Bob’s Burgers isn’t afraid of witches, werewolves, or zombies—in fact, Tina encourages mingling with zombies in her freaky friend fiction. Rather, when Bob’s Burgers does its traditional Halloween episode, the show digs into what it means to grow up, which can be scary enough on its own.
Halloween is a holiday more focused on kids and hijinks than Christmas or Thanksgiving, two other holidays that Bob’s Burgers regularly portrays with episodes generally emphasizing family love and bonding. (The show’s Valentine’s Day episodes focus on missed love connections and failing to live up to romance’s expectations.) But Halloween is perfectly positioned to focus on kids’ adventures and what it means to be on the precipice of leaving those adventures behind; they are fun escapades that reveal the challenges of both youth and old age.
In the very first Halloween episode in Season 3, the kids ask to go trick-or-treating alone for the first time—taking a step away from childhood and toward independence. It doesn’t go well, and the kids get caught up in Hell Hunt on the wealthy Kingshead Island, where they went to try to get better candy. When they ask to go alone, Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) laments that going with him is the best part, dealing with the realization that his kids are moving on without him. In Season 5, Tina and the other eighth graders forego trick-or-treating for a different rite of passage: spending the night in a graveyard mausoleum. “We’re the older kids now,” Zeke says as they gather in the tomb. When Tina (Dan Mintz) locks the kids in the tomb, they are forced to grapple with the consequences of their actions—and there’s nothing scarier or more grown up than that.
In this year’s episode, Tina, Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) encounter an older woman who has been trying to conjure the spirit of an ex-lover … so that she can send him to hell. Her story lays bare what 50 years of resentment looks like to the kids, who are dealing with some resentments of their own. This year, Louise is hoping to get back at some neighbors who previously ran out of candy by stealing their candy bowl. But when she sees this woman hold on to her anger for decades (only to find out that anger may have been misplaced), Louise sees she may be holding onto her own anger, realizing that resentment can cause years of bitterness. Faced with the consequences of growing old, Louise grows up (mostly—she still wants to aim a well-placed fart in the neighbors’ direction).
These episodes all hinge on leaving an aspect of childhood behind. In multiple Halloween episodes, Tina worries that she’s too old to be trick-or-treating, or she’s wondering if this year will be the last year she can participate in the ritual. In Season 7, Tina steps into her power as a woman when she becomes a witch and attempts to shed her childhood. “I like powerful and alluring,” she says after learning that regular people can become witches, too. In this episode, though, Tina grows up too fast, facing consequences she’s not ready for when she uses her powers on the crossing guard, Jackie (Betsy Sodaro), who fights back and treats Tina as an equal—an equally powerful witch.
Sometimes the Halloween episodes pair the travails of growing older with the troubles of youth. In Season 10, when Tina dissects a fetal pig—another rite of passage for a middle schooler—Bob is struggling with an influx of earwax. People keep asking him if he’s dying, and in a fit of desperation, he yells “You’ll all see—when you get old and your body starts to make weird balls of things that fall out of you, I’m gonna be there laughing at you.“ “Oh, honey, we’ll be dead,” Linda (John Roberts) replies.
This push and pull of the old and young stages of life sets up both jokes and horror, making the Halloween episodes of Bob’s Burgers instant classics. Season 11 follows in this tradition, with the saga of the elderly Dolores (Lindsey Stoddart) and her ex-lover who died on Halloween night clearly illustrating a version of old age the kids don’t want to share. Bob’s Burgers knows that ghosts and ghouls don’t compare to the horrors of adulthood.
Rae Nudson is Chicago-based writer and critic whose writing has appeared in Esquire, The Cut, and Hazlitt, among other publications. She is working on a book about how people use makeup to help define their roles in society. You can follow her on Twitter @rclnudson.
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