2012 was a big year for Bob's Burgers, as slowly but surely people found it on the air, on Hulu, and streaming on Netflix until, almost incredibly, the show emerged from hiatus as a rare and prized television commodity: a returning new hit comedy.
It’s really been quite a nice run for Fox development in recent years. Thanks to shows like the grower-favorite Raising Hope, the unqualified smash New Girl, and the inexplicably indomitable Seth MacFarlane Ratings Juggernaut, Fox has quietly positioned itself as perhaps the new network standard for high-quality comedies (especially given NBC’s ongoing long, slow fade to black). And perhaps no network sitcom has been so immediately and completely embraced by hardcore comedy fans than Bob’s Burgers, packing panels at Comic Con and South and By Southwest, begging constant coverage on the comedy news blog circuit, and being strongly touted in the ever-growing “Animation Domination” web campaign.
Heck, one Google image search for “Bob’s Burgers Halloween costumes” confirms what you already know as a devoted fan: This show has a serious following, perhaps becoming as beloved a program as anything that Fox has put forward since Futurama.
Given this fact, perhaps the biggest challenge facing Bob’s Burgers in its third season would be trying to continue to achieve creatively with the new weight of expectations bearing down upon it. It’s one thing to plaster an animated menagerie of animal anuses across America’s televisions when you think nobody’s watching, but how does a show like this go about broadening its appeal and growing its audience while satisfying an already devoted fan-base? This was the question facing showrunner Loren Bouchard and his writers in 2012.
And while Bob’s Burgers’ sophomore campaign hasn’t exactly been a Community-like evolutionary push of any and every boundary associated with the form, you likewise can’t really accuse a show whose pilot episode featured a cannibalism scare of being afraid to get weird. The Belcher family’s world always been a strange one, populated by an ever-expanding cast of friendly freaks (still voiced by an absolute Murderer’s Row of comic stars), and its charms continue to resonate in all the right ways.
Early into its first season, I noted how remarkably the Bob’s Burgers had settled into a mature sense of itself, finding a groove that usually takes a new show at least a full season or so to figure out. Bob’s has continued to demonstrate its ability to comment on a broad variety of subjects, covering things like food truck and festival culture (“Food Truckin’”), retro video-gaming (“Burgerboss”), and TV talk shows (“Beefsquatch”) as a frame for playing out new dynamics in its character relationships.
In this way, principle characters continue to interact in fun storylines that manage to help further develop our principles and color our perceptions of them as people. We’ve seen an extended look into Gene’s musicality, not simply as a gimmicky excuse to have him carry around (and employ, for comedic effect) his various instruments, but as an extension of his very real desire to grow up to be a performer some day in “The Unbearable Like-ness of Gene”. We’ve addressed the underlying insecurities of leaving pre-adolescence that power Louise’s general brashness with the theft of her iconic bunny ears in “Ear-sy Rider.” And we’ve repeatedly seen how Bob’s most defining trait turns out to be his inexhaustibly complete devotion to his wife and children, whether that impulse is internalized (as with his need to maintain his beloved traditions while working on a holiday in “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal”) or externalized, (as when, in an effort to spare his children a youth lost to the restaurant, he fires the kids in “Bob Fires the Kids”), Bob is modern comedy’s quintessential family man.
In fact, if 2012 proved anything about Bob’s Burgers, it’s that the Belchers might actually be the happiest, closest-knit, and most downright functional family units in all of television. It’s a fitting tribute for show that’s been so often compared so favorably (by folks like me) to The Simpsons that, in a neighborhood filled with transvestite prostitutes, one-eyed amusement park tycoons, mannequin romantics and every other type of recurring weirdo you can imagine, the thing that keeps us coming back to Bob’s Burgers week after week remains the Belchers happy, odd home life in their titular greasy spoon.
Brendan K. O’Grady is a comedian and writer in Austin, Texas.