‘Bob’s Burgers’: An Oral History of How the Annual Tradition of Ruining Bob’s Thanksgiving Began
Bob Belcher, the owner of Bob’s Burgers, is passionate about both food and his family. And so, when it comes to Thanksgiving, all he wants to do is prepare an unforgettable meal for those he loves. Yet, on every fourth Thursday in November, something always goes terribly wrong — like the time he kept finding his turkey in the toilet, or the year when angry turkeys took over the town.
The sabotaging of Bob’s Thanksgiving has become something of a holiday tradition in its own right, and it all started with the Season Three episode “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal.” In it, Bob’s landlord, Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), has invited over an old flame for Thanksgiving in hopes of winning her back. She, however, has a reputation for only being interested in men who already have families. Which is why Mr. Fischoeder promises to cover five months of Bob’s rent if his wife and three children pose as the Fischoeder family while Bob pretends to be Mr. Fischoeder’s personal chef. Bob is reticent, but he goes along with the scheme anyway. Disaster, of course, quickly follows.
“An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal” was written by Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneux, siblings and writing partners who have been with Bob’s Burgers since the show debuted in 2011. (They’re also the co-creators of The Great North and the writers of the new Prime Video movie The People We Hate at the Wedding.) Like most holiday disasters, though, the episode was a total family affair, not limited to just a couple of sisters. It extends to Loren Bouchard, the show’s creator; Tyree Dillihay, the director of “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”; H. Jon Benjamin, aka Bob himself; and John Roberts, the voice behind Linda, Bob’s irrepressibly musical wife. All of whom recount below how they helped send Bob’s first televised Thanksgiving flying off the rails.
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Wendy Molyneux, co-writer of “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”: For the first two seasons of Bob’s Burgers, we only ran in the spring, so Season Three was the first year we were able to do a Thanksgiving episode. But “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal” didn’t begin as a Thanksgiving episode. Lizzie and I had this idea that Fischoeder needed Linda and the kids to pretend to be his family to woo a woman. It became a Thanksgiving episode later.
Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin, co-writer of “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”: We thought it was fun for Bob to have Fischoeder borrow his family; then we had to figure out where Bob would be. That grew into him cooking for the family, which eventually grew into Thanksgiving. Bob is such a lover of food and cooking that it just makes sense that cooking a Thanksgiving turkey would be a challenge he would want to take on every year.
Loren Bouchard, creator of Bob’s Burgers: Bob is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, and I think there’s something so sweet about his love for Thanksgiving — how he talks to the turkey and imagines it talking back to him.
Wendy Molyneux: The central thing we had to figure out was everyone’s motivations, because we always like to stick to some sort of emotional reality. We had to figure out how to thread that needle of having Linda pretend to be Fischoeder’s wife, but she’s not being a jerk about it. Bob and Linda have decided that this is a game they’re playing together. I think most comedy comes from characters making an agreement to do something. People always think conflict drives comedy, but underneath that is that everyone has agreed to the conflict.
We did have some trouble figuring out why the kids would play along. For Bob and Linda, it’s the money, but what’s in it for the kids? How would you get a 9-year-old, an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old to pretend that this weird rich man is their father? Someone else in the writer’s room pitched the idea that Fischoeder has this roll of tickets as if he’s a personal skee-ball machine, and each thing the kids do, he gives them tickets to win prizes. It was deeply dumb, but still made all the sense in the world.
Then there’s Fischoeder, who is a lot of fun to write for because he has way less heart than everyone else. So if you want to do a really dark joke, he’s a great one to deliver that. He’s much higher on the sociopath scale than your average Bob’s Burgers character.
Bouchard: Episodes with Mr. Fischoeder make me giddy. Recording Kevin Kline makes me giddy, and the end product is always as good as you thought it was going to be. Some people compare Fischoeder to Mr. Burns, but to me, he’s more like Willy Wonka. He’s not a villain, he’s just this chaotic neutral character that’s drawn to the Belchers.
This episode is also fun because it features drunk Bob as he starts hallucinating in the kitchen from drinking absinthe. We try not to do it too often, but we love drunk Bob — we look for those opportunities. Bob doesn’t mind having his consciousness altered, and it gives H. Jon Benjamin a great sandbox to play in.
H. Jon Benjamin, Bob on Bob’s Burgers: Bob is a pretty straightlaced guy, so getting to play drunk is a fun opportunity. I played a drunk soccer coach for six years on Home Movies, so it’s nice to get back in that space. They’re not often, but Bob has his weird moments. It’s particularly good in this episode, where he’s drinking the absinthe and he starts tripping and talking to the turkey. Then he hallucinates a Miyazaki movie, which was a great nod to some of the best animation ever made.
Bouchard: I’m a huge fan of My Neighbor Totoro, and I can tell you that I was very excited about this sequence. I had lots of specific notes about it, like how Bob is watching it with you the whole time and he’s amazed by it. At the end he even says, “This is weird, right?”
Tyree Dillihay, director of “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”: Bob’s Burgers is a very chill show, but this episode went a little further — it’s borderline surreal. The Totoro sequence was something really different, and the artists get excited about scenes like that because they’re getting to do something that’s not the norm for the show.
Bouchard: The whole episode was like, “Are we really doing this?” It was farther than you’d think we’d go, and we pushed out the edges of the whole series, really. It was also our first holiday episode, so it was a big deal for us and for forming our expectation of what a holiday episode could be.
Benjamin: I’d also say that this episode launched what became a standard-bearer for the show with Linda’s Thanksgiving song. There was some music before that and I’m sure Loren was planning on bringing in more music, but the Thanksgiving song opened up this whole new possibility. It was a real lightbulb moment.
Wendy Molyneux: The Thanksgiving song that Linda sings was totally improvised by John Roberts. We had it written that Linda was going to threaten to sing a Thanksgiving song, but in the booth John started singing and it ended up becoming this amazing song.
John Roberts, Linda on Bob’s Burgers: I started playing Linda — my mom, basically — in the East Village before Bob’s Burgers. Then I started doing her on YouTube, which is when she broke out. I met H. Jon Benjamin through our mutual friend David Cross, and Linda ended up being written for me on Bob’s Burgers.
In “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal,” we weren’t quite as musical back then, but I came up with this little song about cranberry sauce and killing turkeys, which is funny because I’m vegetarian. Linda definitely would kill the turkey, though — joyously. Anyway, I improvised this little song, and they pieced it together and put it in the show and then again over the end credits.
Dillihay: Most animation for Bob’s Burgers is done overseas, but our in-house animators always do the sequences over the closing credits. They wanted those scenes — that’s when they can show off and have fun.
Wendy Molyneux: After this episode, it spiraled into this series-long runner that Bob cannot have a good Thanksgiving. Lizzie and I wrote the next three Thanksgiving episodes and one more later on. It became a personal challenge for us every year to figure out how we could destroy Bob’s Thanksgiving again.
I think it works because people really identify with it. No matter how much you idealize a holiday, the potential for it to unwind in disaster is part of the tension and happiness of the occasion. We’re all always teetering on the brink of a holiday apocalypse.
Benjamin: Even though this episode is a crazy conceit, there’s still something about the show that’s always grounded. Bob’s Burgers reflects the regular, everyday pressures families go through, including the holidays, where something always gets fucked up. That’s what makes the holidays both joyous and awful.