not reduced to text.
Most of the conversation stayed on topic about the season ahead, with Bouchard waxing rhapsodic about the pleasures to come. The show is “ambitious as ever,” and the season will feature titles like “Crystal Mess,“ “The Pumpkining,” “Driving Big Dummy,” “Seventween Again,” “Beach Please,” “Stuck In The Kitchen With You,” “Gene’s Christmas Break,” “Lost in Bedslation,” “Fomo You Didn’t,” and others. (Bouchard stresses, “We work not at all on these titles.”) Bouchard then rattled off a list of upcoming guest voice actors for the season, delivering a rapid fire monologue of names, a mix of familiar performers for the show and first timers which, while lacking any shockingly big names, sounds packed with the level of comic and vocal talent that fans of the show have come to expect.
When it comes to actual content for the upcoming season, the panel offered three short clips focusing on different character pairings. In the first, a scene from the B-story of “Manic Pixie Crap Show,” Linda and Bob got a surprise delivery of flowers that sent Linda to reminiscing about her childhood. (After the clip, which had Linda monologuing about a dog getting hit by a hot dog truck, Smith says “I found out that my dad witnessed his dog dying in front of him after I wrote that episode.”)
In the second, from “Driving Big Dummy,” Bob and Teddy have an awkward conversation in a truck cab while towing a large dummy head down the highway; and in the third (no episode identified), Gene discovers what he thinks is his first “pube,” a gray hair on his chest that turns out to be his dad’s. Of the three clips, only the first is fully animated, the second and third appearing in unfinished animatic form, but all are what you’d expect from Bob’s Burgers clips, with familiar characters behaving in familiar ways that have somehow managed to stay funny and sweet even after a decade and change.
In terms of big reveals, Bouchard and Smith spent some time chatting about the two-part season finale in which a “[s]ignificant amount of episode takes place in Tina’s erotic fiction in which she’s exploring a kind of Blade Runner dark fantasy.” The finale apparently broke one of the core rules of the show by featuring a segment driven more by animation and (wordless) music than dialogue, but everyone sounded excited about it. “If we do it this way, it’ll be the longest span of just music and visuals we’ve done to this point,” Bouchard explained. It was also, as a late panel question from a fan revealed, the only episode in the season to lean heavily into film parody, which is a relief; some of Bob’s best episodes riff on popular film, but such riffing can also be a crutch for animated shows, and it’s good to know that this one is still using it sparingly.
Bouchard brought up the long awaited Bob’s Burgers movie, which is still very much happening even if Bouchard was unable to give any specific information about it. “We’re going to be in theaters, that’s my pledge,” Bouchard assured the cast and the audience, promising “I guarantee it will be the best movie we could possibly make,” and describing the project as a “musical comedy mystery adventure and kind of a coming of age story.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as so much vaporware until it’s actually released, but Bouchard’s excitement about the project is contagious, and given how consistently the show still is, it’s hard not to hope the big screen outing will be, much like this panel was, a pretty good time.
Bob’s Burgers season 12 premieres on Sept. 26.