In F is for Family‘s second episode, Kevin Murphy (Justin Long) shows his father, Frank (Bill Burr) a note from school. He’s failing almost every class and in danger of flunking out. The senior Murphy drops his beer and leaps up from the armchair he’d just sat in, ready to take the day’s frustrations out on his oldest son. Meanwhile, Sue (Laura Dern) sends Kevin to his room and Frank to the garage to “go hit [his] boxing bag.” Unfortunately, her car is blocking it, so he complains.
“I’m sorry. I thought you were going to be happy tonight,” she says. Frank’s response? “Never assume that!”
This is good advice to follow when watching F is for Family. The new Netflix show, which is available to stream today, consists of six half-hour serialized episodes detailing the torrid, terrifyingly funny lives of the Murphy family in 1973. Burr based the series on his stand-up, which borrows heavily from his upbringing in Massachusetts. Working together with The Simpsons writer Michael Price and actor Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Television production company, the comedian delivers a nostalgic-yet-novel animated comedy. Or as Burr insisted during a recent podcast, a “cartoon.”
Considering the sometimes volatile nature of Burr’s brand of comedy, the adult cartoon medium is the perfect fit for his creation. Broadcast programs like The Simpsons and King of the Hill, as well as cable counterparts Beavis and Butt-Head and South Park, have paved the way for shows like this. Yes it’s a cartoon, but F is for Family is more than just another animation that occasionally boasts content not suitable for children. It’s also a curse-filled, loud-volume story about a family whose members genuinely love and care for one another — shouting matches notwithstanding.
The opening title sequence lays everything out for everyone to see. Set to Redbone’s 1974 single “Come and Get Your Love,” the sequence depicts Frank as a young high school graduate filled with promise for the future. Or at least he seems that way when he leaps into the air, flying off into the distance in the slow manner of a passenger jet across the skyline. Unfortunately, the realities of the Korean War, childbirth, marriage, “dad bod” and male pattern baldness get in the way of Frank’s flight.
So instead of going to flight school, which Frank later tells Kevin was his dream, he settled down with Sue to raise him and his younger siblings, Maureen (Debi Derryberry) and Bill (Haley Reinhart). “We’ve had our ups and down. Sometimes we haven’t gotten along,” Frank explains, “but it’s moments like this when I know I wouldn’t trade what I have right now for… F*CK!”
Cue the comedic, if not dramatic turn — one of the more effective and prevalent tricks on display in F is for Family. No matter how serious and heartfelt Burr and Price’s show might become, it always completes a 180 degree turn with expert precision. If anything, it’s almost as if the writers room is trolling the audience. Almost every single time Frank, Sue, Kevin or Bill seem like they’re about to discover some new profound nugget of life’s wisdom, the story punches them and the viewers in their faces.
Consider Frank’s flight school story and subsequent “moments like these” cliché. When he utters the real “F” of the show’s title, a massive blaze raging in the woods behind his house appears in the car’s front windshield. Did what he was talking about with Sue and Kevin have anything to do with a roaring fire? No, it didn’t, but his youngest son Bill did.
Frank never seems to catch a break, and neither does his family. Housewife Sue feels empty and sometimes regrets settling down with her husband to have kids; Kevin hates school, loathes his father and loves pot; Maureen is a sadistic little prick who knows she’s daddy’s little princess; and Bill, to quote Frank on several occasions, is a “p*ssy.” Their private and public lives generally suck, and these individual tragedies combine into group efforts to tear one another down. Basically, they’re a family.
Yet the Murphys press on with the benefit of Burr’s comedy and Price’s writing and showrunning skills. Besides, where else on television* can one watch, laugh at and sympathize with two of the most important aspects in a prepubescent boy’s life? Of course, these two precious life moments are 1) the first time another man’s hairy testicles are viewed accidentally in a public urinal, and 2) the horrible realization that one becomes a father by going balls deep into one’s soon-to-be mother. Bill experiences both via the harsh reality of F is for Family‘s color palette, and it’s hilarious. Sad, but hilarious.
*animated television, that is.
All six episodes of F is for Family premiere on Netflix at 3:01/12:01 a.m. EST/PST on Friday, Dec. 18. Until then, here’s a preview…