Starring H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, John Roberts, and Kristen Schaal
Created by Loren Bouchard
I have a difficult time writing about comedy. I don’t have the language for it, maybe, because I’m so used to thinking in terms of dramatic plot and round characters and rising tension, and don’t know how to apply that to something that is primarily comedic. So when I love a comedy, I don’t really know how to talk about it beyond saying that it makes me happy. Why do I love Spaced more than Eastbound and Down? I like Eastbound and Down, it’s pretty great, but Spaced makes me happy. And even when I understand why I find something so funny and joyous, I’m wary of explaining the joke, of making something laugh-out-loud funny seem silly and dull.
But this is the year of challenging myself, so today I’m going to try to capture what I love about Bob’s Burgers.
Bob’s Burgers is the antidote to bad days. I avoided it for a while, afraid it would be some kind of Family Guy clone, five-count cartoon family, dumb dad, precocious kids, etc, etc. But it is so much sillier and stranger and funnier than that, and has little in common with Famly Guy or The Simpsons other than the dad wearing white shirts all the time. It doesn’t rely on pop culture references, topical humor, or shock-value gags. It is goofy character-driven fun that brightens my whole day.
The names H. Jon Benjamin (of Home Movies and Archer) and Kirsten Schaal (of Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show, and Gravity Falls) were what finally brought me in. Coach McGuirk and Mel? Yes! Now, at first, you will probably find it strange that Schaal is the only female voice actor when the main cast is 60% female. Linda and Tina are voiced by John Roberts and Dan Mintz, and that will seem weird at first, and funny later, and then you’ll forget all about it and be unable to imagine them having any other voice. The voice acting in this show is 100% excellent, from regular cast to special guests, including Kevin Kline, Sarah Silverman, and Aziz Ansari. I’m not sure how, but H. Jon Benjamin manages to both have a comfortingly distinctive voice and completely and uniquely inhabit the character of Bob. Good voice acting makes you believe in the characters, and the talent in this show really does that for me.
It’s a character-driven kind of comedy, similar to Spaced, in that the characters do have certain comedy-driving traits – Bob is stubborn and proud, Linda is obsessive, Louise is manipulative – but they aren’t two-dimensional. Bob is proud because he’s genuinely great at what he does, which is making burgers (Mr. Fishoeder, the landlord, calls him a “beefartist”), even if that same pride makes it hard for him to admit that he’s terrible at running his business. Linda gets obsessed with strange things, but she devotes that same obsessive interest to supporting and encouraging her family. And Louise torments her siblings and manipulates stupid adults, but her relationship with Bob is actually one of the sweeter aspects of the show. There’s a lot of sweetness here, between the characters. And the relationships between them have such an instant familiarity that it makes the comedy sharper, and deeper, than I think it would be with a shallower cartoon family
Family is kind of the key, both to the comedy and to my deep affection for the show. The relationships between the characters, the sense of family, feel very real to me. The Belchers feel like a family, and the comedy is as likely to be silly family stuff as wacky hijinks involving angry vegan documentarians or bank heists. The show isn’t realistic, exactly, but the cartoon world of Bob’s Burgers doesn’t feel too terribly far from our own, and the Belcher family doesn’t feel so far away from families I have known. It’s not about making commentary or lampooning real life in some way. It’s a comedy about a family trying to make ends meet, and also about kids growing up loving their family but really having no sense of the stakes involved in being an adult. Gene and Louise just want to be weird and have fun, and Tina doesn’t have a choice about being weird because she’s a teenage girl and just wants to touch Jimmy Pesto Jr.’s BUTT. And because, as a viewer, you are invited to participate in this family comedy, you, or at least I, develop so much affection for this family. I love them, every one of them, but probably Tina the most, because awww, Tina.
Looking back, I’m doing a terrible job of describing why Bob’s Burgers is funny. It’s weird and silly and smart, vulgar but not exploitative, simultaneously problematic and generous in its handling of, say, trans* sex workers, takes joy in avoiding easy moral lessons and then delivers some unexpectedly sharp and insightful joke as a throwaway gag in the middle of a scene. It takes risks and can be almost too goofy sometimes, but it always comes back to the family, and well-crafted comedy, and a generous amount of heart. That’s why I love it, and I hope, if you give it a chance, you’ll love it too.
All gifs are from the Bob’s Gifs Tumblr.