I remember when the first trailers for “Bob’s Burgers” began to air because they showed them during football games on Fox. That’s pretty much the only time I could have ever seen them since I’d more or less cut the cord from live television by that point, other than sports. Actually I should clarify that for most of the last decade, football watching has gone hand-in-hand with seeing previews of terribly animated Fox shows that get slotted in next to all of MacFarlane’s wastes of space. None of them are good, and it seems like the worst of them are the ones that scrape together enough lowest common denominator audience from “Family Guy” sloppy seconds to stick around for multiple seasons.
And so I remember “Bob’s Burgers” in particular out of that bunch because the animation looked especially off putting, and the idea of an animated family running a burger joint was about the last thing I would have any interest in short of actually amputating my own limbs and making them into hamburgers to serve at a family burger joint.
Blissfully I ignored it, wrinkling my nose every time one football announcer or another gushed about it with faux enthusiasm from his scripted spontaneity. And then the Internet people started.
Mother of god, every damned list of shows nobody watches, this cursed show would pop up with its weird looking hairy pear of a greasy protagonist. And the explanations for its quality invariably revolved around how sweet it was. Bad argument. I don’t watch television to feel warm and fuzzy. It gives me hives.
Then Joanna and Dustin and Josh started up Station Agents last year. And every other week Josh would either put “Bob’s Burgers” in his weekly top five, or he’d make an impassioned appeal that although it wasn’t top five this week, it was something every good-hearted soul should be watching. And I thought, dammit Kurp, this is the only podcast I even listen to because like morning talk radio their appeal simply alludes me. I made an exception to listen to you fine folks, I won’t make another by watching that stupid show that Fox won’t stop pushing when I just want to watch the football men.
In January I got Netflix streaming instead of just the disc option, and within a month, do you know what was constantly in the recommended shows at the top of the screen? No not “My Little Pony” but in all his hairy white-aproned glory, Bob and his fucking Burgers.
I held out for six months. But in the end, the spirit was weak, and I pushed that play button. In defense of my resolve, the pushing of the button was not an occasion of “hmm, you know I think I’ll finally give this a shot.” It was more like “if I watch ten minutes of this crap will you all just fuck off and leave me alone already?”
*Scratches head in embarrassment*
Yeah, so I watched the first two seasons in four days.
That’s about the best recommendation I can give for a show. I could ramble on, but the bottom line is that there isn’t much to talk about, which might explain why the show gets so little long form press, even as it tends to make lists of what you should watch.
It’s frequently laugh out loud funny. And I think that sweetness is the wrong thing to attribute to the show. Not to say that it isn’t sweet, but that word projects such cloying dishonesty in the context of fiction, at least to me, that I find it offputting. It’s more that the characters have a fundamental humanity to them that of all things reminds me most of Calvin and Hobbes. That sense of veering madcap smart ass brilliance that is nonetheless grounded not in cynicism but in simple good-hearts.
There are many of us that look back to Calvin as this ideal model of what our own childhood was, of insane flights of fancy and wholesale creation of worlds through sheer will and imagination. We dared. And we’ve brought that irreverent anarchism into our adult lives as well. But I think it’s easy to slip into the illusion that we were alone in all of this, that we somehow dragged this rebellion up by ourselves and set ourselves against the world. And that lets us gorge on dry humor and cynicism that entertains without a heart underneath, because we’ve cut that heart out of ourselves in those fictions that we weave when we pretend we became this by ourselves.
See, what makes Calvin work are his parents, those frazzled and sarcastic guardians of the fortress in which Calvin can dream. They keep the world at bay so he can tilt at windmills, until he is strong enough to level his lance at real ones. And that’s what “Bob’s Burgers” is. It’s the family that builds strong walls so it can raise a new generation of Calvins.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.