The TV sitcom “Halloween episode” is a convention with a long, fruitful and spooky past—we just love seeing comedic characters thrust into novel, scary situations outside of what we typically find on a show. And in the long years since The Simpsons slouched off into obsolescence, perhaps no other series has been so associated with classic Halloween episodes than Bob’s Burgers.
Bob’s Burgers is a show with great reverence for holiday episodes in general, having devoted more time to Thanksgiving in particular than any other sitcom in memory. In fact, we’ve already paid homage to those holiday episodes with rankings of the show’s best Thanksgiving episodes, and its best Valentine’s Day episodes. But Halloween is actually where it all started—season 3’s “Full Bars” was the show’s first holiday episode in general, and it set a standard that has been hard to top. Still, each year it’s fun to see what kind of ridiculous costumes the Belcher kids will be rocking.
In honor of the upcoming Halloween episode of Bob’s Burgers ongoing 13th season, then, let’s take a stroll back through the series spookiest hits to date, with a ranking of all the past Halloween adventures.
10. “Heartbreak Hotel-oween,” Season 11
We’ve already made the argument that Bob’s Burgers has been running out of steam in its last few seasons, so it probably shouldn’t be a surprise to see newer episodes at the bottom of this list. “Heartbreak Hotel-oween” feels like something of a bait and switch, as we initially think the episode will revolve around Louise trying to achieve vengeance on a pair of “candy stiffers” before the kids instead get sucked into a hotel-set mystery involving a woman trying to conjure the spirit of her long-dead lover. It’s a fine setup, but the kids’ storyline feels largely inert, leaning on supporting characters like old Gus, who has frequently been overused in recent seasons. There’s very little action to be had here, and it feels like most of the episode consists of characters standing around in the hotel lobby.
In the B plot, meanwhile, Bob and Linda get roped by Teddy into giving blood at a vampire-themed bloodmobile, with all the humor revolving around Bob’s already established queasiness with blood. This feels quite stale, with all the gags effectively recycled from season 3 classic “The Kids Run the Restaurant.” Unfortunately, this is the sort of repetition we’ve seen from the show in more recent seasons.
9. “The Pumpkinening,” Season 12
The A plot of “The Pumpkinening” is certainly original, taking the Halloween episodes in a direction they haven’t gone before, so it’s easy to appreciate that. High school Linda and Gayle is something we’ve seen only briefly before, primarily in season 4’s “Purple Rain-Union,” and the thought of a vindictive former classmate targeting them for ruining a pumpkin-carving competition 27 years earlier has a fun, I Know What You Did Last Summer vibe to it. Unfortunately, the actual Halloween holiday feels pretty minimized in most of the episode, and the Linda and Gayle story fizzles out with a real cop out of a conclusion.
The even bigger issue is the B plot, however, which strands the kids in the restaurant with Bob on Halloween night, sitting around and commenting as he tries to upgrade the restaurant’s candy situation. It’s a crime to take these kids out of their element—trick ‘r treating on Ocean Ave. on Halloween night—in service of a plot as boring as this one. In truth, it feels like the kids and Bob probably should have been worked more directly into Linda’s story in some way. As is, they’re totally superfluous. Also: The punny costumes are sounding pretty forced by this point in the series life cycle, though “Peter Pan’s Labyrinth” is still good for a laugh.
8. “Pig Trouble in Little Tina,” Season 10
It’s hard to blame Tina for being disturbed after having to dissect a fetal pig in a middle school biology course—why do we inflict that on children again? What follows is a nice tribute to various haunted house yarns, and occasionally A Nightmare on Elm Street, with actor Paul Rust doing a nice job as the ghostly fetal pig. Tina ends up battling her own sleep deprivation and feelings of guilt while trying to stay awake on a haunted hayride so she can steal another kiss with the always noncommittal Jimmy Jr. Bonus points for the absolute commitment from Fiona Apple to the title song playing over the end credits, echoing something like the Carly Simon performance in “Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl.”
Meanwhile at the restaurant, Linda works furiously to dislodge a big lump of earwax from Bob’s ear canal to solve his hearing impairment. If that sounds pretty much entirely unrelated to Halloween, it’s because it is, but it’s still fun to see Linda become unreasonably aroused by yet another decidedly non-sexual activity. She is a unique woman.
