“Teen-a-Witch.” Bob’s Burgers. Writ. Holly Schlesinger. Dir. Chris Song and Bernard Derriman. Fox, 2016.
“Teen-a-Witch” is a brilliant – if scathing – indictment of modern witchcraft spaces, usually dominated by New Age white-lighters and dodgy edge-lords. We watch through the eyes of Tina, eldest daughter of the Belcher family, attempting to win a school Halloween contest (after her fabulous costume idea is stolen from her) by any means necessary. Requiring research on her alternate costume, a “Sand-Witch,” she receives a spell-book that guarantees she win. As the power quickly goes to her head, she learns the hard way that dabbling in the occult can net you some dangerous consequences.
First off, Bob’s Burgers is a laugh-riot; “Teen-a-Witch” was the episode that got me hooked. (Incidentally, it was my very first one.) The show revolves around the Belcher family – Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene, and Louise – all with very distinct personalities. Linda sings and drinks wine, Tina is living out her boy-crazy phase, and Bob cooks gourmet burgers but can’t get people into his restaurant. Each and every character is fleshed out and feels like a real person you probably knew back in the day. Unlikely situations are a keystone of the show, but they always feel organic; the writers are great at introducing scenarios that still remain plausible based on the cast’s personalities.
That’s why this episode feels so relatable as it unfolds in the most dubious ways. After watching this episode, I would bet money that someone on staff has been involved in the occult community. So much of the story reflects every teenaged baby-witch’s introduction to magic and the majority of the community. Even the title is a little nod to us. Does anyone else remember Silver Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch? Lots of other blog writers have catalogued Silver’s sins, so I won’t bother to expand on them in this space – but including a reference to it seems to be a little tweak on the nose to those in the know, letting us know exactly what kind of witches we’re dealing with here. It also showcases the three loudest types of players in the witch community through Mr. Ambrose, Jackie the crossing-guard, and Tina herself.
Mr. Ambrose, the school librarian, is the gatekeeper, loaning Tina her very first spell-book. He speaks about magic as if everyone who practices lives a glamorous, seductive life through their innate powers – all while living a very ordinary life behind a library desk. A majority of the community online similarly believes that they’re the stars of a Sabrina rip-off without ever getting deeper into the occult than, well, Ravenwolf. For them, other people are jealous because “they’re powerful witches,” they’re single because they’re “waiting on the universe,” and they’re not practicing magic right now because they “forgot the moon phase.” Nothing that happens to them has been shaped by them much more than wishing really hard, which any five-year-old can accomplish with a star and a rhyme. When shit hits the fan magically, these gatekeepers would rather dodge out of harm’s way and murmur in pity from a safe distance than actually help. Any practitioner half as accomplished as Mr. Ambrose pretends to be can instruct a baby-witch on the basics of self-defense. Like all gate-keepers to the community, he’s too busy keeping the hem of his own robes clean instead of fulfilling his self-assigned role as mentor and leader.
Jackie is the opposite end of the spectrum. After Tina mouths off, the crossing guard steals her signature barrette and uses it to curse her. You’d think a grown adult woman punishing a mouthy tweenager that way would be overkill (and you’d be right). People like Jackie are just so drunk on supposed power, they have never stopped to consider that they might be using a flamethrower when a match would do. They’re rather self-absorbed with an ego too large for their actual talent. After the encounter, as Tina begs for Mr. Ambrose’s help, he lists off his coven’s problems with Jackie: she always wanted to “go dark,” she told people they should hex their enemies
, and she never paid for pizza. There’s a lot of self-absorption in the 2edgy4u witch, making them unwelcome in most spaces. Jackie manages to teach Tina – and the audience – a lesson on the consequences of taking yourself too seriously. You might just end up hexing a thirteen-year-old.
And then we come to Tina. Tina is every single teenage girl who has managed to buy herself a spell-book from their local Barnes & Noble (including me at thirteen). After one night of casting as many spells as she can – including getting Louise out of a book report, increasing Gene’s chances of having fish-sticks for lunch the next day, and making Jimmy Jr “fall in love” with her – she becomes convinced she’s some kind of extra from The Craft. Magic is great for her, ultimately boosting her self-esteem. Unfortunately, Tina’s head swells too much, part of what makes her mouth off to Jackie in the first place. After running through the spell-book (“like a copy of Us Weekly,” hisses Mr. Ambrose), she assumes she knows mostly everything there is to know and can take on just about anyone. (Most of the spells read like: “Linda Belcher, not a peep, close your eyes and go to sleep.” We’re not talking actual magical tech here.) She hasn’t particularly tried to disprove or verify the results of her workings being her magic and not just simple coincidence, and she becomes too afraid thanks to Jackie to do more research. Study is paramount for new witches, and a little bit of humility can keep you out of trouble.
A few viewers may feel like “Teen-a-Witch” laughs at the magical community instead of with it. I’d argue they’re missing some very important – and hysterical! – commentary that any one who’s spent more than two years here can agree on. There’s so much misinformation in the more popular realms of the occulture, and coupled with a huge ego and the feeling like you can get away with almost anything – well, you end up like these three witches. There’s a good moral here, and a good warning: don’t bite off more than you can chew, or it might chew you up and spit you out!
What kind of witch have you been? What did you think of the episode?