TV Review: A Slowdown and a Strike Get the Goods on Bob's Burgers
This is the latest installment in an occasional series where we evaluate the “union episode” of a television show.
Bob’s Burgers is an animated show about a family that runs a small burger business, and the hilarious, sweet, and sometimes gross and embarrassing ways that working families have to bond together to survive. Many of the episodes have social justice-related themes; for an example, check out “What About Blob?”, a Greenpeace-inspired episode in which the children protect a bioluminescent algae blob from a fancy restaurateur. But the union episode, “Tweentrepreneurs” (Season 9, Episode 3), is one of my favorites.
In the episode, the children, Tina, Louise, and Gene, are enrolled in a small-business class called “Tweentrepreneurs.” They are assigned to create their own startup and sell their product at school.
The students have a million bad ideas for things to sell at school, including knives, clown noses for horses, and peanuts with a proprietary blend of spices called “Zeke’s hot nut sacks.” In the end, they decide on the Woodchuck: think pet rocks, but made out of a plank of wood.
Tina’s crush becomes the company president; Queen Bee Tammy and her best friend Jocelyn are VPs of sales. The president’s best friend is the VP of “sitting on corners of desks and keeping the mood light” (every workplace has this person!). The burger kids and their friend Rudy will be manufacturing the Woodchucks. The understanding is that the jobs will rotate.
In the beginning, the Woodchucks are a great success. The kids who actually make them, however, are not having such a great time. The sawdust aggravates Rudy’s asthma to the point that he starts hallucinating. When the manufacturing kids start to wonder when it will be time to switch jobs, their teacher scoffs: “Oh, like people don’t get stuck in the same job for their whole lives!”
A SLOWDOWN AND A STRIKE
One day after school, the classroom is suddenly full of cardboard cubicles, put up to separate management from the Woodchuck makers. Jocelyn, who is acting as a receptionist now, won’t let Tina speak with management.
Tina demands safety equipment and a schedule of when he jobs will rotate. But when Tammy offers her a promotion to “Woodchuck Manufacturing Liaison,” Tina accepts—tempted by snacks and a new desk with a yoga-ball chair. Her former co-workers get even angrier.
When profits begin to taper off, Tina comes up with a plan to slash production time from 20 minutes to five minutes. The workers respond by “quarter-assing it,” or engaging in a sort of slowdown. Quality falls. Tina scolds her former co-workers and they walk off the job, bringing the business to its knees. But there are more twists still ahead.
This episode does an amazing job of showing divide-and-conquer and the absurd lengths to which bosses will go to avoid treating workers with dignity. The management kids keep offering the manufacturing kids snacks and soda, instead of meeting their actual demands.
The promotion of Tina to Woodchuck Liaison is an awesome touch. At first Tina deludes herself that she is going to “change things on the inside” and “look out for the little guy,” but she soon evolves into a full-blown business monster. If Tina had marched on the bosses with all of her co-workers, that meeting could have gone very differently!
The ending is wonderful. When Louise begins to tear down the cardboard cubicle, which might symbolize the artifice of traditional divisions of labor, Tammy shrieks, “But then it’ll seem like you’re as good as me!” Louise tells Tammy off—she can still be a VP, but the rest of them will be presidents. This is now almost a worker co-operative, but with the added touch of dunking on the most outwardly horrible boss.
Sadly, Bob’s Burgers will probably always be sympathetic to bosses because its main character is a boss. But this episode does an awesome job at showing the power of a strike. The workers only get what they want when they band together and walk off the job, and Tina can only succeed by joining forces with them.
It’s a great episode with some great lessons—namely, that striking gets the goods; that you should bring your co-workers with you when you meet with the boss; and that we are stronger together.
Kelly Gilbert is a health care worker in New York City. Her favorite TV show is Bob's Burgers. Stream the episode on FOX, Hulu, or YouTube TV.