7. “The Wolf of Wharf Street,” Season 8
One of the sadder low-key, persistent storylines of Bob’s Burgers is Linda’s insecurity over whether the kids like her as much as they do Bob, with the obvious exception of supreme mama’s boy Gene. It’s that drive to be seen as a “fun mom” that leads Linda to venture out trick ‘r treating with the kids on this Halloween evening, where they run afoul of a spooky mystery involving the so-called “Wonder Wolf” on the prowl. Props to the production design this time around: The fog and wooded settings are extremely Halloween/horror movie appropriate. The payoff, on the other hand, one can kind of see coming from a long way off.
Bob is left at home, meanwhile, having hurt himself earlier and being tended by Teddy, all dressed up as a sexy nurse. This gives another opportunity for the show to indulge in Drunk/Drugged Bob, as the hallucinating burger man begins to believe that Teddy is a werewolf before escaping into the night. Druggie Bob is pretty much always a good time—you’d think that they’d know about his addictive tendencies by now—but the material here is pretty heavily recycled from better classic episodes such as “Burgerboss,” “Dawn of the Peck” and “Housetrap.” Still, it’s a solid Halloween episode.
6. “The Hauntening,” Season 6
If any Bob’s Burgers episode were to really qualify as “scary” for any audience, it would probably be “The Hauntening.” The rare episode here without separate A and B plots, this is the closest that Bob’s Burgers has ever come to trying to tell a legitimate horror story. It’s quite effective in doing that—there’s some imagery in this episode that is actually quite creepy and beautifully drawn, like the doll with twigs growing out of its eyes—but at the same time, can you really watch a Halloween episode of Bob’s Burgers and suspend your belief to think for a second that the family is genuinely being threatened by psycho killers? For this reason, the twist ending has always seemed a little too obvious for my taste, but it is nice to see Louise’s genuine joy at having been scared out of her pants. At the very least, this Halloween episode does stand out from the pack for its uniquely macabre art style. And kudos to Bob and Linda for going absolutely above and beyond, even if it is a bit hard to believe.
5. “Nightmare on Ocean Avenue Street,” Season 9
Easily the best of the “late season” Halloween episodes, “Nightmare on Ocean Avenue Street” fully commits to the trick ‘r treating and candy lust we love to see from the Belcher kids. This time they’re after “Sticky Sugar Booms,” but a rogue player among the costumed crowd seems dead set on swiping all their candy bags, one at a time. The events play out in semi-slasher fashion, until the kids turn the tables and track down the culprit. The ever-scheming Dr. Yap makes for a great villain—and one with a reasonable motive—but it’s also really nice to see Ocean Ave. crawling with kids in costumes, making the most of the holiday. Bonus: The kids’ Salt-N-Pepa inspired rap in the closing credits is among the best Halloween-related music the series has ever produced, especially the phrase “don’t say nothin’ ‘bout my nougat.”
The B plot is also pretty strong here, featuring Bob and Teddy going up against a rival handyman in a contest of Halloween decorations, with disastrous results. It’s a classic game of one-upmanship, practically a Key & Peele sketch buried within Bob’s Burgers, as Teddy is continually thwarted by the notably fresh-smelling handyman. He probably should have known he wouldn’t be able to beat someone with the motto “Work good, smell better, that’s what I say!”
4. “Teen-A-Witch,” Season 7
“Teen-A-Witch” flirts with other episodes in which Tina explores a new persona, such as “Bad Tina” and “Food Truckin,” but there’s more than enough here to make it feel distinct. Her embrace of witchcraft brings out a confident and outgoing side of Bob’s eldest child that we rarely see, drawing obvious comparison to teen horror films such as The Craft. It’s hilarious to watch her grow a bit too big for her britches, as when the always drama-starved Mr. Ambrose warns her about tinkering with “powerful forces,” and she insists that “I am powerful forces.” Of course, she bites off more than she can chew when she tangles with a particularly “mean witch” in the form of Jackie the crossing guard. Just try getting that metal-themed “witchy witchy” closing credits music out of your head, I dare you.
Bob’s pumpkin-carving B plot, meanwhile, is a little bit disposable, but it doesn’t take up much time in the episode, and gives him an always welcome chance to grow paranoid and suspicious of Jimmy Pesto. And the payoff with Mr. Fischoeder is classic Bob’s Burgers absurdism.
