Episode Grade: B+/A-
“Gene is livid when his best friend Alex ditches him to be Courtney’s roller-dancing partner[.]”
The opening line of Fox’s description of tonight’s episode is interesting for a couple of reasons. For one, romantic jealousy isn’t a mode we’ve seen Gene operate in before, at least where Courtney is concerned (although there was “Bob, Actually”, where he reacts to the existence of Isabella Kitchen Lady’s boyfriend with snide remarks). Nine seasons in, it’s heartening to see the show still has ways to approach its characters it hasn’t tried before (though I suspect this is more true of Gene than, say, Bob or Tina). The second reason? Well, my thought process went something like this: Wait, Gene has a best friend? Named Alex? Who even is….. wait, was that the kid from the sleepover episode?
A quick internet search confirmed that yes, Alex was the kid who invited Gene over for a fairly disastrous sleepover in “Cheer Up, Sleepy Gene” last season. I’m generally pretty good remembering side characters and other associated minutiae for this show, so the fact that I couldn’t remember his name should tell you how memorable I found that episode. I was a bit skeptical about the show bringing him back as Gene’s best friend, since I seem to recall Gene mostly being happy to have gotten the hell out of there after the sleepover was done. Gene doesn’t have a lot of friends though, at least outside of his sisters and their friends, so I guess any other friend of his assumes ‘best friend’ status by default. Plus, the show does have a bit of a history of bringing back characters from mediocre episodes for much better ones (I’m thinking of Jairo in particular, but there are others).
There are basically two main ways the show could’ve approached Gene’s reaction to his best friend and on-again-off-again girlfriend hanging out without him. The first would be the romantic jealousy I alluded to above, which would make some sense on any other show. Courtney and Gene’s history goes back several seasons, and we’ve only met Alex once before. This would make less sense for Gene as a character, though; he’s never actually sought out romance the way Tina does, he just happens to find himself in it every once in a while. If he and Courtney ever end up back together it would probably take something like working on some sort of art project together and slowly going back to dating, rather than either of them actively pursuing the other.
The other option, which the show smartly takes, is to have Gene become absolutely terrified of losing his new best friend. This not only makes more sense for Gene, but really for eleven year-olds in general, where a fight with your best friend can seem like the end of the world. The episode does a pretty good job in a limited amount of time establishing their friendship (which “Cheer Up, Sleepy Gene” didn’t really do) early on. Yes, they’re both a little weird, but being weird together is basically this show’s thesis statement. Gene’s mid-episode song more or less spells it out: he’s never really had a best friend before and it never bothered him, but now that he has one he can’t stand the thought of losing him. It therefore follows, because Gene is a Belcher, that he will go way over the top (though a lot of the credit/blame there goes to Doug, who’s the episode’s only real antagonist).
I didn’t really ever think Gene would go through with Doug’s plan to give Alex diarrhea (though the commercial break was well placed), though I was a little surprised that Alex was so quick to forgive him. Really though, Alex needs Gene as much as Gene needs Alex, and isn’t that what friendship is all about? It was a nice touch having Courtney become as fed up with Doug as everyone else was by the end of the episode, skating triples with Gene and Alex and joining them in their Robot Wizard Quest game back at home. And would you look at that? Gene’s got a friend group of his very own now.
Overall, I would put this at the high end of the season thus far. I tend to rate Gene focused episodes more highly than others might, but I like that this one especially moved the character into a place where we really haven’t seen him before. This far into the show’s run, that’s fairly impressive (while probably also indicative of the fact that Gene’s had fewer spotlight episodes than any other Belcher apart from Linda. Not counting Teddy for these purposes.)
- Bob, Linda, and Teddy’s b-plot was good for a few laughs, but mostly stood in contrast to the a-plot by how much it relied on what we already know about these characters. Teddy and Linda have overactive imaginations (the gun-glasses, the tiger murder) and are physically incapable of being quiet for more than five seconds. Not groundbreaking stuff, but for a b-plot it was fine.
- This has happened before in Gene episodes, but Louise and Tina felt oddly disconnected from the goings-on. Tina manages some voice-of-reason lines to Gene, but Louise can’t even pretend to care about anything that going on. Which is not out of character per se, but seemed somewhat at odds with the slightly more empathetic Louise we’ve been getting over the past few years.
- Again, I’m glad he and Alex have their fun, but it kind of seemed like Robot Wizard Quest was a bit math oriented for Gene.
- There Yacht-a Be a Law: Maritime Lawyers, and Sense & Sense-kill-a-flea. Keeping with the trend this season of the business names being better than the exterminators.
- Bob was very proud of his advice working. It’s not necessarily his fault it almost led to his son poisoning his best friend.