Festive Frights: BOBS BURGERS Has A Holiday Staple With A Krampus Analog
We all know Halloween is a horror fan's biggest holiday, but Christmas is a close second. Welcome to our celebration of yuletide fueled terror, our 12 Days of Festive Frights.
I could be staring at the gargantuan Christmas tree in the middle of Rockefeller Center, freshly fallen snow crunching under my feet as I gaze into the decorated windows of Macy’s, the twinkling lights reflecting off of my fogged glasses, but nothing will get me into the holiday spirit like a good old fashioned Christmas Special. And when I say “Christmas Special” I mean it as its own word apart from the invented “War On Christmas”, its own thing onto itself. For me the “Christmas Special” lives on stacks of old VHS, my mother’s hand writing scrawled on the front tape “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, “Garfield Christmas Special”, “The Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, or “Opus: A Wish For Dreams That Work”. Each staticky tape a time capsule for the time, like the first run of the famous Hershey’s Kisses Jingle Bells commercial, or previews for one of the myriad of other Christmas specials airing on ABC or NBC sometime in the late 80s/early 90s. And while we have had some fun Holiday episodes from South Park and Community to recent years Brooklyn 99, we don’t have that good mixture of earned sentimentality and good cheerful fun. And it comes as no surprise that the closest we have come to this fine balance is in Bob's Burgers. But what does come as a surprise is that in Bobs Christmas Special, we get a freakin’ KRAMPUS story!
Bob’s Burgers does not shy away from their love of genre entertainment. One episode found Louise and Bob connecting over a series of Lone Wolf and Cub-esque films, just with more tentacle monsters. Their Halloween episodes are always tops, specifically their season seven entry that featured hooded cult members burning effigies on a front lawn. Seriously, watch this show if you aren’t already. The Bleakening begins, like any “Christmas Special” worth its salt, with a splashy musical number from matriarch Linda Belcher who wakes suddenly from “The Christmas Of Her Dreams” that features platters of food, sequin gowns, and a sleepy, compliant Bob. Upon waking she discovers that local gay bar, The Wiggle Room, is being closed on Christmas day and this acts as the catalyst for Linda to jump into the holiday spirit and put on that Christmas of her dreams down stairs at Bobs! Immediately she saws off the top of the families tree to make a mini tree for the restaurant, adorned with her favorite handmade ornaments from her kids Gene, Tina, and Louise. The party is off to the typical start: with regular Teddy scarfing down mini-sliders as Linda puts the finishing touches on the holiday feel of “Bobs”. As the kids talk with Teddy, he tells them about...The Bleaken. “The Bleaken he’s got like different names in different cultures. An Anti-Santa.” Teddy explains as he piles more burgers into his mouth. “It’s a horned creature with lizard skin and black feathers, who comes every once in awhile (“Like El Nino?” Gene muses.) My nana used to say he feeds off sadness and anger, and that when me and my sister would fight...the Bleaken would come.”
“The Bleaken steals your presents, he takes them back to his lair, and you never see them again.” Teddy claims to have seen them once, but brushes it off as a little too much wine at a little too young of an age. This of course stokes the imaginative fire of the Belcher Brood and Louise announces her vendetta against The Bleaken and sets off to hunt it down! Meanwhile, Linda is losing it over the theft of her beloved Christmas Tree and set’s out on her own investigation to find the culprit. All of this culminates in the only way “Bobs” can, and it’s an absolute delight.
The design for the Bleaken, while not as eloquently described by Teddy, is fantastically realized on screen. A hunched over creature cast in shadow stalking a desolate neighborhood street that looks alarmingly like the one the Belchers live on. He can nimbly crawl across the rooftops, listening in to bickering children on Christmas Eve as his needle like fingers scrape against the window. While clearly The Bleaken is Loren Brouchard, creator of “Bobs Burgers”, own personal twist on the Krampus folk tale it is really effective. It’s actually the perfect monster for a Gateway Horror film. The Bleaken only steals presents, compared to Krampus who runs the gamut from eating to children to trapping families in a strange St. Elsewhere-style snow globe Christmas ornament. So you can really play on childrens fear of someone stealing their presents on Christmas Day, while also going into the very real struggle that some families have even putting one present under their tree. And it’s things like this that really make you remember just how smart of a show Bobs Burgers is, and it comes as no surprise from the creator of the excellent coming of age cartoon Home Movies and one of the proto grown up cartoons Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. With Bobs, Brouchard was to make a spiritual successor to Mike Judge’s excellent King of the Hill, a family comedy that earns the sentimentality that it offers. Never once in Bobs 6 seasons have I ever found the show to be schmaltzy in any way, rather building their characters in such a way that, in the case of the firecracker Louise, when you see the glimpse into their true love for their family it’s extremely powerful.
But every good Christmas Special needs a song. And in the case of Bobs Burgers we get a whole damn musical. Now, to be transparent, I love musicals. I grew up watching Astaire and Rogers, Singin’ In The Rain still blows me away to this day, and I’ve played Sweeney Todd and Bat Boy on stage. They’re really freaking fun, ok! But even the most stone hearted musical hater can’t help but hum along to the melodies on Bobs Burgers, a show that already has a long and illustrious history with musicals. The season five premiere episode, “Work Hard or Die Trying Girl”, proved just how much they liked musicals by mashing up rival theatrical productions of Working Girl and Die Hard into one mega musical extravanganza. And I STILL can’t stop singing the songs, they are that good. Did I forget to mention that they also wrote a mini musical about Louise’s reaction to Electrocuting An Elephant, a 1903 film from Edison Studios showing the man himself electrocuting an elephant named Topsy? Yeah, and it’s fucking beautiful. And here too Brouchard and composer John Dylan Keith have knocked it out of the park.
“The Bleaken Is Coming” is a driving fantasy metal song of the Belcher Kids, decked in their best Nights Watch gear, scaling a craggy snow capped mountain to stop The Bleaken. Bob’s also has a fantastic talent for finding the potential for musicality in any situation, and in this case a Nude Art class where Linda questions Art the Artist (sung really rather nicely by Adam Driver). Teddy’s military esque remix of “Do You Hear What I Hear” as he camps out in an inflatable Santa Claus to catch holiday thieves in the act is a PEAK Teddy number. And the 11 o’clock number, Twinkly Lights, sung here by Todrick Hall (Kinky Boots) needs to be on everyone's Holiday playlist this year. I dare you to not smile at the “single version” sung by the entire cast.
The Bleaken on its own is a fantastic new creature to ring in a fearfully festive holiday, but with the strength of the core story of Bob’s own version of “The True Meaning of Christmas”, coupled with songs you will never get out of your head, The Bleakening is guaranteed to be an annual holiday staple if you are looking for a little Krampus in your Christmas.