3. “Tina and the Real Ghost,” Season 5
Only Tina could end up in a relationship with an Easy Breezy shoe box with the name “Jeff” lazily scrawled across it. Or wait, that’s not right—only Tina could have her shoebox boyfriend stolen away from her by the vindictive Tammy, who truly is the “handful” she’s described as by Zeke, and then some. “Tina and the Real Ghost” is an episode where the primary and secondary plots work together in beautiful harmony, as Bob and Linda are forced to deal with a bumbling pair of paranormal investigators (Jordan Peel and Brian Huskey in fantastic supporting roles), while the “ghost” they discover takes on romantic importance to our girl Tina, while simultaneously gaining popularity among her circle of friends. This episode also happens to feature arguably the best Gene and Louise costumes in series history, particularly Louise as “Ryan Gosling from the major motion picture trailer Drive.”
At the same time, it’s another good episode for Tina’s emotional maturation, something that seems to happen particularly often in the space of Halloween stories. Should she feel a little silly for having believed she was in a relationship with a ghost? Perhaps, but it’s nice to see her turn the tables on Tammy and even Louise with the clever trick she pulls in the graveyard mausoleum. It’s Tina at her most assertive; a big win for a girl who doesn’t get all that many of them.
2. “Full Bars,” Season 3
The Halloween classic that started it all, “Full Bars” was the start of a great love affair between Bob’s Burgers and holiday episodes. It establishes so many of the fixtures of future Halloween episodes, from the kids’ strange and punny costumes, to the often deeply disappointing state of trick ‘r treating in the neighborhood adjacent to Wonder Wharf. What choice do the kids have but to go on an adventure on the ferry over to King’s Head Island, the wealthy and affluent suburb where kids are positively swimming chocolate? This great change of scenery pits the Belcher kids against older high school jocks engaging in “Hell Hunt,” while making time for a constant stream of hilarious asides, like the traumatized ferry worker who can’t stand “egg talk.” It’s a great storyline that lets the Belcher kids play the heroes.
Meanwhile, the B plot is just as great, as Bob gets dragged to Teddy’s disturbingly orange Halloween party, only to be presented with mandatory costume choices like “Summer Frankenstein” and worse. The whole thing devolves into a murder mystery focused around Teddy’s unfortunate pet Francis, who is canonized with a beautiful eulogy: “A guinea pig. What is it? Anyway, I’m Dennis.” Just a pitch-perfect episode for pretty much every character in it.
1. “Fort Night,” Season 4
Put a bunch of Bob’s Burgers best characters together in a confined space, and magic has a tendency to happen. That’s the crux of “Fort Night,” the show’s all-time Halloween story, in which the Belcher kids are trapped in their back alley cardboard fort on Halloween night (plus Daryl, Andy and Ollie), left at the mercy of Louise’s newly introduced archenemy Millie Frock. As guest characters go, Molly Shannon puts in an instantly iconic performance as Millie, becoming the insidious Moriarty to Louise’s precocious Sherlock. Her utter obliviousness to Louise’s loathing is hilarious on its own, but once she has the kids trapped and forced to rely on her it takes the desperation to another level entirely. Every one of the players is great, from claustrophobic Daryl jettisoning his pants, to the wail of anguish when Ollie thinks that Andy has been killed by a handful of fake spiders. The fort itself is just pure childhood escapism, and you genuinely feel Linda’s jealousy when she finds out that Bob has been invited into the fort, but she hasn’t.
Bob and Linda, meanwhile, are stuck in the restaurant slaving away on a hilariously slapdash Chinese dragon costume meant to fit all three of their kids, unaware that said kids are trapped in the fort while precious trick ‘r treating time is trickling away. It’s a great display of the love Bob and Linda have for their kids, and the silly projects they’re willing to get sucked into—like Bob fighting with Edith and Harold at the art store to get more sequins—all in the name of providing those kids with a fun Halloween. Plus, we get the joy of Bob and Linda eventually deciding to not let the costume go to waste, engaging in one of the most awkward trick ‘r treating exchanges of all time. From start to finish, “Fort Night” is Halloween season perfection.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film writing.