In 10 Words or Less
Flipping burgers, touching lives
Loves: H. Jon Benjamin, animation
Dislikes: Having my emotions manipulated
Hates: Kids suffering
It's easy to forget that Fox' Sunday animation line-up has been pretty much the work of a small group of creators for over a decade, with Matt Groening's The Simpsons and Futurama, Seth MacFarlane's empire of shows and Mike Judge and Greg Daniels' King of the Hill serving as the basis for the network's weekend wrap-up for nearly the entire 21st century. There have been half-hearted attempts to diversify the line-up, with funny short-lived series like Sit Down, Shut Up and unfunny shorter-lived dreck like Allen Gregory. But it took another family to fill that void, and the Belchers have done a fine job of it..
Created by Loren Bouchard, who's been behind two of the best cult animated TV series of the modern era in Home Movies and Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, not to mention consulting on the fantastic The Ricky Gervais Show, Bob's Burgers focuses on the titular burger diner, run by Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), who is assisted by his wife Linda and his three kids. Bob is a schlep, and not in the lovable sense, but he's not a bad guy. He just wants his restaurant to succeed against all odds and wants to do right by his family. It's a premise we've seen many times before (and in the shows that air all around it Sunday on Fox) but often times, it's not what you say but how you say it. Or more to the point who is saying it.
Bob's Burgers is a veritable all-star game, as the cast is loaded, top to bottom, by some of the best alt-comedy talent you could find. At the top, the criminally underrated Benjamin provides voice to yet another cartoon classic, joining Ben Katz, Coach McGuirk and Sterling Archer as brilliantly rageful everyguys, each slightly different, yet all just an enjoyable. As Linda, John Roberts brings his seemingly effortless impersonation of every Italian mom to the small screen perfectly (and slightly creepily when you forget it's a guy, (which you will) and the regulars include Laura and Sarah Silverman (as dopey twin boys), Andy Kindler, perfectly cast as the funeral director next door, David Herman (the school guidance counselor) and Jay Johnston (Bob's business rival from across the street.) Throw in guest stars like Jon Glaser, Paul F. Tompkins, Jerry Minor, Kevin Kline, Steve Agee, Jack McBrayer, Brian Posehn, Amy Sedaris, Robert Ben Garant, Tim Heidecker amnd Eric Wareheim, and the show is a comedy geek's dream.
Though I haven't mentioned the kids yet, it's not for any bad reason. Basically, it's about saving the best for last. With Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Louise (Kristen Schaal), you have the best group of kids in recent TV history, if not ever. From the disturbing ways Tina's budding sexuality expresses itself to Gene's enthusiasm for all things (especially the inappropriate) to Louise' borderline-sociopathic approach to life, they raise the stakes for everything that happens on the show, and make every moment they appear in 100 times better. Part of it is their voices, which are perfectly childlike, yet habve the timing of hilarious adults, part of it is the way they are allowed to ramble and flow, sounding like very little you hear elsewhere. Mintz' low-key murmur of dialogue is hilarious on its own, but when it pops into a conversation with a bizarre, misunderstanding angle, it's that much better. Gene basically screams everything he says, and that force of conviction is simply funny. Tina, on the other hand, comes up with things that probably just shouldn't be said, and that she says them, while wearing her ever-present pink rabbit-eared hat, is adorably demented. However, with the possibly exception of Gene, they also show real emotion at times also, which helps catch you unaware, when they draw you in and then smack you with a joke.
Plenty of the first season focuses on Bob's struggling business, which is not helped by Jimmy Pesto's restaurant across the street or the fact that the kids get too involved in helping out, but a lot of the story is about simply the family, especially Tina, whose 13th birthday sets the stage for the funniest episode of the first run, as it forces Bob to his mortal limits to make his little girl happy. Though things often get sitcom-wacky, like Linda turning their home above the restaurant into a sad bed-and-breakfast, or everyone moving into the funeral home during mold abatement on the restaurant, most of the show is focused on real family situations that the characters ramp up through their quirks, like when Louise feels left out as Bob and Gene bond over Bob's favorite spaghetti westerns. It's not often breaking new ground plot-wise, instead offering fresh and funnier takes on classic concepts (and, in "Art Crawl," plenty of animal anuses.)
