A Reader Suggests – Bob’s Burgers

I’ve always been a fan of cartoons. Like most kids of the eighties, I looked forward to the Saturday morning cartoon block every week. Smurfs, Gummi Bears, He-man, She-Ra, Voltron, Strawberry Shortcake, Scooby Doo Mysteries and The Jetsons were among the staples of my childhood. As I grew older, I continued to have an affinity for animated programming and was a regular viewer of The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, Daria, South Park, Family Guy, SpongeBob Squarepants (don’t judge) and Archer. So when a friend and blog reader suggested that I check out Bob’s Burgers it wasn’t that much of a leap for me.

I was aware of Bob’s Burgers but had never tuned in for two main reasons. The first was that the lead character on the program, burger restaurateur Bob Belcher, was voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, who is also the voice of Sterling Archer on Archer. Unlike many people who do voice-over roles, Benjamin doesn’t change his voice at all for the various characters he speaks for. So I feared that it would always bother me that the same voice that comes out of the dashing and smooth secret agent would now be coming out of a frumpy burger cook and father of three. I wasn’t sure I would be able to wrap my head around it; it routinely freaks me out when I see interviews with Family Guy creator Seth McFarland, as his regular speaking voice is what he uses to give life to Brian the dog on the show. So this fear was not unfounded. It also possibly means I am not very smart.

The second issue was that Bob’s Burgers is part of Fox’s “animation domination” block of programing on Sunday night. Sunday nights are generally pretty tough for me; during football season, I’m pretty exhausted after spending the day at the bar and watching the Bills lose, so early evenings I usually catch a quick nap. The fact that Fox also carries football games means that their Sunday evening programming is routinely delayed when games run long, making it hard to DVR shows to watch later. It becomes hard to count on the shows airing at their regularly scheduled times in the fall and by the time football season is over, I’m too far behind to easily catch up. Sundays have also become one of the busier nights of programming between the stellar line ups offered by AMC (Walking Dead), Showtime (Dexter, Homeland) and HBO (Boardwalk Empire, Treme, Game of Thrones). So on top of the football issues, I’m less likely to want to pick up a new show on that night. My schedule is already pretty crowded.

In the summertime, however, I have more time to try out some new shows. Bob’s Burgers has only had two seasons and both have been abbreviated (13 episodes and 9 respectively) as the show has been used to fill holes in the schedule because of cancellations. 22 episodes that are each about 20 minutes are pretty easy to breeze through and the simplicity factor was further increased by the seasons being available on Netflix streaming (season 1) and Hulu Plus (season 2). So with no further excuses and a dearth of other television commitments, I decided to listen to my friend (Hi Colin!) and take the plunge.

Bob’s Burgers chronicles the life of the Belcher family. Bob and his wife Linda run a struggling burger joint which they also live above with their three children Tina, Gene and Louise. The kids also pitch in at the restaurant, though it is debatable how much help they really are. Bob is devoted to his burger business and is probably the most grounded of the family. Linda is devoted to “Bobby” and the family, though sometimes her attempts to help or give advice to the children are misguided, though well intentioned. Tina is 13 and socially awkward and coming to terms with her budding sexuality and becoming an adult. She is obsessed with classmate Jimmy Jr. and writes erotic fan fiction that is mostly about people touching other people’s butts. Gene is 10 and like a puppy in that he is enthusiastic about just about everything; he’s loud and is often seen donning a burger mascot costume to promote the store.  Louise is nine and appears to be a sociopath in the mold of Stewie from Family Guy, but without the concrete plans for world domination.  She simply likes to stir up trouble – in the pilot episode she inexplicably informs her entire class that the family uses human flesh in their burgers. She always wears a pink bunny rabbit hat.

I have to say, I really enjoyed Bob’s Burgers. It is a weird and quirky little show that isn’t often laugh out loud funny, but is very amusing. I found myself smiling a lot through the episodes as I watched the adventures of the Belcher family. It isn’t 100% consistent – some episodes are much better than others – but on the whole I thought it was quite enjoyable. One of the reasons I like animations is it removes some of the limits of reality, and Bob’s Burgers takes full advantage of that. The family may be nuts and always getting into trouble, but they obviously love each other in the end (even Louise). In the first two seasons, Bob manages to be taken hostage in a bank robbery, Linda tries to run a bed and breakfast out of their apartment, the family tries to cash in on the food truck craze and deal with a negative review by a food critic. The kids are my favorite part of the show and they have some fairly quotable lines. I also enjoy the running gags in the show: in the opening credits, the name of the store next to the burger joint is different in every episode, as well as the name of the extermination company (starting in season 2). The burger of the day also changes episode to episode, sometimes several times over the course of an episode. All the names are fun puns – some of the burgers of the day have included the “sit and spinach burger,” the “It’s fun to eat at the rYe-M-C-A burger” and the “Roquefort Files burger.” They are fun little Easter eggs that reward the viewer that is paying attention.

I’m not sure how easily Bob’s Burgers will fit into my schedule once season 3 debuts in September, but I’m going to make every effort to keep up with it. I’ve gotten used to H. Jon Benjamin’s voice and have come to really enjoy all the characters and the odd sense of humor that the show has. I’d recommend checking it out. I was disappointed when I realized I had watched all the episodes to date. Might not be everyone’s taste, but I found it endlessly entertaining. I’m glad I finally checked it out.

