In a strange little town somewhere in New Jersey is a greasy spoon business by the name of Bob’s Burgers, run by manager and Head Chef, Bob Belcher, and his wife Linda Belcher.
The two live above the restaurant with their three children; Tina, Gene, and Louise. With affordable prices on food, it is a family-oriented place, focusing on their simplistic menu and wholesome, welcoming vibe. Unfortunately, on my trip into this quaint little bistro I couldn’t help but notice the sincere lack of specials on offer. And that’s because Bob’s Burgers isn’t special: Not at all actually.
The world of Bob’s Burgers is drab, mundane and inconsequential. And that, for me, is why the show excels.
Bob’s Burgers isn’t really like any other cartoon on at the moment: Having run since 2011, I frankly am baffled that it’s still even on television, and has an audience for that matter – I don’t say this as a put down against the show (far from it, I’m a big fan), in the early days as this cartoon was beginning I’d rather assumed that this was a programme destined for cancellation after its first or second series (to then be followed by an immediate and obligatory cult status).
I’d liken it to King of the Hill actually: not just in its sense of humour, but also in a way that I could watch both shows and be astounded that more people than solely myself actually enjoy it. I say this because of just how good I think it actually is. This is a programme that is so dry with its humour that it’s like inserting sand directly into your eyeballs.
This is an incredibly grounded show, a programme that is very much set in its world and one that knows its own gravitas (and lack of it). It’s a half-hour cartoon show that has very gradually crept into dominance, and knows exactly what it is now; dealing with pretty everyday issues and often in the most human of approaches.
While I can use buzzwords like “kooky” and “zany”, Bob’s Burgers certainly is that, but doesn’t rely on that. It’s a show with characters that are realised in their own ordinariness. These people lead bland and uninteresting lives that are dealt with in a responsible human manner. There aren’t particularly any schemes, or whacky motives; instead characters that will provide puns and oddly specific pop culture references to deal with their situation.
It’s humorous, and feels real.
No-one particularly has any major goals, but instead are dominated by their character traits – take Tina for example. Her world is entirely based on that timeframe devoted to life as a young adult. She believes that her role is to whoo boys that she likes at school (poorly), and be the oldest child. I’m underselling her complexity, but for the most part that’s her arc. There’s really not much more there, and that is exactly Bob’s Burgers’ magic.
Despite being a cartoon with beautiful technicolour – and with the ability to literally do anything the writers and animators could ever dream of – they don’t. It’s vast, but in the same way as a bored kid in summer armed with nothing more than a stick and heaps of imagination to play with. Instead, the creators purposely choose to keep the show (mostly) anchored. They stick to the small feeling, almost claustrophobic, universe that is this Americana-laden Jaws-esque sea town.
It’s as if Stephen King had gone on holiday, talked to some of the townsfolk, and decided to write about somewhere other than Maine for once.
It’s a totally realised world that pops because of its own tragic obscurity. Even the show’s title sequence suggests failure after failure as the restaurant is burnt down and infested by rodents; toppling it on for an otherwise already struggling business model. This is Bob’s approach, and it’s stuck with it for the run of the show.
Often Bob won’t even reply to things that he doesn’t agree with, and instead let out nothing more than a passing groan. We have to remember that despite being in his forties (?) Bob is simply a fry cook.
He’s voiced by H. Jon Benjamin – a voice actor who has made a career out of raspy straightforward tones. He’s not Spongebob. He doesn’t have a starfish as a best friend. But rather, Bob Belcher is out of shape, way past his prime, has a moustache and is consistently in an apron – his only real friend in the show is also a regular in his restaurant – Bob Belcher is a slumped humanoid, with dead eyes and a comb-over.
And that, apparently, is what we’re craving. In a Netflix dominated world full of cartoons, Bob and the rest of his family refuse to stand out from the crowd – remaining instantly relatable.
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Jon Holmes is a writer based in the UK. Alongside his work writing for film, he is a multi-accoladed filmmaker in his own right, and also performs. He can be followed on Youtube at Hans HS and on Twitter on @jonnyjonjon1