Bob’s Burgers joined the Fox’s Sunday night “Animation Domination” line-up as a pilot in January of 2011. The primetime slate being so dominated by MacFarlane’s three shows (not to mention The Simpsons, which is approaching a quarter-century), it seemed to me that creator Loren Bouchard (a co-creator of the underrated classic, Home Movies) had a tough nut to crack.
But this quirky little show has proven a nice change of pace from the generally excellent, but inbred writing pool of Family Guy et al. While these shows are absurd, whacky, cynical, and often-times highly offensive, Bob’s Burgers can be quietly sweet even as it employs the sort of awkward, human humour that made the early seasons of The Office so disarming.
In common with that show (and Bouchard’s earlier Home Movies) there’s clearly a certain degree of improvisation in the dialogue, which is the base of most of the show’s humour. The actors involved each seem to have a talent for this, and it makes for a certain sense of realism that more tightly-scripted shows lack (which is not to say this is an improv show; it still follows a script).
Bob Belcher and family run a burger restaurant, which makes an excellent product, but barely pays its bills each month (it’s tough being a burger man in a seafood town, Bob laments in one episode). Bob is a somewhat world-weary, but cautiously-optimistic character, well-voiced by Home Movies veteran H. Jon Benjamin (who played Coach McGurk as well as Jason).
(Other voices I recognized from Bouchard’s earlier show include Mort the Mortician and Hugo the Health Inspector; comedians Andy Kindle and Sam Seder, respectively.)
Bob’s wife Linda is also precious and likeable, but it’s the three kids that make the show. Eldest daughter Tina (played by Dan Mintz), is enormously and hilariously awkward. A young girl’s budding sexuality is rarely explored for its comedic opportunities, while the nerdy pubescent boy is fast becoming something of a cliché. But this is a lost opportunity, as Tina shows us.
She falls in love with her martial arts instructor (“Sexy Dance Fighting”), has a crush on an entire minor-league baseball team (“Torpedo”), and draws a nude portrait of her dentist when she learns to paint (“Art Crawl”). In the first episode, she makes uncomfortable every person she meets with questions about a rash on her groin (which the health inspector writes up on his report as a violation: “rashy grill-cook”). A running gag is her complicated feelings about zombies; she admits they are dangerous, but she just “love[s] their swagger”.
Meanwhile, youngest daughter, Louise (played by Kristen Schaal, and the only Belcher to actually be voiced by a woman), is a master manipulator and unrepentant prankster. She frequently takes advantage of both her siblings and her less intelligent classmates. My favourite exchange (so far) occurs between her and Bob in “Art Crawl”, when she bails him out of a debt with a hefty wad of bills she skimmed off of gullible art-buying tourists:
Bob: Where did you get that kind of money?
Louise: Shhhh. It’s Art Crawl.
Bob: Yeah, but where–
Louise: Shhh, shhhhhhh, shut your mouth. . . . Art Crawl.
The DVD extras are great. Various featurettes, including the original version of the show as pitched to the network, give a lot of insight into the thinking that went behind the genesis of this weird, burger-selling family. I was surprised to learn, for example, that the family originally had two sons and a youngest daughter, but the network asked for a change and Daniel became Tina. Dan Mintz, however, continued to do the voice in almost exactly the same way.
And every single one of the season’s thirteen episodes has a commentary track — in some cases two. We get to hear from writers, voice actors, and producers, in various combinations. Fans needn’t be disappointed that their favourite episode has no behind-the-scenes info in this DVD set.
Bob’s Burgers has proven a nice, understated addition to the Sunday night animated lineup, one whose often-subtler humour nevertheless causes me to laugh out loud more frequently than anything else I’m currently watching. And I like that it all comes from a good place.
Hated restaurant rivals and bitter ex-boyfriend health inspectors aside, one gets a genuine sense of love and support between the characters of this show: the sometimes frustrated Bob, the naive and awkward Tina, even the scheming Louise. It’s hard not to care about each of these characters, even as we laugh at their too-human foibles.
(20th Century Fox, 2012)
Reprinted with permission from The Sleeping Hedgehog
Copyright (2012) The Sleeping Hedgehog