I’m about to break one of the rules of the Idiot Box: I’m going to talk about a network show that’s become pretty entrenched for the four years that it’s been on the air.
And you know why? Because “Bob’s Burgers” is my favorite show of all time. I love it more than “The Cosby Show,” or “True Detective,” or “M*A*S*H,” or “The Sopranos.” So get ready. I’m about to get uncomfortably complimentary.
I imagine the pitch for “Bob’s Burgers” was relatively simple because the shell of the show is actually pretty derivative of the past 60 years of television comedy. Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of “Archer”) owns a restaurant he runs with his family. He has a wife, Linda (John Roberts), and three children, Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal). They struggle to make ends meet and end up on zany adventures. Add or subtract any one element from that structure, and you could make everything from “The Honeymooners” to “Family Guy.” At its base level, it’s hardly a compelling show. And, to a certain extent, the first few episodes, while incredibly funny and well-written, are of a show that’s struggling to find its feet.
But when it found its feet, it became an unstoppable comedy juggernaut. By the end of the first season, these characters are defined not by their archetypes but as clear, complex individuals. In fact, it almost seems like creator Loren Bouchard actively wants to deconstruct the basics of television sitcom writing. Bob is hardly the ubermasculine, overcompensating father of sitcoms past; instead, he’s a shameful, shlubby mess. He’s even got a relatively fluid sexuality (and I don’t just mean men; cooked turkeys, too). Linda, the family matriarch, is not only one of the funniest characters on television, period, but an active part of the family business, often more motivated than Bob. If Bob looks at the glass half-empty, Linda looks at it totally full, and with a song in her heart. She’s much more capable than Bob, even if Bob’s got the culinary talent. There’s a fantastic give-and-take in their relationship, and it’s an absolute pleasure to see these characters weather what life gives them.
Their kids are just as well fleshed out. Tina, the eldest, is an awkward, gawky teenager. But she’s also an incredible optimist, looking at the horrors of pubescent life with a poise that most adults don’t even have. She’s not mired in adolescence; she’s ready for adulthood. Gene, by contrast, is the family jester, an odd, annoying child with a passion for farts and non sequiturs. He’s often confounded by the basics of socialization. And I don’t mean this as a negative; in fact, Gene’s my favorite character. Age him about 11 years and plop him in Middletown and he’s basically me. And then there’s Louise, a precocious elementary-schooler who cooks up insane schemes ranging from sneaking into a museum exhibit to opening an underground casino. The portrayal of children in “Bob’s Burgers” is so refreshing because the writers understand that childhood and adolescence are phases of constant transition. Yes, these characters are funny, but they’re very real to life, experiencing change on a relatively massive scale and looking at it with smiles on their faces.
Lastly, “Bob’s Burgers” makes an effort to make its revolutionary-ness unassuming. It’s an incredibly humble show. And what’s more, it’s incredibly sincere. Yes, there are moments of zany humor, like Tina’s fascination with butts or Bob’s love of turkeys, but there’s also an underlying sense of warmth. These characters care about each other and the world around them; for every moment of off-the-cuff humor, there’s a moment of genuine compassion that makes it all worth it. In the span of one episode, Gene ends up fondling boobs made of sand, Linda ends up in a picket line, and, in one of the show’s most touching moments, it’s revealed that Louise considers Bob her personal hero and wants to grow up to inherit the restaurant. Edgy shows are great, and shows like “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” and “Louie” are some of the finest to ever grace television. But “Bob’s Burgers” is the perfect base to their acid. The optimism that these characters have toward a cruel world never ceases to inspire me (and make me laugh).
It’s shameful that more people aren’t watching “Bob’s Burgers.” But I’ve slowly realized that in every group of friends, there are one or two who rabidly love this show and do whatever they can to get people to watch. I’m that friend, and I’ll be that friend again now. If you’re feeling stressed, down, or lonely, pick up the remote and watch “Bob’s Burgers.” You won’t regret it.