By season 10 of The Simpsons, the seams were beginning to show. The so-called “golden age” wasn’t over yet — that season gave us such classics as “Lisa Gets an A,” “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday,” and “Mayored to the Mob,” featuring Mark Hamill singing “Luke, Be a Jedi” to the tune of “Luck, Be a Lady” — but whereas every episode between seasons four and nine was great at worst, a comedy masterpiece at best (try to find a merely “fine” episode in season six), season 10 had some duds. “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” for instance, is mostly remembered for the “whore mode gun” joke, which, needless to say (still going to say it!), is no “you are Lisa Simpson” or “my cat’s breath smells like cat food.” It lacked heart, and that, as much as the clever references and rapid-fire jokes, is what made The Simpsons one of the greatest shows ever.
But I’m not here to bury The Simpsons, which is still capable of reminding viewers of its former glory. I want to praise another animated show that airs on Sunday nights on Fox, one that is still going strong after a decade on the air with no signs of slowing down. Bob’s Burgers premiered on Fox on January 9, 2011, with an episode, “Human Flesh,” about cannibalism. You wouldn’t know it from that stomach-churning premise, but it quickly became one of the most delightful shows of the decade, and the most consistent.
Created by Loren Bouchard, Bob’s Burgers follows the misadventures of the Belcher family — turkey-talking father Bob, porcelain-baby loving mother Linda, and their three kids, Tina (the “uhhhhhh…” one), Gene (the “this is me now” one), and Louise (the “I want to slap his hideous, beautiful face” one) — as they run a hamburger restaurant in a generic seaside town. (It’s maybe San Francisco, but it’s probably New Jersey.) They are, simply put, a bunch of lovable weirdos, and so is everyone around them, including Regular-Sized Rudy with his constant asthma attacks; sex worker Marshmallow, who’s always greeted with a plain-spoken “oh, hey Marshmallow” by Bob; and Calvin Fischoeder, an eyepatch-wearing landlord who, in one episode, sings a song with Linda’s shut-in sister about the “electric love” between Thomas Edison and an elephant named Topsy. It’s that kind of quietly weird show, where the oddballs are embraced.
Bob’s Burgers reminds me of another classic show from the 2010s, Parks and Recreation, with The Simpsons as its Community. Let me explain: although the Venn diagram of Community/Parks and Bob’s/Simpsons fans is probably one giant circle, it’s natural to have a preference. I think Community hit higher highs (“Remedial Chaos Theory,” “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” etc.) than Parks, but I acknowledge Parks was more consistent; the same goes with The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers. Bob’s doesn’t have an all-time episode, like “Marge vs. the Monorail” (although “O.T.: The Outside Toilet” and “Burgerboss” comes close), but I would take its season 10 over The Simpsons‘ season 10, because there’s no sign of a jerk-ass Homer turn on the horizon. (Another difference between Simpsons/Community vs. Bob’s/Parks: the former duo sent its characters to space, sort of; that kind of format-busting, “you went to outer space?” “You’ve never been?” episode would feel out of the place for the latter, minus the occasional Tina daydream.) Bob’s Burgers is as dependably heartfelt and hilarious as any show, and yet it doesn’t feel like its much part of the “best of the decade” discussion (it’s nowhere to be found on BuzzFeed‘s top 55 (!) shows of the 2010s list).
Maybe that’s the way it should be, though. While writing this, I remembered a quote Bouchard gave a few years ago, about what kind of shows he thinks Bob’s is. “We’re in a moment when you have to make a choice to be optimistic,” he said. “We made that choice with this show. The family itself is optimistic. It’s not a part of the show that we set out explicitly to include. But, in this day and age, I find myself thinking it’s an essential element of the show.” Kristen Schaal, who voices Louise, added, “I think people tune into television to find all sorts of reason for escape. I think the optimism of Bob’s Burgers is something that’s been missing. I think people really connect with it because we are optimistic as a people… It’s become the best medicine in these tumultuous times.” Bob’s Burgers isn’t as flashy as Stranger Things or as quotably acidic as Veep or as monumental as Game of Thrones — but it’s been a quality working-class show, week in and week out for over 170 episodes, that I (and many others) turn to for comfort.
In that sense, it’s a lot like fellow binge-friendly shows Friends and The Office, except Bob’s hasn’t gone through a Joey/Rachel or post-Michael Scott creative slump, and it hopefully never will (Bouchard has said that “as long as people are saying that this show still means something to them, then I think that’s as long as we want to do it”). But why hasn’t it plummeted in quality, like other shows that stretch into double-digit seasons? It’s the superb voice cast, including H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, John Roberts, and Schaal, and the skillful writers, and Fox not canceling it for another Seth MacFarlane project, but it’s also the balance of tones. Take the aforementioned Topsy episode, specifically the scene with “Electric Love. The goofy song, about Thomas Edison noticing “the curve of her trunk,” comes to an end when Tina appears to be electrocuted. She’s fine (“I saw the sparks and went with it”), but the family shows genuine concern for her safety, even Louise, who’s hellbent on dismantling the myth around Edison. That’s Bob’s Burgers to me, silly but never stupid and always heartfelt.
As long as the songs about butts keep coming, Bob’s Burgers is my happy place.