Small Screen Sound-Off: “Bob’s Burgers” is more than “meats” the eye
MANAGING MOSAIC EDITOR
Bob’s Burgers is a warm and witty family story hidden inside a Trojan Horse of animation and fart jokes. Even though Bob’s titular burger joint perpetually has one foot in the grave and he’s constantly getting roped into others’ antics, he only sort of lets it get him down. Although those previously mentioned antics are often unusual and unrealistic, Bob and his family are characters who ultimately seem real.
Although the show’s characters are two-dimensional in a literal sense — and oddly-drawn to boot — they’re more compelling than many of their sitcom peers. Bob’s wife Linda is his exact opposite, plucky and feisty and the source of some of the show’s best, and weirdest, musical numbers. She gives her kids spectacularly terrible advice — whether she’s leading them in a fake water aerobics routine to get out of gym class or helping them choreograph a “Call of the Wild” dance routine because they’re unprepared to give a real book report — but what’s wonderful about Linda is that she’s always working from a place of love and fierce protectiveness. If she and Bob are like any other couple on TV, they’re most similar to the most iconic pair on “Friday Night Lights,” Tami and Coach Taylor. Both couples drive each other nuts and butt heads more often than not, but at the end of the day, there’s a glue of unconditional love and support holding them together.
That relationship explains why their oldest daughter, Tina, is a hopeless romantic. She pines for everyone from the family dentist to — basically, she just pines for everyone unrequitedly. Most of all, she has eyes for Jimmy Jr., a terrible and inexplicably popular dancer, and the son of her father’s restaurant rival. It would all be very Romeo and Juliet, if Jimmy Jr. would give Tina the time of day for more than an episode. Even though she has youthful interests, like horses and pining with a fervor that rivals Bella Swan’s, Tina has moments of depth beyond her years, and beyond the show’s cartoon format. It’s just one of the ways that the show goes beyond the traditional Sunday-night adult-cartoon format.
The show is no “Family Guy.” It’s witty and pokes fun at cultural phenomena without being crass or cruel. In a 2014 interview with Salon, Carrie Brownstein of “Portlandia” said that meanness pushes the audience away from the work; if that’s true, then “Bob’s Burgers” welcomes everyone to the weird, hilarious party. Louise, the baby of the family, is probably also its most foul-mouthed member, and somehow it’s funny rather than gimmicky. She’s harsh on the outside, sure, but the more “Bob’s Burgers” one watches, the more obvious it becomes that Louise is so focused on presenting a hard exterior through cursing and hilarious revenge schemes as a sort of protection. Sometimes she’s trying to protect her own feelings, and other times she’s trying to keep her siblings out of trouble or out of harm’s way.
Her brother Gene is a classic television middle child in the sense that he is often a sidekick in his sibling’s schemes. A recent episode featured Gene, however, as he lead his friends on a journey to find a goat with two butts (stay with me here). The kids face a number of physical obstacles on their search for the goat, which end when Gene piggybacks everyone else through a field of poison ivy. Just like the rest of his family, Gene may seem goofy and worth overlooking on the outside, but on the inside he has a heart of gold. How many of you would get poison ivy, but spare your friends the same fate? And Gene is creative, too. One of the first episodes of “Bob’s Burgers” that I ever saw was one where he writes a Thomas Edison-themed musical number for Louise’s school project, and the song was what won me over and sucked me into the show. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a wacky musical number.
If you like weird songs, zany characters and things that are way deeper and more valuable than they first appear, watch “Bob’s Burgers.” New episodes play Sunday nights on Fox, and the first five seasons are available on Netflix.