This is the least Christmas-themed Christmas episode Bob’s Burgers has done. Like most American shows heading into their mid-season hiatus, it’s always a bit tricky getting into the holiday spirit when Christmas is still more than a fortnight away. But whereas previous episodes like “God Rest Ye Gentle Mannequins,” “Christmas In The Car”, and “Nice-Capades” were about the family dealing with all the wonder and horror—mostly horror, honestly—the Yuletide brings, “Better Off Sled” is more a general wintry episode with a Christmas subplot bolted on. Right up to the moment the Christmas spirit moves Louise to give her archenemy a brief reprieve from snowball annihilation, the holiday aspects of the episode rest entirely with Bob and Linda.
That needn’t be a flaw, especially since there aren’t nearly enough winter-set TV episodes that are not about the holidays. An episode all about the kids warring with that teenage dastard Logan Berry Bush over a sleds and snowballs is an inspired concept. Louise and Logan have been at metaphorical war for so long that it’s only fitting “Better Off Sled” has the kids form an Ancient Greek phalanx with their sleds to advance Regular Sized Rudy’s older cousin Mandy toward Logan and his friends. I’m guessing West Point isn’t about to add tonight’s episode to its curriculum, but this episode definitely thinks through every aspect of its snowball warfare. After the kids ape the Greeks, Logan manages to up the ante by bringing in varsity basketball sharpshooter Cameron to hurl the snowball equivalent of heavy mortar artillery.
This is all wonderfully, shamelessly goofy, with just enough character work on the edges to give some grounding to the proceedings. The main question “Better Off Sled” has to answer is why a seemingly sensible almost adult like Mandy would get involved in the kids’ antics. The episode comes up with two answers. The first lies in making her Regular Sized Rudy’s cousin. I’m always here for Rudy character development, and Bob’s Burgers excels at making him and his situation as pathetic as possible without making him irredeemably sad. He holds out hope that he might one day grow as big as his cousin, then immediately falls over when she gives him a half-hearted high five. He asks Mandy to tell the other cousins about his awesome backward sledding, only for him to get immediately overwhelmed and swing around. Louise’s plan not so subtly assumes that Rudy isn’t going to survive the frontal assault on the teens. And whatever his dad thinks he has going on with this new friend Nancy, it’s not going to work out. Any of this could tip over into straight-up depressing, but the writing and Brian Huskey’s voice work keep Rudy endearing, even in an episode where Louise is too busy fighting the boy she hates to pay attention to the boy she kind of sort of cares for sometimes.
Speaking of the boy she hates… my goodness, everyone hates Logan Berry Bush. That’s the other big reason Mandy sticks around in this episode for as long as she does, and why she returns at episode’s end with three women’s varsity teams in tow. Logan and his lackeys are more typically the sole representatives of the town’s high schoolers, so it’s interesting to get a sense of how he fits into the larger social pecking order. In short, he’s an ass to quite possibly every woman he has ever met, if all three teams’ eagerness to pelt him with snowballs is any indication. Logan is in rare form tonight. He immediately starts calling Mandy “Manitary Napkin”, he delights in the pain the harder snowballs have already done to his theoretical friend, and he grabs Louise to use as a human shield when he finds himself facing imminent doom. He manages a moment’s minor nobility when he realizes he’s surrounded, which is enough for Louise to rediscover her Christmas spirit and give him a small head start, but that’s it. Like I said, he’s a teenage dastard.
The one mistake that “Better Off Sled” makes is getting Teddy involved in all this. Louise’s plan to have Teddy plow the hill doesn’t make a ton of sense, even allowing for the fact that Tina points out they won’t be able to sled down the hill either if Teddy does that. I get that Louise is fully willing to destroy something she cherishes if it costs Logan too, but I’m less clear why the hill is the only place the teens can throw snowballs in the same way it’s clearly the best place to go sledding. The logic here just gets a bit too woolly for me to follow, and Teddy’s latest round of unnecessary angst about the cops discovering his unspeakable crime doesn’t help. I enjoy Teddy fine, albeit in generally slightly smaller doses than Bob’s Burgers tends to give me, but this is an instance where he doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings. His fear of being caught doesn’t lead anywhere, and the snowstorm renders his actions irrelevant, give or take those harder snowballs.
While “Better Off Sled” doesn’t feel especially Christmas-y, not even in Bob and Linda’s subplot about knitting scarves as Christmas presents, it does at least get a lot of mileage out of the family alternately supporting and failing one another, which feels very holidays. Tina only has Louise’s back by comparison to how hilariously Gene doesn’t, especially when he’s late to join the big climactic confrontation with Logan. For her part, Tina is way too wrapped up with how well-formed the teen boys’ butts are to be fully committed to Louise’s war. Bob’s Burgers picks its spots when it comes to making entire episode stories about the Belcher siblings in conflict, but the show has become very good about giving them distinct motivations and priorities even when they are broadly working toward the same goal.
As for the Belcher parents, their story finds a fun way to get both Linda and Bob invested in the former’s latest goofy obsession. That Linda would inexplicably decide to knit three scarves days before Christmas is… well, actually fairly explicable, given what we know about her. The clever bit comes when Bob takes up knitting and discovers he’s a natural. The episode doesn’t have Bob go as all-in on knitting as he has other newfound passions like, say, folding paper airplanes, but he’s just the perfect amount of excited and proud to balance Linda’s mounting frustration. “Better Off Sled” doesn’t try to tie together the kids’ and parent’s plotlines, but then there’s little reason to when the kids need no excuse to get excited about Christmas presents. And it really is perfectly Bob’s Burgers to have the kids love their mom’s misshapen scarf, as its weirdness tells a story the other two perfect ones don’t. Maybe that moment alone is festive enough to carry the entire episode.