Though the ideas are familiar, the key to the series is the way it avoids traditional sitcom structure when it comes to its jokes. Yes, the plots tend to fit the usual start-middle-end blending of a main story and a subplot, but along the way you'll go hungry if you're looking for anything resembling a set-up/punchline combo. Instead, there's lots of comedy found in the chaotic communications between the Belchers and the people in the neighborhood, which frequently take place at an enhanced rate of speed, especially if the kids are around. There's one moment where a flurry of talking pays off in a brief burst of silliness that gets a legit, hearty laugh every time, even when you know it's coming. It's easy to draw a laugh when it's a surprise, but it's a classic it it gets you every time, the way Bob's Burgers does.
The first season of Bob's Burgers is split over two DVDs (Disc One: seven episodes, Disc Two: six) and arrives in a clear standard-width keepcase with a tray for the second disc and a two-sided cover with art and disc content listed on the inside. The discs feature animated, anamorphic widescreen menus with options to play the episodes, select shows, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish (along with closed captioning.)
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks terrific, presenting the world of Bob's Burgers in bright, vivid color, which is all you can really ask of a modern cartoon like this. There's not a lot of texture to the scenes, so there's not a lot to be said about the fine detail, but at the same time there are no issues with compression artifacts or pixelation along outlines. I will note, I never noticed the detail in those animal anuses before though. Good work, Fox.
These episodes are presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, and though they aren't going to give your system a workout, the bouncy main theme sounds great in surround sound, and the center-focused dialogue is crystal clear, letting you enjoy all of Tina's mumbling and Gene's yelling.
Every episode boasts an audio commentary (with a pair getting two tracks), featuring a mix of cast and crew, including all of the main cast at one point or another (though there are a few tracks with only behind the scenes crew, especially in the final five episodes, which are crew-only affairs.) The tracks with voice actors are easily the most entertaining, especially if Mirman is on hand, with the track for "Sheesh! Cab, Bob?" being just hysterical (the story about Kevin Kline being an all-time commentary highlight.) There is however a focus on the process of creating the show, pushed hard by Bouchard's prodding which is appreciated. It's interesting to note that this may be the first time creators have ever outwardly praised a network for its notes on a series.
Beyond the commentaries, there are a few more extras to enjoy. Disc One provides audio outtakes for "Bed & Breakfast" and "Sexy Dance Fighting," which show the cast in full (and filthy) improv mode, laying the recordings over an animated montage of recording booth photos and art from the series.. There's also a short music video for the silly "Lifting Up the Skirt of the Night," featuring Steve Agee (with a bonus Benjamin cameo.) It's low-budget aesthetic doesn't carry it far enough though, despite being very short.
Disc Two offers a far more substantial extra in the form of the original demo of Bob's Burgers. Bouchard serves as the host to this look at the show's origins, as he explains how the show was pitched and developed, including a unique detail that didn't make it into the show for very good reason, though you get to see it through some rough early animatics for a scene from the first episode. Then, a complete first test episode done with an earlier art style is presented, along with a distinctly different main character. Though there re elements of this look that are just wrong, the technique is actually quite nice, even if the eventual look of the series is just right.Considering what is said about the importance of network guidance in the commentaries, it's great to see how the show changed as it was developed.
Wrapping things up is a short piece featuring Louise and the background-joke toting chalkboard from the restaurant. It feels like a promo, as she covers each member of the family in short order, making a burger joke about each one. It's quick, but cute, after expecting simply a compilation of the gags displayed on the board throughout the season.
The Bottom Line
It's taken them a while, but Fox has finally found a quality fit for their Sunday animation line-up that doesn't involve Groening or MacFarlane. Bob's Burgers does a fantastic job of telling very human (and very funny) sitcom stories, while taking advantage of the freedoms provided by working in a cartoon world, and it's done so right out of the gate, as evidenced by these 13 episodes, which are bolstered by several hours of bonus content to enjoy and a high-quality presentation. If the strange look of the characters kept you from giving Bob and his brood a chance, give it a look now, especially his three oddball children, who are easily the funniest kids on TV today.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.