Bob’s Burgers is the latest attempt by Fox to create the perfect dysfunctional animated sitcom family, which is something of an obsession at the network. Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) runs the restaurant of the title with his patient wife, Linda (John Roberts), and three slovenly children. During the opening credits, successive banners declare the Grand Re-Opening, Grand Re-Re-Opening and finally Grand Re-Re-Re-Opening, as we watch the restaurant burn down, get infested with rats, and be destroyed by a falling tree. Clearly, this is going to be a struggle for Bob, but luckily for the viewer, watching the pilot is not.
On its surface, Bob’s Burgers appears to be another attempt to bottle The Simpsons‘ magic. Nuclear family with an attitude. Working class. Deadpan, biting delivery by kids and adults alike. Of course, every primetime animated TV sitcom since The Simpsons debuted has owed it a debt. Bart’s rebelliousness inspired the unrepentant vulgar libertarianism of the South Park kids. Without the Simpsons’ extreme family dynamics, the Griffins of Family Guy — not to mention the Smiths on American Dad and the Browns of The Cleveland Show — would never have had the opportunity to go crudely into their own good nights.
But Bob’s Burgers also borrows another sort of tone from another source, King of the Hill, drawing from Hank Hill’s friends and family’s more lifelike situations and personalities. True, the new show’s first episode features jokes about a crotch rash, hamburgers made from human flesh, and a theme burger named after a child molester. But its humor is grounded in quirky characters, specifically, members of an often exasperated but recognizably solid family.
That’s not to say they’re not cartoonish. Precocious youngest daughter Louise (Kristin Schaal) is a dangerous mixture of Bart’s anarchism and Lisa’s intelligence. She starts a rumor at school that her family’s restaurant served human remains from the crematorium next door because a classmate’s father is a matador and, she explains, she had to “up the ante.” Louise is also responsible for renaming the special burger of the day “The Child Molester,” served with candy. The fact that she wears pink headgear topped with bunny ears only makes her warped ideas seem more twisted.
Louise, at least, means to help with the family business. Bob’s more worried about her siblings. Gene (Eugene Mirman) spends the first episode in a burger costume and considers handing out free samples a performance. The rest of his act consists of making fart noises through a megaphone, ignoring the upset of the mourners next door. Dim bulb Tina (Dan Mintz) is the unfortunate bearer of the crotch rash, which sadly doesn’t disqualify her from grill duty.
If such broad character types tip toward tedious, the actors deliver their sharp dialogue with such impeccable dry timing that nearly every line hits home. Like King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers makes comedy of daily frustrations, without resorting to cheap gags or surreal asides. With the Belchers, Fox may have found another great family to move in next door to the Simpsons, Hills, and Griffins.