Bob’s Burgers

For my last post I tried to figure out what I disliked about the pilot of what sounded like a great show; now I’m trying to figure out what I love about the pilot of a show that sounds hopelessly derivative.

The first time I saw the pilot of Bob’s Burgers, when it debuted on January 9, 2011, I was bored to tears. Hearing H. Jon Benjamin‘s voice and not LMAO off is actually a little disorienting. But his character, Bob Belcher is just a dumpy, boring guy; another animated oaf with a family of five. I’ve only stuck with the show–and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this–because it’s sandwiched into the middle of Fox’s Animation Domination. Ratings are good but critical reaction is less than stellar.

Somehow, the show has grown on me, and when the pilot re-aired recently, I found myself cracking up. It’s definitely one of those shows–like The Office–that gets funnier the more you feel like you know the characters.

The pilot is set during Labor Day weekend, as the Belcher family restaurant is prepping for it’s grand re- re- re-opening. The whole family is part of the act; the three kids are left in the restaurant to welcome the onslaught of business while husband Bob (Benjamin) and wife Linda (John Roberts) grind meat–not a euphemism–in the basement. We also learn that it is Bob and Linda’s anniversary, which he has forgotten, and she optimistically reads his ignorance as a ruse. From their conversation we learn that they have worked hard for their little family business, even on their wedding night–again, not a euphemism.

One of the primary tasks of this pilot is to establish its mashup of family and workplace comedy. Many of the jokes stem from the supporting characters’ dual roles as Bob’s offspring and employees. “My crotch is itchy,” reports Tina. Bob’s response: “Are you telling me as my grill cook or as my daughter?”

Like King of the Hill, for which Executive Producer Jim Dauterive was a writer, the show has a slower pace than the Seth McFarlane panoply has conditioned us for. The charters even talk a little slowly. What’s gotten really old, though, is shows with fat guy protagonists who mistreat their wives and kids.

Bob’s kids are horrible. They were described (accurately) by an IGN reviewer as “two Barts and a Milhouse.” The eldest, Tina, (Dan Mintz) is the Milhouse, shuffling around scratching her genitals and mumbling.

Louise: “She’s autistic, she can’t help it.”

Tina: “Yeah, I’m autistic.”

Bob: “You’re not autistic, Tina.”

Middle child Gene (Eugene Mirman) is the showman, happily donning a giant burger suit and using a noise-maker to attract/harass customers. We learn that youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal) has told her class at school that her family’s burgers contain human meat. Throwing a wrench into plans for a profitable weekend, a pasty-faced health inspector, who turns out to be an ex-boyfriend of Linda’s, slaps up a yellow warning sign until he can conduct a test on the meat. Only when the lovesick inspector works through his issues can the day be saved.

So, we’ve got horrible kids, a wife who’s a little off, but here’s the thing. As on King of the Hill, the husband is the grounded center around which the lunatics revolve. He’s imperfect–he forgets important dates from his wedding anniversary to his own birthday. Still, he’s basically a good, hardworking guy trying to make an honest living. He’s likable, something we cynics are so used to anymore. So, just don’t compare him to Archer, who despite sharing a voice, is his polar opposite, and you might find that he and his brood are pretty funny.

Sit Down Shut Up

This is a loveable little show that flies under the radar. When it disappeared from the Fox Animation Domination line-up after only a few episodes, I thought it been canceled for good, but then it turned up at midnight on Saturdays. Guess it was too offensive for prime time viewing. I don’t see how it’s any worse than Family Guy and American Dad; in fact it skips the cheap fart jokes and goes for the more nuanced vulgarities.

Before you even watch an episode, you can expect great things based on the cast; Kristin Chenoweth, Jason Bateman, Kenan Thompson, and Will Forte, for starters. If the cast isn’t enough to grab you, the animation should be. The show uses hand drawn animation against live action backdrops. It messes with your head a little at first, and almost allows you to forget you’re watching an animated show.

So the pilot opens with a road sign telling the audience this is Knob Haven, FL, population 9,334. It is, the sign says, “As pretty as a picture except for the people.” And below that, “You get used to it.” Okay, I had to pause the video to read all that, but that’s the kind of little joke that is buried throughout for those willing to look.

Within seconds we have a nutsack joke—although English teacher Ennis Hoftard is referring to an actual sack of nuts. Ennis wears a bicycle helmet all day. Each of the eccentric teachers at Knob Haven High School is introduced by his or her yearbook entry, with name, subject, and catchphrase. Each is a loser of the highest order, in his or her own colorful way. There is simply too much wackiness flying out of this show to keep up in one viewing. Watch it at least twice.

There is a new principal (Kenan Thompson) at KNHS, a no-nonsense African American woman who—like most of the other characters—isn’t in it for the love of the kids. Her catchphrase is “No.” She announces to the teachers that heads are about to roll. The budget is being cut since the school performed badly on No Child Left Behind standards. The lone ray of sunshine in a bunch of perfectly miserable people is Miracle Grohe (Kristin Chenoweth), a neo-hippie/creationist single mother on whom the sun always seems to shine. Natch, one of the other characters, the P.E. teacher, Larry “I don’t like to say my last name” Littlejunk (Jason Bateman), has a mad crush on her.

There is a drug scandal, in which some unidentified pills are confiscated from a student’s locker. Miracle, the science teacher, asks God to tell her what kind of pills they are. Sue figures, if they should happen to be steroids, she can use them to enhance the skill of the football team and therefore, alumni donations. Only they’re not steroids, the vice principal, Stuart “I need a catch phrase” Proszakian, takes them, and, well… things go awry.

It is refreshing to see high school life viewed through the eyes of the adults. This has been attempted here and there, as with the canceled Miss Guided, and on Glee, but I have never seen it done with such joyful irreverence. (Actually, if Sue Sylvester finally gets fired from William McKinley High she should take the first bus to Knob Haven.)

In addition to being ROTFL ridiculous, the show delivers a bit of social commentary, with its references to public school funding and a joke about the current U.S. political climate. Where it really pushes the envelope is with its near constant references—with varying degrees of subtlety—to student/teacher sex.

Larry: “I always ending up blowing it, like the stupid P.E. teacher that I am.”

Stuart: “I could never even get my P.E. teacher to do that.”

Is it wrong that that’s funny? Maybe, but Sit Down Shut Up doesn’t give you enough time to dwell on it, since it’s on to the next bit in the time it takes to slam a kid’s head in his locker door.

Favorite teacher catchphrase:  Willard Deutschebog (Henry Winkler) – “If I believed in reincarnation I’d kill myself tonight.”