Bob’s Burgers season 3 will debut on Sunday September 30th at 8:30 pm ET on Fox. If you have a suggestion for a show, movie, book or band you want me to check out, leave it in the comments section.

A Reader Suggests – Revenge

This is a new feature where I sample pop culture that has been recommended to me by readers of the blog.

“You really should be watching Revenge, Heather. It’s a great show.”

I smiled and nodded the first time someone said this to me. I consider myself pretty open-minded and willing to try new things; I actually think it is one of my better qualities. I once even read the Satanic Bible after a student in the civil liberties course I was teaching asked me to. But I also know that my plate is pretty full when it comes to television shows and I’m hesitant to jump on to any new shows after the disappointment that was the 2010-11 television season. I generally know what I like and I wasn’t sure that Revenge was it. So the show had some strikes against it. At the bare minimum, I was going to at least make sure it got renewed before I checked it out.

But then people kept recommending it. And what really caught my attention was the sheer diversity of people who were suggesting it. Taking them as a whole and knowing their pop culture preferences, there wasn’t a lot of overlap between their interests, other than Revenge. This show was reaching all sorts of different people.

In retrospect, that shouldn’t have been surprising. Because, really, what is more universal than revenge?

When the show took a long hiatus in March and with the likelihood for renewal high, I decided to take the plunge. I signed up for a week long trail of hulu plus, hoping that I could get through enough episodes to catch up to what was available on demand (the last 5 episodes) before the trial expired, assuming I even liked the show.

I finished them all in 3 days.

Once I started watching, I just couldn’t stop. I was totally engrossed in the story of a young woman (Emily VanCamp) who returns to her affluent childhood community to seek revenge on all the people who destroyed her family. She is not a believer that living well is the best revenge; she wants her pound of flesh. The list of those who have done her wrong, it turns out, is pretty long and includes the “Queen of the Hamptons,” Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), who is no slouch in the scheming department herself.  Based on the first few episodes, I was worried that it was going to be a procedural, “revenge of the week” type show. That was satisfying for a while, but if that was all it was I probably would have lost interest. But then she starts playing the long game and the show takes it to the next level. And as you know from my discussion of Game of Thrones, I am a diabolical plotting enthusiast.

Revenge is a show that in the wrong hands could very easily become camp. While that type of show can be enjoyable, it is difficult to pull off well long term. Instead Revenge plays it seriously. If anything, I would argue that the show actually takes itself too seriously. There aren’t a lot of laughs in the show. This woman is all business, which makes the few moments of comic relief, usually from Nolan (Gabriel Mann), all the more enjoyable and appreciated. He is absolutely my favorite character, but the show is careful to not overuse him.

This is not to imply, however, that because the show plays it straight that there aren’t a lot of soapy elements. Within the first moments of the pilot there appears to be a murder, though the alleged victim and killer are not immediately revealed. Over the course of the first sixteen episodes there is infidelity, assault, secret identities, corporate subterfuge, blackmail, terrorism, cover ups, death, questions of paternity, faked pregnancies, mental instability and a dog that appears to be pretty sprightly for allegedly being seventeen years old (this may be the show’s biggest mystery). Because this is summer at the Hamptons, there are also lots of parties and rich people generally being rich. All this payback is done in very stylish clothing. Hell the show even has a sensei. That’s right – a sensei.

The acting on the show is generally very good, but Stowe is especially fantastic as the icy matriarch of the Grayson family. I imagine that she has a lot of fun with the material she is given. It’s also nice to see Connor Paolo in a role where he is given more to do than in his previous role on Gossip Girl (yes – I watched Gossip Girl. And yes, I know how old I am). VanCamp is basically a revenge machine, seemingly focused only on the total annihilation of those who have wronged her, but she also doesn’t appear to derive any joy from her successful conquests. She actually keeps her emotions pretty close to the vest, so many times the viewer is left to speculate about how she actually feels about many of the people involved in her plot. Does she actually have feelings for some of the people she claims to be using as pawns to further her master plan? There are moments in the show where you also feel some sympathy for some of her targets. Everything is not black and white in this quest for vengeance.

My one major complaint for the show? Not enough people shake their firsts in the air while yelling “revenge!” Actually no one does this, but they should. I think that is the component that could really put this show over the top.

I am curious to see if my enjoyment of the show changes once I am forced to wait a week between episodes rather than mainlining them all in a short amount of time. I’ve found that when you watch a lot of episodes of a show quickly, you tend to get more fully immersed in the world that the show created; this sometimes results in overlooking some of the flaws that you may observe when given more time to contemplate between viewings.

For those of you who have watched the show, but want a quick refresher, The Huffington Post has created a cool interactive roadmap that lays the character relationships all out for you and TV Line has created brief character recaps. Between Revenge and Game of Thrones, there is a lot I need to keep track of in my television programs. I need to start watching some dumber shows. My head is starting to hurt.

Revenge returns tonight at 10 pm EST on ABC. If you have some suggestions for some pop culture that you think I should try, feel free to leave them in the comments.