How ‘King of the Hill’ Led Directly to ‘Bob’s Burgers’
When Bob’s Burgers premiered in 2011, one couldn’t help but wonder if the show would have anything in common with King Of The Hill. After all, it was created by Loren Bouchard and executive produced by Jim Dautrieve, each of whom were veterans of KOTH. Throughout its seven seasons, Bob’s Burgers has developed an identity of its own, as audiences have come to know and love the Belcher clan, while also clearly having some traits in common with its predecessor. Bob’s Burgers is its own standalone creation, and quite a good one at that, but there are plenty of reasons to view KOTH as its spiritual predecessor.
The primary trait shared by these shows is realism. Unlike Family Guy or modern Simpsons, wacky antics are kept to a minimum. You might see a few things that are unlikely to happen in real life, but nothing that would be entirely impossible. The worlds of the Hills and Belchers are both startlingly similar to the real world. This is true with regards to plotlines, but also when looking at how each show treats money. The comfortably middle-class Hills are a bit more well-off than the just-scraping-by Belchers, but in each show, economics are portrayed realistically. You won’t see either family take a vacation they can’t really afford just because it would be fun to see how they’d behave in a different setting (when the Hills went to Japan, it was paid for by the newspaper that Peggy wrote for). At a time when many cartoons sacrifice economic realism for the sake of zaniness, it’s always refreshing to see a show that remembers that most people can’t afford the ridiculous adventures their favorite cartoon families are routinely enjoying.
A similar bond between the two shows is that in each case, the husband is the conservative straight-laced one, and the wife is the more wacky parent, always wanting to shake things up. On The Simpsons, we see Homer as a catalyst for chaos and destruction, while Marge is the one who has to keep everything together. The same thing went for the early episodes of Family Guy, although these days, Lois is often just as silly as Peter. Neither Linda Belcher nor Piggy Hill are as stupid as Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin, but they do engage in some risky behavior that often has averse effects. We saw this on King Of The Hill, when Peggy led a field trip into Mexico despite having a rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish language, and again when she wrote a newspaper column where she accidentally encouraged her readers to make mustard gas. We’ve seen similar things from Linda, like her misguided attempt to turn the restaurant into a dinner theater, or the time she convinced herself she was psychic and gave false information to a detective. If either Peggy or Linda were too stupid, it might run the risk of seeming sexist, but in most part, they simply let their naïveté and sense of adventure get the better of them.
So, these shows definitely have a bit in common, and the list grows even further when you consider that Gene Belcher is more or less Bobby Hill 2.0. But where do they differ? What themes has Bob’s Burgers explored than King Of The Hill never reached? Well, class structure certainly plays a bigger role with the Belcher family. While money is presented realistically on King Of The Hill, the Hills are generally well-off enough that they don’t have any serious worries, with the lone exception coming when Hank lost his job and had to work at the Mega-Lo Mart. With the Belchers, eviction is always a looming threat. Additionally, the show takes a far more thorough look at teenage sexuality, mostly through the character of Tina. Bobby Hill liked girls, and dated a few, but he remained a kid throughout the course of the show. With Tina, we follow her through the awkward stage of her life, and sympathize with her as she wonders what to say to Jimmy, Jr. and releases her secret thoughts into her glorious “erotic friend-fiction.” This show ventures into places with Tina that KOTH never thought of doing with Bobby, and it’s made for some of the most rewarding episodes.
In many ways, Bob’s Burgers is a spiritual sequel to King Of The Hill, but it’s also developed a strong personality of its own. The Belchers have become just as memorable and welcome in our lives as the Hills have, and the show hasn’t been afraid to take on topics that KOTH never was totally willing to touch. Each show did a brilliant job of being the rare animated sitcom that portrayed life on a down-to-earth level. It doesn’t feel like an insult to consider what Bob’s took from the show that came before it. It used King Of The Hill as the initial template, but over the course of seven seasons, it’s done more than enough to stand out in its own right.