Bob’s Burgers is one of the best cartoons out there, but Louise Belcher deserves a special kind of praise. That she’s my favourite is largely irrelevant here; all of the family are great in their own way and it’s their dynamic which elevates Bob’s Burgers out of being simply and copy and paste of The Simpsons, Family Guy or American Dad. Regardless of who you happen to like best though, Louise is the most unique character, and it’s her charisma and malleability which helps gives Bob’s Burgers its eccentric array of episodes.

Bob is the hardworking but downtrodden father, Linda is the kindly but overfriendly mother, Gene is a lovable goofball and Tina is a butt loving horse girl, with all the associated stereotypes. The characters occasionally break out of these moulds – Linda and her hyper competitiveness, for example – but largely, episodes about these characters are about these tropes. The writers can be incredibly inventive with how they use these personality traits, but the characters remain within those boundaries. With Louise? Not so much.

Key Louise Episodes:

Hawk & Chick

Poops! I Didn’t Do It Again

Ear-sy Rider

Better Off Sled

Boyz For Now

Louise is the wildcard of the family. Sometimes episodes are built around her powers to con and manipulate her peers (or even other adults). Others as a supportive sister, albeit usually with unorthodox methods. But there’s also her creativity, her obsessive side, her touching relationship with Bob and the fact that she’s still just a kid. Tina and Gene act like children most of the time, while Louise, despite being the youngest, has the personality of the eldest, sprinkled with the chaos of being the youngest. Episodes which let Louise be a kid can be some of her strongest, and highlights Louise’s flexibility as far as shaping a plot goes.

Letting kids be kids is often a big issue for animated shows. I don’t want to continue to compare The Simpsons with Bob’s Burgers; it feels lazy and a by-product of their joint billing in Fox’s Animation Domination. There’s far less togetherness and more-husband-as-antagonist going on in all the other shows, and there are a million other differences you can pick out. Here though, for a moment, I’ll be focusing on Lisa and Louise.

Art by Fabian Lustig

It might seem lazy to compare them; while close in age, Louise is a Bart if anything. However, the modern day Lisa’s flaws can emphasise Louise’s strengths. Lisa used to be a smarter than average eight year old with an ethical heart, but 30 seasons in she’s morphed into a know it all who often plays roadblock to the family’s fun, with the intellect and maturity of a woman four times her age. Lisa is rarely allowed to be a kid anymore, because her role in the show no longer has room for it. Louise has been able to develop while keeping her childishness at the heart of what she’s about, and that’s why she’s such an interesting character.

There’ll be full Episode Spotlights on some of these to come, but here, we’ll take a look at how a few episodes have made Louise Belcher into one of the most vital characters in animation.

The first thing that just be said of Louise is how well the show presents and develops her relationship with Bob. Gene and Linda’s relationship with each other is sweet too, but it’s because Bob and especially Louise are usually so reticent with emotions that makes their bond so special.

One of the best examples of this is in Hawk & Chick. That the pair of them both enjoy watching violent samurai movies makes sense, but as the episode unfolds it’s clear the connection goes deeper than just liking the same films. Hawk & Chick, chronicling the stories of a father and daughter itself, is clearly a symbol for Bob & Louise themselves. This isn’t lost on Louise either, who’s heartbroken when she learns that the real Hawk & Chick (actual father and daughter Kojima and Yuki) are no longer speaking.

Her childish view of the world as a black and white existence demonstrates how important Bob is to her, and despite her usual facade, she’s never embarrassed to show how much she cares for her father.

Poops! I Did It Again in the most recent season is another excellent microcosm of Bob & Louise’s relationship. This time, they bond over their mutual failure to poop in public, culminating in Bob helping her get over her embarrassing fears and growing himself in the meantime. This is an essential episode in the Louise canon because it highlights all sides of their relationship. Louise so often has the upper hand in everything, and here she’s at a real low point. Not only is she struggling to do something the rest of the family (Bob aside) find easy, the thing in question is gross and embarrassing. It’s prime real estate for teasing, but rather than rib her even a little, Bob dives in with both hands to help as much as he can.

Not literally of course. Ew.

Outside of the family, Louise’s most significant relationship is with Logan. He first appears in Ear-sy Rider, which also explores the mythos of Louise’s hat. Family Guy have riffed on the show for using the hat as a cheap stand in for a personality; considering Louise shows more personality in any given episode than Meg or Chris have done for whole seasons, it’s a gag that misses its target and then some.

It is true though that the hat means a lot to Louise, but what Ear-sy Rider is best at is putting Louise on the back foot. Logan offers a real adversary for Louise, not a foil for her to riff off or a minion for her to manipulate, but an actual challenge. He turns up again a few times, most effectively in Better Off Sled. Louise usually has things her own way, and Logan changes all that. Again, Louise adapts to her new role with ease, and shows how often she is the glue that holds Bob’s Burgers together.

Finally, Boyz For Now. It sees Louise playing against type, obsessed with boyband star Boo Boo, deep in the midst of her first crush. This one is so effective because Louise has carved out such an iconic personality already, and Louise is able to be so perfectly Louise while acting completely out of character. It’s a genius take on her and fleshes her out even further; the show returns to her love for Boo Boo just the right amount as well.

Louise is, in a way, the biggest caricature the show has. She’s the most over the top, takes her stories to the furthest extremes and has the biggest reactions. Despite this, maybe because of this, the show has also managed to make her the most real. In terms of range, comedy and heart, Louise is Bob’s Burgers’ ace in the hole.

2 Comments »

  1. Well thought out and nicely put. I think Kristen Schaal deserves a lot of credit for making Louise who she is, and by extension, the show. She is a very talented comedienne and voice actress, and she really does a great job of being Louise and playing into the character. I think I read somewhere, too, that much of the dialogue in the show is improvised on the fly.

    Like

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