Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Bob's Burgers": The Oddball of FOX's Animation Block

My girlfriend and I have been mainlining the entire series of Bob's Burgers lately, with the exception of season three (seriously, get on that, Netflix, god). The show made a quiet debut in 2011, taking on a spot in FOX's Sunday night animation block that had, in recent years, played host to such (un-)notable shows as Sit Down, Shut Up and Napoleon Dynamite. It was a spot that FOX had had a lot of difficulty programming, namely in how whatever occupied that timeslot would be the network's only animated show that was not created by Seth McFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad, the now-departed The Cleveland Show) or Matt Groening (The Simpsons). Though it debuted to strong ratings, those numbers slipped over the course of the season, and it wasn't until the show's critical acclaim made it one of the best-reviewed shows on television that FOX began having more confidence in it. The show is now in its fourth season, and a fifth has already been ordered.

So what makes Bob's Burgers so different? For one, it feels like the true heir to The Simpsons' legacy. It's true that the shows have different sensibilities: Bob's Burgers doesn't attempt the kind of high-wire satire that The Simpsons often do, and in terms of the humor itself, it's not as laugh-out-loud funny as classic-era Simpsons (though in fairness, nothing really could be). But the show does, like The Simpsons, center around the family - burger cook Bob (voice of H. Jon Benjamin, whom I can't really explain why but I could listen to his voice all day, and practically do between this and Archer), his wife Linda (John Roberts), and his kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) - and mixes its humor with a sweetness that doesn't tip over into treacle. Unlike the families of McFarlane's shows, which are built around a marriage that, at least in Family Guy's case, likely qualifies as an abusive relationship, the Belcher family of Bob's Burgers is a family that genuinely likes each other, much like early Simpsons (though The Simpsons is still fine, it has pretty much run out of ideas at this point in its historically long run).

Of course, it helps that the voice cast is so immensely talented at bringing these characters to life. As Sonia Saraiya wrote at The A.V. Club last year, the show is essentially all about Tina, and so much of this comes from Mintz's indispensable voice work as the oldest child facing the horror of adolescence. Similarly, Mirman is an absolute blast, and just about every one of his lines is pure gold. The same goes for Linda, whose lines Roberts can make hilarious just from the inflection (like the "little babies" in this clip). And, of course, Schaal and Benjamin - both well-known before the show - are great as the youngest, chaotic child and Bob, respectively. Then there are the guest voices: Kevin Kline, Aziz Ansari, Megan Mullaly, and Sarah Silverman have all appeared in multiple episodes, among many others.

I apologize for not having too much to say about it at this point. But I do highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys more grown-up animation that doesn't rely on stoner humor (the majority of Adult Swim) or racist/sexist/homophobic humor (any Seth McFarlane venture).

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