The Offbeat Charm of ‘Bob’s Burgers’ is an Antidote to ‘Family Guy’ and ‘The Simpsons’
Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard and his crew have come up with – hands down – the most captivatingly strange sitcom on network TV. Now in its third season and having recently been picked up for a fourth, the Emmy-nominated animated series is the gem of Fox’s Sunday night cartoon block. What’s more, its continued existence may be a sign that the network has finally turned a corner when it comes to canceling shows with cult followings.
Bob’s Burgers revolves around the Belchers – swarthy Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), his supportive wife Linda (John Roberts), and their three equally but distinctly quirky children, Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal). They own a burger joint that does okay business (and have an apartment above the restaurant, making them one of the few TV families with an economically realistic living situation).
While there are some basic similarities between Bob’s Burgers and the rest of the Animation Domination shows (they’re all cheeky or irreverent and primarily about eccentric nuclear families), the tone and style here are almost jarring next to the raucous abrasiveness of the Seth MacFarlane toons and the silly wit of The Simpsons.
Bob’s Burgers is mostly a wordy affair – with the great bulk of the humor hinging on oddball banter as opposed to visual gags or obvious punch lines. The dialogue is often so awkwardly conversational (even when it’s about something outlandish like burger meat made from human remains) and filled with inconsequential asides that it isn’t always clear that a joke has been made; it’s this – more than an episode about a cow standing outside of the restaurant, wearing a blond wig or Tina randomly proclaiming that her crotch is itchy and smells like bacon – that makes the show so strange.
In the third season premiere, the restaurant is overrun by a biker gang mourning the death of their former leader, Horny Dave (“he got into a wreck with a semi…by the time they pulled him out, his entire lower half, the horny half, was roasted”). A conversation between Linda and two of the bikers starts off as a comment on a pregnant female biker opening a beer with her boobs, then shifts into an aside about azaleas, and then finally lands on crank (“the azaleas are beautiful in Macon. Second only to their crank. That sweet Macon crank”).
The writing is often circuitous, so you have to be patient and trust that a digression will pay off in the end – something that animated comedies, and really, most sitcoms, don’t usually require of us. It would be easy to dismiss a show as talky as this as boring, which is what I did when I watched the first season. Truth be told, there was a time when I thought that this was the worst thing on TV. This is why anyone who had a similarly negative reaction should give this show another try. You may continue disliking it but its magic takes some time to sink in.
Bob’s Burgers is low-key funny. That isn’t to say that it isn’t capable of provoking hearty belly laughs but it isn’t as instantly loveable as The Simpsons. It also doesn’t hammer you over the head with how hysterical it’s being at any given moment like Family Guy. I’d say that Tina (who, despite being voiced by a man, is on the fast track to becoming one of TV’s great feminist icons) best represents the show’s unexpected charm and appeal. The character has the same deadpan delivery that Mintz has in real life and, like the comedian turned voice actor’s own stand-up material, the fantastic, quotable things Tina says sneak up on you.
Tina on the foot odor of a capoeira studio: “It smells exotic. Like ranch dressing.”
Given Fox’s reputations for quickly axing series (both series that deserve to be canceled and critical darlings), it’s peculiar that this show, which initially received lukewarm reviews, moved forward (the same thing could probably be said for the oft maligned Cleveland Show). Maybe it’s about a future syndication deal or maybe this is the network’s new, softer side, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, as long as Fox keeps serving up Bob’s Burgers, I’ll keep biting.