Voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, the titular everyman of Bob’s Burgers recycles attitudes that have become all but commonplace in the animated sitcom landscape, but does so with more than a handful of notable variations and nuances. A devoted husband and father of three, Bob Belcher plays the straight man to his family and small but varied community of eccentrics, a great deal of whom are, like Bob himself, small business owners. The fact that there’s only one genuine bigwig in town, a quirky landlord and property owner voiced by Kevin Kline, largely excludes easy, repetitive cheap shots at the 1%. Instead, the series takes a refreshing interest in the struggles, hardships, joys, and minor triumphs of the self-employed.
Conceived by Home Movies creator Loren Bouchard and co-developed by King of the Hill mainstay Jim Dauterive, Bob’s Burgers possesses an unmistakable love for underdogs and odd ducks, but its themes still trend toward the familiar. The show’s eye-catching first season saw Bob and his brood plumbing such well-tread material as online dating, high school rivalries, familial bonding, first kisses, repressed artistic sensibilities, unrequited love, filmmaking, and a plethora of other standard subjects. But much like Bob putting his unique spin on the hamburger, the show’s writers take peculiar narrative pathways, aided by superb voice work, to revitalize these topics and make them distinct.
As the second season opens, Bouchard and his formidable flanks of comedians take another familiar tactic: poking fun at and paying homage to beloved films, namely The Goonies and Dog Day Afternoon. Unlike the now-laborious Family Guy, the memorable moments and lines of these films aren’t merely duplicated and manipulated into a grab bag of pop-culture references and aggressively PC quips. Instead, Bob’s Burgers is more akin to Parks and Recreation, putting character before easy laughs and using the loose structure of these films to explore the characters’ internal lives. Through these slightly parodic episodes, Bouchard and his team prove remarkably insightful and empathetic to these wounded souls and consistently find quasi-hallucinatory and expressionistic ways of conveying neglect, loss, regret, humiliation, panic, pain, and, yes, love.
The second-season premiere, “The Belchies,” revisits some of these feelings in Bob’s eldest daughter, Tina (Dan Mintz), who continues to play the role of love fool for Jimmy Jr. (Benjamin as well), the son of Bob’s nemesis, as well as Bob’s youngest daughter, Louise (Kristen Schaal), whose unquenchable angst, energy, and curiosity is frustrated further during a treasure hunt in an abandoned factory set for demolition. Sure, Cyndi Lauper appears for a parody of her own “Goonies ’R’ Good Enough” (reinterpreted as “Taffy Butt”), but Boucher’s narrative inventiveness remains the lynchpin of the show’s humor. Bob’s kinky gameplay with his wife, Linda (John Roberts), should feel rote, but it bubbles over with the melancholic exhaustion of trying to keep a marriage exciting while also running a small business and keeping the kids happy.
The following episode, “Bob Day Afternoon,” is lighter on laughs, but ends up being a better example of what elevates Bob’s Burgers above a great deal of its ilk. Accidentally roped into a hostage negotiation, Bob and his family get involved with a bumbling bank robber (Bill Hader) who’s attempting his first theft without his rehabilitated partner. The gentle humor and sensitivity the writers show toward the robber, and his interactions with Bob and his family, breeds a particularly off-kilter sentimentalism that rarely wears down the show’s energy or the audience’s tolerance. Indeed, what’s most remarkable about Bob’s Burgers is how improbably poignant it can be while shamelessly indulging in the peculiar environs and dreamscapes that emerge from small-town livin’.