A TV family with a smart dad? Children who get along? A mom with more than one idea? Oh, and it’s freaking hilarious? It must not be real. No, it is: it’s Bob’s Burgers.
Most sitcoms of one sort or another seem to believe that intelligence, weirdness, insecurity, and virtue all come in very small doses that must be handed out to exactly one character a piece. The weird one can’t also be intelligent unless the former explains the latter; insecurity can never be accompanied by courage; the smartass can’t possibly be weak unless we have a very special episode about it. You get the picture: everyone has basically one talent or foible that defines them and no one else. What I love about Bob’s Burgers is that this is absolutely not the case with almost all of its characters, especially its central family. They are essentially human, though incredibly odd. And, you know, it’s a cartoon. They’re cartoons. I’m a grownup and I love this cartoon.
The Belcher family struggles together to keep their tiny burger restaurant afloat. It is clear from the outset that, even when distracted, they are in it together through every struggle and success. For this family, that mostly means hilarious struggle. “I paid the rent a few days ago,” Bob says at one point to their landlord, “I know there were a lot of pennies.”
This is not a normal family, and this is not a normal cast. Of the five family members, only one is actually voiced by a woman (Kirsten Schaal as the youngest daughter, Louise); the rest of the voices are from men, including the women. I love that odd underlying ambiguity. If I were more ambitious, I’d write an essay about how the voicing choices help us experience families as complex negotiations of gender. As it is, I’ll just say it’s hilarious. Tina in particular, voiced in soft monotones by Dan Mintz, is sweet and awkward and never at any point derided by the show’s narration. If anything, Tina is the show’s narrative darling. She is just burgeoning on adolescence, with crushes on every boy she knows…and also bearer of a zombie fixation. Mr. Mintz emphasizes Tina’s goofy sincerity rather than making a constant mockery of the fact that he is a man voicing the character of a young woman. Presented with a man who believes he was once a mannequin, Tina empathically confides, “I get it. One day all of a sudden you’re anatomically correct. I just went through that.”
Speaking of a man who was once a mannequin (but who probably wasn’t): nobody in town is normal. Absolutely nobody. From the self-certified school counselor who adores knitting to the twins who try to carry one another across the street. The Belcher family is filled with oddness, but so is everyone else. It helps to contextualize how insane anyone can feel at any moment, whether in real life or in a cartoon. Like dear Teddy, we all sometimes get stuck under a fridge in a trap the children laid for Santa. Or we feel like it, anyway.
Have I mentioned the songs? The show is filled with various songs to narrate some of its sequences, and almost all of them are perfectly hilarious. While Bob learns to play a video game, we get a man in the background singing about how you’ll lose “if you put in the towel/that’s how rules work.” Or there is Linda’s brilliant self-composed Thanksgiving song, which somehow ends with the line, “Kill the turkey.”
The show is fun, and like all fun things it is a release from reality and yet somehow stays true to it. This is a family that loves each other, and that even loves its weird neighbors (school counselors excepted). The parents love their kids and want good things for them, and the children feel very much the same…even if they can’t focus enough to hand out flyers for the restaurant. (“There was a bug on the ground,” explains Louise.)
So let me review some of my other favorite moments in a random list, and leave the actual show-watching and analysis to you:
- Tina says to her father, “It’s like when you got that flu shot for me to show me it was okay.” Bob’s response: “That was brave of me.”
- Somehow I always laugh at how Linda’s instant response to a man trying to have an affair with her is to slap him. A lot.
- Gene’s suggestion for what he’s inherited from his mother: “My birthing hips.”
- Louise fails to properly distract people from tackling Bob. When he points out the problem – on the floor during a cruise, pinned down while holding oysters – his response to her cheerful lapse is a very fatherly, “Okay, next time.” (As if there will be another?)
- Linda is furious at Bob, and tells the children to go to bed. Bob desperately tries to get the kids to stay with him, and when they’ve finally gone, the children keep listening as their parents argue. “Do the stompy dance, mom!” says Gene from afar.
- Teddy, noticing that the restaurant is dark and empty: “This kinda makes me want to loot you.” “What?” “Nothing.”
- Bob’s response to his misery at losing his family for Thanksgiving is to talk to his turkey, which he’s named Lance. “You don’t get to eat Lance! Ow, Lance, you’re burning my arm.”
- Ollie and Andy are the best twins ever. Just watch them pretend to be umpires and shout, “You’re outta here!” at each other with endless repetitive gusto. Try not to love them.
- One of the other teenagers, Jimmy Jr., seems to be living in a constant state of Foot Loose against his dad. I don’t mind that. Especially when he runs around a taffy factory, dancing his rebellion.
- Gene is either a musical prodigy or accidentally brilliant. He has a great composition for a Thomas Edison project, a song that only has so much to do with Edison but everything to do with Edison’s “electric love” for the elephant he electrocuted to death.