“Human Flesh” Ushers in an Animated Family for Modern Times

An image of Bob looking in at his family through a broken window.

Prime Animation takes a look at shows that air/aired during prime time in the US. I’m looking at you Capitol Critters.

I’m fairly late to Bob’s Burgers, the newest (if you can call 4 seasons new) addition to Fox’s Sunday-funnies comedy block from creator Loren Bouchard, of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies fame. Watching the pilot episode, “Human Flesh”, I feel like I’ve really been missing out on something special.

The series focuses on the titular character, Bob Belcher, a family man whose burger restaurant is middling at best. He utilizes the help of his wife Linda, a nasally but affectionate woman, and his three kids, Tina, Gene and Louise, to help him run the family business. So far, the three children prove to be the most entertaining part of the show, though the family dynamic is where the heart lies. Tina is a budding teenager, yet plays the role of the least problematic of the three Belcher kids, coming off as a more human and likeable Meg (Family Guy). Gene is the next oldest of the children and is rather loud and obnoxious, though in a surprisingly endearing way. Rounding out the kids is Louise, the closest the show gets to a Lisa Simpson figure in her “beyond her years” quality, though Louise is far less interested in using her smarts for good. Rather, she is often impishly causing problems for Bob and reminding us more of the other Simpsons sibling. At one point, Louise’s attempt at humor–changing Bob’s burger of the day from “New Bacon-ings (Comes with Bacon)” to “The Child Molester (Comes with Candy)”–results in adding to the complaints that the local health inspector has about the restaurant. To add to that, the inspector is checking out Bob’s burger joint in the first place on a rumor that Bob and co. and have been making patties out of human remains from the neighboring crematorium, a piece of gossip spread by Louise in another prank gone too far. Just as an aside, though I’ll get more into the voice work on the show as I get further into the series, it deserves to be said that Louise seems like the role Kristen Schaal (of Flight of the Conchords) was born to play, as she really makes the first episode stand out.

Back to the whole human remains in the burgers thing. It’s a pretty self-explanatory plot and the road it leads down is entertaining enough, with a nice twist at the end, but most importantly it gets at what makes Bob’s Burgers unique amongst its Sunday night peers. In the pilot episode, the writers do a fantastic job of mixing the over-the-top edginess of Family Guy and the heart of the golden years of The Simpsons to produce an awesome piece of sitcom animation. This episode had plenty of “did they just go there?” moments–the kind that Family Guy is sadly built upon–but here, those moments are usually only setup for a better payoff. Take for instance the moment when Tina tells Bob, “My crotch is itchy.”, to which he questions, “Are you telling me as my daughter or my grill cook?”. Moments like this abound in the episode and mix in just enough of the over-the-top humor found in almost all modern comedy, without making it sickening. I mean, The Simpsons don’t even know how to do this anymore. Not consistently at least.

To Bob’s detriment, the B-story, which focuses on Bob and Loren’s anniversary and Bob’s ineptness at giving Loren the attention and love she wants on such a day, feels pretty pat with what we’ve seen between Homer and Marge or Hank and Peggy (King of the Hill). Bob isn’t quite Homer and Loren isn’t quite Marge but the similarities outweigh the differences in many ways. Hopefully in future episodes, the writers will be able to make the relationship unique amongst Bob’s animated counterparts. One interesting aspect is the fact that Bob’s Burgers is set in the restaurant, versus the family home, so the idea of a show about a family trying to run a business together is certainly unique. This is what compels me to see the show as a more modern take on the American family, as we see Bob and Loren putting any assets they have to good use in order to stay in business and stay afloat, an aftermath of the economic recession that hasn’t had as big an impact on like-minded shows. Sadly for Bob, his family rarely makes his job easier and often is the reason for business problems, though they seem to come together in the end and make it work despite everything.

“Human Flesh” isn’t the perfect half hour of animated television ever made, but it does an enviable job of setting a tone for the show and introducing characters that are almost all lovable (in spite of their foibles) by the 15 minute mark. For my money, that’s a feat that hasn’t been pulled off since King of the Hill, and that definitely carries some promise for Bob’s Burgers.

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